NBA

Nash quietly helping Nets thrive in difficult NBA season

By Sports Desk March 18, 2021

When the Brooklyn Nets signed Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the 2019 offseason, it was apparent that the team were destined to eventually become a juggernaut.

With two stars and the talent behind them to either keep a deep bench or trade for a third star, the Nets were always in position to become a contender, even with Durant sitting out last season to rehabilitate his ruptured Achilles.

Because of Brooklyn's pedigree, Steve Nash – the former two-time MVP turned first-year head coach – will not be considered for Coach of the Year.

But Brooklyn's road to title contention has been a bumpy one, and Nash has helped guide the Nets to the top of the Eastern Conference – alongside the Philadelphia 76ers – despite challenging circumstances.

The Nets have won six games in a row to climb to 28-13, tied with the 76ers for the best record in the East, but it can be easy to forget the obstacles Brooklyn have faced in the first half of the season. 

One look at the Nets' first game of the season, a 125-99 win over the Golden State Warriors, serves as a reminder of this team's dramatic metamorphosis.

Spencer Dinwiddie started in the backcourt alongside Irving to open the season but played just three games before suffering a ligament tear in his right knee, ending his season.

Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Landry Shamet and Taurean Prince combined to play over 80 minutes in the season opener and only now remains in Brooklyn after the James Harden trade – Shamet.

Since the Nets traded away much of their depth, Nash has tinkered with line-ups and found gems further down the bench to supplement the team's star-power.

Bruce Brown, who was acquired in November for virtually nothing, has morphed into a versatile role-player who is very efficient from the floor.

Brown played a total of 13 minutes in the Nets' first seven games this season but has become a key member of the team's rotation, starting in 23 games and guarding much taller players in Brooklyn's smaller line-ups. Brown is shooting 55.5 per cent from the floor this campaign and averaged 18.0 points during a six-game stretch before the All-Star break. Brooklyn are 11-2 when Brown scores in double figures this season and 7-0 when he scores at least 15.

Tyler Johnson was also an afterthought to start the season, appearing in just seven of Brooklyn's first 24 games. Since then, Johnson has played just under 20 minutes per game while developing into a reliable floor-spacer, shooting 42.4 percent from beyond the three-point arc this term and going five for eight from deep in his only start.

Journeyman Jeff Green is scoring 11.9 points per game since the Harden trade – compared to 6.1 before the deal – and has even started at center when DeAndre Jordan has been forced to miss games.

While Nash has been blessed with three star players on his roster, even the trio of Durant, Irving and Harden has faced hardships.

Irving took an indefinite leave of absence for personal reasons in early January without communicating with the team first. While he only missed seven games, the mystery of Irving's absence left the Nets in a state of uncertainty and left Nash to answer for his star guard amid a barrage of media questions.

Nash showed the savvy of a veteran head coach and the sensitivity required in the new-age NBA by not vilifying Irving. A more authoritarian coach could have used the media to force Irving back, a move that may have jeopardised a relationship with a star player and eroded the trust of the entire team.

Irving returned with back-to-back 30-point games and is averaging career highs with 27.6 points per game, 52.0-percent shooting from the field and 41.5-percent shooting from beyond the arc.

Then there is Durant, who has reminded the world that he may have been the best player in the NBA before rupturing his Achilles in the 2019 NBA Finals, but the former MVP has missed more games than he has played this season.

After two stints in league COVID-19 protocols, Durant has been sidelined for over a month with a hamstring strain and is expected to be out another week or two after having a routine MRI to track progress.

In all, the Nets have had 21 different starting line-ups this season, second only to the Houston Rockets' 26. That number is likely to increase soon, once Blake Griffin is ready to make his Brooklyn debut.

Only sharpshooter Joe Harris has played in every game for the Nets in 2020-21.

While Harden has been reliably excellent since moving to Brooklyn, Irving has missed 12 games and Durant has been absent for 22. The trio have been on the floor for just 186 minutes so far, less than 10 percent of Brooklyn's season.

Those minutes, however, have been transcendent, bucking a recent trend of power trios going through growing pains before hitting their stride.

With Durant, Irving and Harden on the floor at the same time, the Nets are averaging 120.6 points per 100 possessions. And while some pundits envisioned this offensive-minded trio taking turns in isolation plays, 64.8 percent of the Nets' field goals have been assisted when they all play together, more than when one or more of the stars is relegated to the sideline.

It is hard to deny Nash credit for the quick chemistry between Durant, Irving and Harden, and his ability to fill gaps with role players has kept Brooklyn playing well even when the stars are sitting.

The Nets' star-power makes Nash virtually ineligible to win Coach of the Year, an award that typically goes to an over-performing team that are good but not great. While Durant, Irving and Harden will receive accolades for the Nets' season, a lesser coach certainly could have derailed this runaway train given the numerous challenges.

Yes, the Nets have elite talent. But Nash has done plenty to maximise that talent while largely flying under the radar.

Related items

  • NBA: James reaches 40,000 points but Nuggets win 6th straight NBA: James reaches 40,000 points but Nuggets win 6th straight

    LeBron James scored his 40,000th point, but the Denver Nuggets closed strong and won their sixth straight game, 124-114 over the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday.

    James finished with 26 points and nine assists while reaching his latest milestone on a layup with 10:39 left in the second quarter. He extended his lead as the league’s career scoring leader.

