The Nets’ 10 games without Kevin Durant have been far from perfect, but Brooklyn has started to find the formula of playing without their cornerstone player and they’ve managed to weather the storm better than they did last year.
There had been plenty of people that looked at Durant’s MCL sprain at the beginning of January and had flashbacks to last season when the year really derailed. The Nets had been much better situated this season than they had been last, particularly with Kyrie Irving being 100% available and the team actually having the familiarity with one another that they didn’t last season.
At 4-6, since Durant was hurt, the Nets have relied on a few things to keep the ship afloat and the team in the top four in the Eastern Conference. One big aspect has been the number of shots that the Nets have been taking from beyond the arc.
Brooklyn shot 41 threes against the Lakers on Monday night and the high volume of shots from downtown has become a bit of the norm for the team since Durant’s injury.
“I think we’ve been able to somewhat form a recipe of how we want to play,” Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said. “I think you see the three ball, so that’s a part of who we are. So to be able to shoot 40 threes again, that seems like a pretty good clip for us. With Kevin, our pace we’re probably 14th in the league, right now we’re eighth or seventh without him. Being able to play faster so that we can get shots up earlier in the shot clock.
“And then it’s a collective unit on the opposite end of the floor. It won’t look pretty all the time. We’ve used zone before, we’ve played small before. we’ve played big before. On that end of the floor, we’ll figure it out. We’re hovering around top-10 in the league, if we can stay in there, in that realm, we’ll be OK.”
What’s helped too for Brooklyn has been the comfort everyone has had in the way they’re asked to play. The Nets bench put up 66 points on Monday and Irving looked at that as a good sign of where things are.
“I just think our group in itself we’ve gotten past kind of the phase of being uncomfortable with our roles,” Irving said. “And just asking a bunch of questions night-to-night. What it’s going to look like, so once we got past that phase I felt like we were playing some good solid basketball. Just accept the reality for what it is. (Kevin’s) not in the lineup, T.J. (Warren) is not in the lineup. Guys are in and out, so it’s gonna leave opportunities for guys that are working extremely hard. It’s nothing but joy in my eyes when I see them get rewarded for the hard work that they put in. It makes my job a lot easier.”
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Irving has been the offensive focal point without Durnat on the floor and he has made sure to step up in his absence.
And there is some hope that Brooklyn won’t be without their superstar for much longer. Durant has expressed a desire to come back before the NBA All-Star break. Durant will be reevaluated next week, which means there will be a much clearer picture by then.