Since losing Kevin Durant to a sprained right knee two weeks ago, Brooklyn Nets coach Jacque Vaughn’s message to his players is, “Expect to win.”
While the Nets are not enduring an 11-game losing streak like last year when Durant missed 21 games, they are experiencing mixed results so far in the star forward’s absence. They hope to capitalize on a steady flow of home games heading into the All-Star break, starting with a Thursday visit from the Detroit Pistons.
The Nets are 2-5 since losing Durant to a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee when he collided with Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler in the third quarter on Jan. 8. Last year, they went 5-16 while Durant was sidelined from mid-January to early March due to an MCL sprain in his left knee.
This month, Brooklyn lost its first two games without Durant by struggling in the fourth quarters of home games against the Boston Celtics and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Then the Nets went 2-3 on a five-game trip that ended with a 137-133 loss at Philadelphia on Wednesday. Brooklyn allowed 41 points in the opening quarter, and the 76ers wound up shooting 51.2 percent from the floor and making 35 of 36 free throws.
“The result is the result, and that’s what I told the group after the game is this group that’s in the locker room right now, when we line it up against an opponent, expect to win,” Vaughn said of playing without Durant. “There’s no ifs, ands or buts. I don’t mention any other thing to the group in the locker room.”
Last year when Durant was sidelined, Kyrie Irving was unavailable for home games due to New York’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, and James Harden ultimately sought a trade away from Brooklyn.
This time, the Nets are not dealing with any other injuries beyond Durant and are getting plenty from Irving. On Wednesday, Irving contributed 30 points and 10 assists, and he is averaging 36.5 points in his past four contests after being held to 24 and 15 in the first two games of Durant’s absence.
Irving had plenty of help at Philadelphia as the Nets nearly erased a 17-point deficit. Seth Curry scored a season-high 32 points, and Nic Claxton added 25 points and 11 rebounds for his fifth double-double in six games.
The Nets are 11-3 in their past 14 home games. They are 13-7 overall in Brooklyn, where they play eight of their next nine games.
“Just got to win (Thursday), that’s it,” Brooklyn’s Ben Simmons said.
Detroit heads to Brooklyn on a four-game skid and with seven losses in eight games.
The Pistons, who are allowing 120.3 points per game (the second-highest average in the NBA), are coming off their worst defensive showing of the season. They took a 150-130 loss to the visiting Milwaukee Bucks on Monday, when they allowed 49 points in the opening quarter and 83 points in the first half.
“The first quarter is what I was afraid would happen,” Detroit coach Dwane Casey said. “A championship-caliber team came in and put their stamp on the game at the beginning. We didn’t respond, and that’s how you give up a 49-point first quarter. I liked our fight after that, but this is a 48-minute game.”
It was the fourth time the Pistons allowed at least 140 this season and 11th instance of them yielding at least 130.
The ugly defensive night negated Detroit reaching 130 points for the fifth time along with a 33-point showing from Bojan Bogdanovic. The former Nets forward has scored at least 20 points in each of his past 10 games.
–Field Level Media