    Nikola Jokić had 35 points and 10 rebounds, Michael Porter Jr. added 25 and 10 and Jamal Murray had 24 points, 11 assists and six boards to help Denver get within one-half game of Minnesota for the Northwest Division lead.

    The Nuggets closed the game on a 16-6 run, with Aaron Gordon’s 3-pointer with 3:49 left putting them ahead for good.

    Jokic made a turnaround hook before Murray hit a jumper and Justin Holiday converted a running layup for a 117-110 advantage. After Anthony Davis’s basket got the Lakers within 117-112 with 1:49 left, Murray made a layup and Jokic added a layup of his own.

    Booker injures ankle in Suns’ loss

    Jalen Green poured in 34 points with six 3-pointers to lead the Houston Rockets to a 118-109 win over the Phoenix Suns, who lost star guard Devin Booker to an ankle injury.

    Booker left late in the game after he injured his right ankle when he stepped on teammate Royce O’Neale’s foot. Booker had 24 points in 38 minutes before departing.

    Fred VanVleet scored 24 points and Alperen Sengun added 21 with 10 rebounds as the Rockets snapped a three-game skid and avenged Thursday’s loss at Phoenix.

    Kevin Durant had 30 points for the Suns, who had a nine-game home winning streak snapped.

    Butler leads Heat past Jazz

    Jimmy Butler scored 18 of his season-high 37 points in the third quarter and the Miami Heat defeated the Utah Jazz 126-120 for their 10th win in 13 games.

    Bam Adebayo added 23 points and Caleb Martin had 18 for the Heat, who beat the Jazz at home for the seventh straight time.

    Butler hit all three of his 3-point attempts and had a steal, extending his streak of having at least one 3 and one steal to 13 consecutive games – the fourth-longest run in the NBA this season and tying Tim Hardaway for the second-longest such streak in Heat history.

    Keyonte George scored 31 points and Lauri Markkanen added 25 as the Jazz lost their third straight and eighth in nine games.

  • Giannis becomes Milwaukee's winningest player as Bucks cruise past Bulls Giannis becomes Milwaukee's winningest player as Bucks cruise past Bulls

    Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 46 points as he became the player with the most wins in the Milwaukee Bucks' history on Friday, with the Chicago Bulls beaten 113-97 at United Center.

    For Milwaukee coach Doc Rivers, however, the focus is squarely on preparing for the postseason as the Bucks eye their third NBA Championship.

    Antetokounmpo surpassed the 40-point mark for the eighth time this season, also adding 16 rebounds and six assists, as the Bucks recorded their fifth straight victory.

    The win was the 489th of Antetokounmpo's Bucks career including both regular-season and playoff games, taking the two-time NBA MVP clear of Sidney Moncrief as the winningest player in franchise history.

    "Everybody has to be on the same page, and I feel like the last couple of games, we're doing that and that's why our defense has taken a step," Antetokounmpo said after the win. 

    "Hopefully, we can keep it up. Right now, it's just about trust. We've just got to trust one another. That's it, win or lose, we have to have the same trust."

    For coach Rivers, who has led the team to an 8-7 run since replacing Adrian Griffin in January, all that matters is ensuring Milwaukee are ready for the postseason.

    "We're winning games, but for us, it's not about that right now," Rivers said. "Our whole key is getting ready. That's the first thing I told the players. 

    "We still have work to do, we're still pushing, we've got to get better. It's nicer to get wins than to lose, but we're not where we want to be yet."

    Milwaukee, who sit third in the Eastern Conference with a 40-21 record, are back in action against the 38-20 Los Angeles Clippers on Monday. 

    They then embark on a four-game California road stretch on Wednesday, when they face the Golden State Warriors at Chase Center. 

  • Clippers star Westbrook sidelined with hand fracture Clippers star Westbrook sidelined with hand fracture

    Russell Westbrook has been sidelined indefinitely after fracturing his left hand during the Los Angeles Clippers' 140-115 win over the Washington Wizards on Friday.

    Westbrook was hurt with around 10 minutes remaining in the second quarter, colliding with Jordan Poole as he attempted to poke the ball past the Washington guard.

    The 2017 NBA MVP exited the game around two minutes later and reports have suggested he may miss around a month, having sat out 14 games when he broke his other hand in the second game of the 2014-15 season.

    Clippers coach Tyronn Lue, however, was unable to offer a timeline on Westbrook's recovery after the game, saying: "I just feel bad for Russ right now. 

    "You never want to see a player get hurt. Poole drove around, and he tried to deflect it from the back. I think he hit his elbow with his hand.

    "So we don't know what timetable, we don't know if he needs surgery or anything yet. But he's out right now. So we're just trying to figure it out."

    Westbrook was the last remaining Clipper to have not missed a single game all season, but the team handled his absence well, improving to 38-20 with a dominant win.

    James Harden led the team with 28 points while Kawhi Leonard added 27 and Paul George tacked on 22, as the Clippers bounced back from Wednesday's defeat to a LeBron James-inspired Los Angeles Lakers team.

    For however long Westbrook is out, Lue knows he will be a major miss, saying: "He's going to stay engaged regardless. That's just who he is. 

    "We need him around, we need his energy, we need him talking, the way he leads.

    "Until he is able to get back, we're going to miss him. So hopefully it's a speedy recovery and we get him back sooner rather than later, but I'm not sure of the timetable right now."

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.