Even with Kevin Durant’s return, questions remain for Nets down stretch

Nets Kevin Durant
Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant shoots as Miami Heat center Dewayne Dedmon (21) and Caleb Martin (16) look on during the second half at Barclays Center.
Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Durant may be back, but the questions surrounding the Nets remain, and after Thursday’s loss to the undermanned Miami Heat they’ve only gotten louder.

For a little while, it looked as though Durant’s return, like a superhero coming out of nowhere to save the city, was quickly changing the Nets’ fortunes. Brooklyn scored 67 first-half points against Miami and looked as though they had finally turned a corner.

The Nets hit shots, got stops on the other end and Durant quickly found a rhythm after missing his first two shots of the game. Then, like clockwork, the same old issues began to rear their ugly head.

Brooklyn’s shooting went ice cold in the third quarter, their defense got walked through by Miami and late fourth-quarter surge still wasn’t enough to edge out a win. The Nets came close, but in the end, it was the same old story.

“Overall this is a game we should win and we told our guys after the game,” acting head coach Jacque Vaughn said. “We should feel disappointed. We should have won this game.”

The loss pushed Brooklyn further behind the seventh-place Toronto Raptors and sixth place Cleveland Cavaliers. Sufficit to say trying to climb from five games back of the sixth spot in the East is not how the Nets envisioned their March.

And falling to an undermanned Heat squad wasn’t what they had planned for Durant’s return.

“There’s no moral victories,” said Durant, who put up 31 points in 35 minutes of work in his first game back. “We know how we played. We know what we need to do to win, but we see things from the outside looking in and correct them and keep pushing.”

A large part of that will be building a sense of cohesion between Durant and the new additions to the Nets. Of Brooklyn’s starters on Thursday, he had only been on the floor with one of them prior to the game. That of course was Bruce Brown, who has averaged 14 points over his last eight games on 50% shooting.

That means Goran Dragic, Andre Drummond, Seth Curry still have to get acclimated with one another. And that’s before you add Kyrie Irving, who is limited to playing part-time because of New York City’s private-sector vaccine mandate, and Ben Simmons who is expected to make his Nets debut in the coming weeks.

All of that comes with the season quickly winding down and the Nets’ chances of having to go through the play-in round becoming more and more likely. That could make things quite tricky for Brooklyn, especially with it being hard to say just how long it will take to create that chemistry among everyone.

“It could take one game, it could take 20 games you know,” Durant said. “It’s just a matter of actually getting out there and seeing what works for us. It’s not like a certain formula or criteria that goes into this how you know you built chemistry. It kind of works like anything that happens naturally.”

As everyone players together, it should solve some of the Nets’ issues, which Dragic pointed to being more of a product of the defense than the team’s defense than offense. Brooklyn gave up 28 points in the third quarter on Thursday en route to their third straight loss.

“First of all we need to be on the same page defensively,” Dragic’s said. “Three guys are playing, I don’t know, switch game. The other guys are like blitzing. So there’s too many breakdowns. If we’re missing shots on offense we have to have defense to rely on. When you combine those two things, playing good defense and the offense is running as it should, then you get that separation.”