Playing in the Eastern Conference fails to offer the Brooklyn Nets a nightly barometer, but the red-hot Oklahoma City Thunder provided just that Friday night at the Barclays Center. The Nets provided a mere speed bump to Kevin Durant’s locomotive MVP train, though.
The Thunder dominated from the start and blew off the Nets’ doors, 120-95. Durant sizzled with 26 points and seven assists, including 8-for-9 shooting in the first half when he repeatedly knocked down contested fadeaway jumpers.
“They’re playing at a high level,” point guard Shaun Livingston said. “That’s all I can say really.”
In the process, the Thunder outrebounded the Nets, 41-17. The Nets’ 17 rebounds marked the fewest in NBA history, and the Thunder won its 10th straight game.
While the Nets have reversed course in 2014, their play of late has certainly lacked the kind of style one looks for in a playoff contender. The Nets will comfortably make the playoffs, but sliding through the backdoor into a miserable Eastern playoff scenario does not align with Mikhail Prokhorov’s goals.
In addition to their gut-wrenching giveaway loss Monday night to the Toronto Raptors, the Nets struggled with a tanking Boston Celtics team the night before. Spurts in wins over the Dallas Mavericks and Orlando Magic also provided cause for concern.
Deron Williams said the team reverted to its old ways at times by dropping their heads and feeling sorry for themselves.
“That’s kind of the tendency we had in the beginning of the season when we weren’t sure,” Williams said. “We weren’t defending. I think that happened a little bit (against Oklahoma City). That’s something with this team that can happen.”
The Nets are a good team, but do performances like the one against the Thunder signal the team lacks the potential for greatness? Oklahoma City simply outclassed the Nets. The Thunder’s length and speed forced the Nets into hurried and sporadic shots. The second-chance opportunities came few and far between as well.
“I just think we came out flat on both ends,” forward Paul Pierce said. “They looked like the team that had three days off. I guess the rest that we got this week did more harm than good. They really took it to us. They really came in here with a purpose, and we didn’t respond to them.”
Head coach Jason Kidd simply chalked up the loss to one of those games.
“That’s basketball,” Kidd said. “It happens.”
The Nets’ performance resembled their early-season woes. Pierce and Joe Johnson never quite got going and Williams played like a reserve. He continued to come off the bench, which seemed warranted after a miserable start to the game.
With Williams’ costly turnover against the Raptors notwithstanding, he opened his segment of the game with three quick turnovers. In Williams’ first 11:31 of floor-time, the point guard went a game-worst -20. For a player garnering an average annual salary of $19.6 million, the Nets need more.
Durant will actually earn $700,000 less this season than Williams. And if Durant fails to win the MVP award, he will finish second in the race. Durant averages 31.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg, and 5.2 apg. For Durant, no feat on the floor appears too tall.
At this rate, Williams does not deserve his starting position back. If Jason Kidd reinserts Williams in the starting lineup, the move will come without merit. Even in the blowout loss, Livingston provided one of the few bright spots. On one play in the first quarter, Livingston stripped Durant and cruised in for a two-handed flush. He finished with a team-high 16 points, four rebounds, and three steals. Williams scored 14 points on 5-for-8 shooting, but he dished out just one assist in 31 minutes.
In a salary cap system, teams cannot afford to miss on max contracts. While Prokhorov appears content to absorb some $80 million in luxury taxes, the Nets cannot go out and sign another player. Williams is certainly more talented than he has played, but he needs to start displaying that talent on a nightly basis.
The Nets still went 10-3 in January, but they closed the month in less than desirable fashion. They trailed by 30 points going into the third quarter against the Thunder, who missed starting point guard Russell Westbrook.
The Nets receive a quick turnaround for another litmus test. The Indiana Pacers, who boast the second best record in the league after the Thunder, welcome the Nets to Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Unfortunately for the Nets, no rest for the weary.