Whatever cushion the Brooklyn Nets have built before the stunning trades of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving is all gone. What’s left of a team with championship aspirations is a collection of stout defensive players who couldn’t defend collectively.
Wednesday night’s 142-118 loss at the Garden against their crosstown rivals New York Knicks takes the cake for their string of blowout losses.
They were only competitive for the first two minutes as the Knicks smothered their feeble defense. Jalen Brunson bullied them for 30 points in the opening half. Julius Randle was dancing around them. Quentin Grimes made them his shooting target. Mitchell Robinson dominated inside the paint.
The margin wasn’t like their futile 44-point loss in Chicago. But the manner they got destroyed was the same.
By halftime, the Knicks have scored 81 points, just three points shy of their franchise record.
“They’re human beings,” Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said of his radically reshaped roster. “To give up 142 points to your crosstown team, that hurts, and it should hurt. The care factor rises to a different level.”
Vaughn added he asked the team at halftime if [their first-half performance] hurt them as a group.
They responded with a 15-6 start in the first four minutes of the third quarter to cut the Knicks’ lead to 18. But that was the only stretch the Nets looked competitive all night. After that fleeting moment, the Knicks regained control and were never seriously threatened.
“We have some competitive guys and so they are concerned about winning,” Vaughn said. “We’ve always made that the priority. We’re not hiding from that. We’re trying to win every single game.”
It’s harder to win now with no Durant or Irving consistently taking over for them when things get rough.
“And so I asked that we give just more and what that means is more time together, back-to-backs, shootarounds, recovery days, all of the above,” Vaughn said. “We’re going to have to give more to bring our group together quicker than normal.”
The Nets have a 1-6 record since all four new starters, who came via the separate Durant and Irving deals, have played together. Four of those losses were blowouts. They have slipped to sixth place in the Eastern Conference and only have a 1 1/2 game lead over the seventh-seed Miami Heat.
The schedule doesn’t get easier with the reigning Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics waiting for them on Friday.
The Nets are transitioning on the fly. They had little time to practice together since the trade deadline. But time is also of the essence, with only 20 games left in the regular season.
“I’m learning the strengths and weaknesses of this group, not with their previous stops where it’s a combination of this group together and what it presents,” Vaughn said. “So I am learning that, and my job is to convince him to buy into us doing it together.”
Vaughn has a lot more convincing to do.
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