After dropping two straight, all Nets roads lead back to Kyrie Irving – The Denver Post


First, it was Anthony Davis. On Tuesday night, it was Domantas Sabonis.

Both are imposing big men who used their strength to take advantage of a slender Nets defense. Both were responsible for dealing the Nets a pair of debilitating losses that — after four wins in five games — have sent the Nets back to square one.

The very defense that ranked No. 1 for the first five games under head coach Jacque Vaughn has regressed to the mean in Brooklyn’s last two. After holding five straight opponents under 100 points, the Nets gave up 153 to the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday.

It’s the most points they’ve ever given up in four quarters in franchise history, only outdone by the 163 points the Nets once allowed in a double-overtime affair.

And it was a loss that spoiled what looked like a breakout game for Ben Simmons, who played with more pop in his step than he’s shown in a Nets jersey this season.

Simmons finished at the rim in transition twice and finished a one-handed alley-oop for 11 points, his first double-digit scoring game of the season.

His minutes, however, were largely impactless. The Nets continue to look like three different renditions of the same team, none of which know how to play with one another.

They are one team when Kevin Durant is in the floor, another in any lineup Simmons is on the floor, and another, more lethal version when Durant is on the floor with Kyrie Irving.

We still don’t know what this team truly looks like when Durant, Irving and Simmons share the floor together. We still don’t know if Simmons and starting center Nic Claxton can play impactful minutes together given neither of them provides the necessary spacing for Durant or Irving to flourish on the court.

That, however, with the roster as currently constructed, is likely as good as it’s going to get in Brooklyn, and it’s a glaring reminder that there’s no amount of effort or intensity, X’s and O’s or game planning that can compensate for a team’s shortcomings as a roster.

The Nets are going to struggle against centers like Sabonis — who was a plus-44 in 28 minutes — and Davis, who had 37 points and 18 rebounds because they don’t have the personnel.

Only superstar play can propel a team beyond its means, and the Nets continue to miss one — and a half — while the rest falls on Durant’s shoulders.

This is why all roads in Brooklyn continue to lead back to Irving, the superstar guard who has served now seven games of his “minimum five-game suspension” for “failure to disavow antisemitism” after posting the link to a controversial film on his social media feeds.

He can do things with the basketball that few in the league’s history have shown. He can get a basket when the offense breaks down. He can score in bunches and with the game on the line. He is averaging 27 points, five assists and five rebounds per game and hadn’t played particularly well before the team handed down his suspension.

The Nets could have used Irving when the Kings broke the game wide open on a 29-4 run in the second quarter. Durant said it wasn’t about energy or effort, that the Kings were just the better team and made contested shots that deflated the Nets’ defense.

Many of those shots, however, weren’t over a hand. The Kings walked into open jumpers all night long.

When a good defense wears down, as it’s done in Brooklyn since the win over the Clippers, it’s the offense that picks up the slack. But it’s how this Nets team has been constructed that makes Irving even more important.

After Durant, who extended his streak to 14 consecutive season-opening games scoring 25 or more points, it’s slim pickings on offense. Wild cards. Players capable of going off for 25 points but who usually are comfortable going for about 10.

Case in point: While Durant scored 27 points on 8-of-15 shooting from the field, only Edmond Sumner added 18 more, with no other Nets scoring more than 12. Seth Curry, who had scored 22 and 23 in his two previous games, only scored nine. Joe Harris shot one-of-seven and Royce O’Neale shot one-of-four.

At this rate, Sumner has become the Nets’ second scoring option and he has never averaged more than nine points in a season, plus he’s coming off a yearlong rehab from a ruptured Achilles. A regression to the mean for Sumner is as likely as the regression to the mean has been for the Nets defense.

On the other side of the floor, reserve Kings guard Terrence Davis scored 31 points and five other Kings players scored at least 14. Sabonis finished with 17 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, but his impact determined the ball game.

And the length of Irving’s suspension will continue to dictate the Nets’ success this season. It is clear, even though Simmons has improved, that his play is not yet satisfactory. He played his best game all season in 20 minutes against the Kings and the Nets were only outscored by three in those minutes.

Yet Durant wasn’t impressed by the athleticism or the playmaking Simmons displayed.

“It’s stuff that we expect out of him,” Durant said. “Nothing surprising.

“If he’s out there and he’s playing, I assume that he’s physically fine. He made some good drives tonight, but that’s what we expect out of him.”

Patience appears to be running thin with Simmons. The Athletic reported frustration with Simmons, with his lack of availability, with some reportedly inside the Nets organization now questioning Simmons’ passion for the game.

All the while, Irving continues to be suspended with no clear return date set in stone, with a team owner now at odds with the player’s union after telling a reporter Irving “still has work to do” to get back onto the court in Brooklyn.

The clock continues to tick and two more losses have piled up, with the Nets potentially staring a third in the face against a Portland Trail Blazers team that’s won five of its last seven games.

There are two questions left to answer that could dictate Brooklyn’s fate: How long until the organization decides to lift Irving’s suspension, and just how much patience does this team have for Simmons to reclaim the All-Star impact he once had?



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