Nets reminded that chemistry isn’t built overnight

Brooklyn Nets center Andre Drummond and forward Kevin Durant and guard-forward Bruce Brown and forward Kessler Edwards huddle during the second half against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum.
Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to the Nets, the old saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day” certainly applies to a team trying to make up a season’s worth of chemistry in their final stretch of the year.

Brooklyn was reminded of that in Wednesday’s 132-120 loss to the Ja Morant-less Memphis Grizzlies. Even with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving’s combined 78 points, the Nets still struggled defensively, looked out of sorts through the first half and then ran out of gas in the final frame after mounting a third-quarter comeback.

“It is a new group,” Nets head coach Steve Nash said after the loss. “We’re still learning each other. If anything it’s a great experience for us. We learned that’s how teams are going to be. This is the way they play, they’re excellent at it, they’re bigger and stronger than us at every position. It is a challenge to match their physicality. We gotta match and prepare for. It’s a lesson, it’s an opportunity to see what the playoffs are going to look like.

“How we’re going to have to compete.”

The Nets’ fortunes have started to change slowly since Durant returned from an MCL sprain earlier this month, with the biggest piece of news coming just before tip-off on Wednesday that New York City’s vaccine mandate would be amended to allow for Iriving to play home games. Having one of their best players available for just two more games after Wednesday had been one of the biggest stumbling blocks for the Nets to continue to work on chemistry.

That has been eliminated, but injuries have continued to get in the way as well. They were without Seth Curry, Goran Dragic and LaMarcus Aldridge when they faced Memphis.

All three are important pieces for the Nets and two have only just joined the team recently, with only limited chances to play with Irving so far. Even players like Andre Drummond and Kessler Edwards — both of whom started on Wednesday — as well as Patty Mills and Cam Thomas have had limited time playing with Irving.

The constant roster fluctuation during the year made it hard for cohesion to build as quickly as it has for other teams. Memphis was the perfect example of that.

The Grizzlies have rolled to a 15-2 record this year in games that they didn’t have Morant. A very different story from the Nets, who fell into the play-round during the time they were without Durant earlier this year.

Seven different Grizzlies scored in double figures against the Nets without Morant.

“They just play free,” Irving said about Memphis. “They play free and move the basketball and Desmond Bane does a great job staying aggressive, picking his spots. They really get to that three-point line and if that three is not working then second chance point has been a staple of their offense. What was it, 30 points on second-chance points and 27 points on the fast break?”

Durant added: “I think 1-10 in their rotation is just solid players. Ja is a superstar of their team, but they’ve got guys that can pretty much start on a lot of teams in this league. Their front office did a great job of putting (the Grizzlies) together.”

The return of Kyrie Irving full-time makes the Nets one of the most exciting teams to watch going forward, but they were reminded that chemistry doesn’t happen with the flip of a switch. And with just nine games left on the calendar, they’ll need every one of those games to build that cohesion.