The Nets aren’t in do or die mode yet, Kyrie Irving told reporters in Boston, but the situation they find themselves in is not what anyone had anticipated for this year’s team. Even amid the COVID outbreak that forced Brooklyn to lean on its role players and rookies, imagining the Nets falling as far as they have didn’t seem possible.
Brooklyn entered Tuesday’s showdown with the Charlotte sitting in ninth place and desperately trying to catch the sixth place Cleveland Cavaliers. If the Nets can avoid the play-in tournament that would be music to their ears, but the likelihood of that happening is growing slimmer as the days pass and the number of games on the calendar dwindles.
“We’re not in this do or die mode, but we just know in order for us to be in position for contention, we’ve gotta do the little things in order to win every single night,” Irving said.
The month of March is known for March Madness in college basketball, but the Nets will be going through their own with 16 games left after Tuesday. Even if the Nets can’t clear the play-in, they’ll still need to battle to get preferred seeding for the pre-playoff tournament.
Essentially the seventh seed faces the eighth seed and they will get two chances to win one game and advanced to the playoffs. The ninth seed and 10th seed face off with the winner of that game playing the loser of the 7-8 matchup.
The winner of that game goes on to the playoffs as well.
Regardless of where the Nets finish, head coach Steve Nash has preached the need for the team to improve. Nash has, to the dismay of some fans, remained upbeat even in the face of mounting losses.
“Of course, we want to win all these games but the most important thing I think is to improve here if we stay in the play-in and we’re improving, that’s all that really matters,” Nash said. “We can’t complain about our play. This is where we are. We’ve had no time together and we’re trying to put a team together without one of our All-Star players (Ben Simmons), who’s not here. It takes time. We can’t cheat that.”
The Nets have indeed had to play shorthanded for various reasons this season, including injuries to Kevin Durant, Irving’s unvaccinated status and now Simmons’ longer than expected return to game action. It’s been more than enough to raise concerns among those who follow the team.
As for those on the court, they don’t have time for that.
“We know what we gotta do,” Durant said. “We know what situation we in. We want to win every game. We’re going to come out there and try to win that game. It’s a sense of urgency, but we not putting pressure on us every time we’re around each other.”