Road Trip Takeaways: Nets’ defensive struggles, Kyrie Irving & consistent foul calls

Brooklyn Nets
Brooklyn Nets guard Patty Mills and guard Kyrie Irving during the third quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The Nets went 2-2 in their four-game road trip that included stops in Cleveland, D.C., San Antonio and Minnesota. It wasn’t all perfect and the Nets booked ended things with two tough losses against the Cavaliers and Timberwolves.

Brooklyn will return to the Barclays Center for two games before jumping back on the road for a five-game trip out west. The Nets’ stellar road record was put to the test a bit and they now have a 17-6 record away from home, which remains one of the best in the league.

The four-game trip the Nets are coming off of did provide some insight into a few aspects of the team, including how far along Kyrie Irving is in his return and how Brooklyn would hold up without Kevin Durant. Here are three takeaways from the Nets’ road trip.

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Kyrie is Back in Form

Kyrie Irving has now been back for seven games since returning on a part-time basis because of his vaccination status, but it hasn’t seemed to take him long to regain his form. The seven-time NBA All-Star has been the offensive juggernaut on the trip that the Nets needed, especially in games where fellow “Big Three” member James Harden struggled.

Irving had a pair of 30 point performances against Washington on Wednesday and Minnesota on Sunday. He finished the four-game stretch averaging 27.8 points, 6.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds, while shooting 53.4% from the field and 39.3% three-point range. The rust that seemed to be there in his first few games earlier has seemly gone away with more consistent games to play in.

The span of four games in seven nights was the first sustained stretch Irving has had so far and it showed, even if Irving had a more humble view of his game.

“I think I’m slowly crawling into my prime right now,” Irving said. “That’s me if I had to evaluate myself, but coming off a good road trip like this was a good test. I’m just grateful I was able to get up and down and come out of these games healthy. I feel like I’m in a better rhythm just shape-wise, just being able to play both ends of the ball and shots in terms of getting to my spots.

“And knocking down some easy shots. It felt like they were good for the flow of the team and game to game just making adjustments. That was new for me.”

Irving will have four days off before he is back on the court with his teammates. He cannot play home games due to NYC’s vaccine mandate.

Brooklyn’s Defense Needs to Make Stops

The Nets defense has proved to be a bit of a head-scratcher over the last four games. On some nights they’ve beared down to pull out wins in Washington and San Antonio and other nights they just can’t seem to get the stops the Nets Needed. Brooklyn allowed a season-high 136 points on Sunday to the Timberwolves and let them shoot 52% from the floor and 44% from beyond the arc.

It’s been a continuing trend for the Nets, who have gone from being one of the better defensive teams in the league earlier this year to one of the worst. Since Dec. 27, Brooklyn has had a defensive efficiency of 117.2, which is third-worst in the NBA. Prior to that, it was fifth-best at 106.4.

“I don’t think the defense is sustainable,” head coach Steve Nash said on Sunday night when asked why they couldn’t close the gap to tie the game. “In those two pockets in the third and fourth, we still gave up 64 points in the second half. If you’re going to come back and win a game, you’re down 12 or whatever at halftime you have to put together some sustainable runs defensively. You have to keep it going for longer stretches and we just never could get more than a couple of minutes, two, three minutes of stops.”

Sunday’s loss wasn’t the only time that occurred during the road trip. Nash also commented about the defensive effort on Wednesday as well when Brooklyn surrendered 64 points in the first half to the Wizards.

Harden, Nets looking for foul call consistency

James Harden and the Nets probably didn’t make many friends in the NBA league office, but their frustration was evident about the inconsistent nature in which fouls have been called on Harden. The Nets “Big Three” member went to the line four times in Sunday’s loss.

“I don’t even wanna talk about it,” Harden said on Sunday. “When I get to the basket, it’s the same calls that other guys are getting. Obviously, you can’t call all of them, but there’s ones where there’s clearly stiff arms and trips and things like that, but on the other end there’s no consistency. It’s frustrating.”

A lot of it has stemmed from the changes to the rules on how officials make some of their calls. The league made “an interpretive change in the officiating of overt, abrupt or abnormal non-basketball moves by offensive players with the ball in an effort to draw fouls.”

“I think there’s nights where it’s fair and even, including the points of emphasis this year,” Nash said. “And then there’s other nights where it feels like he gets targeted a little bit, just automatically gets lumped into that point of emphasis where he’s creating the foul which is not always the case at all.”