The Nets were undersized and undermanned. And for the first time in weeks, they were defeated.
Playing not only without Kevin Durant, but also with Kyrie Irving sidelined, the Nets got throttled 115-98 by the Mavericks at Barclays Center. It snapped what had been an NBA-best eight game winning streak, and spoiled a chance to take over first place in the Eastern Conference.
Durant has missed seven straight games, while Irving was scratched in the afternoon for maintenance on his surgically repaired right shoulder, which limited him to just 20 games last season. With the Big 3 whittled down to just James Harden, the Nets (22-13) never really stood a chance against Luka Doncic and the Mavericks.
“He’s capable of a whole lot on the basketball floor. He makes his teammates better. But it can’t be James [Harden] alone,” Nets coach Steve Nash warned before the game. “We got to have a good team performance. Guys have got to step up and play well both sides of the ball if we want a chance to win against a very difficult team. If you look at Luka, he poses every challenge in the book.
“He scores, he draws fouls, he makes plays for teammates at an elite level. Incredible size for a player of his skill and playmaking ability so he can beat you in a number of ways. He also has the personality to win games. So he poses a great challenge for us.
“It will be really good for our guys to see a player of that skill-set and see how we can do with our defense as we continue to try to improve and push for improvements. He’s definitely going to challenge us, so it’s a great opportunity for them to keep growing.”
The Nets probably needed health more than growth. Also missing Spencer Dinwiddie (out for the season with a torn ACL) and Tyler Johnson (migraine), they were woefully shorthanded.
Harden finished with 29 points, seven rebounds and six assists, but Bruce Brown and Jeff Green (who missed the prior two games and had been questionable with a right shoulder contusion) were the only other Nets in double-figures.
Dallas (16-16) put a half-dozen in double figures, led predictably by Doncic. The young Mavericks star had 27 points, seven assists and six rebounds; but unlike Harden, he had help.
Kristaps Porzingis finished with 18 points, and gave Dallas a Texas-sized height advantage in the paint. He proved too tall for Green, and far too mobile for DeAndre Jordan.
In the end, the Nets squandered a chance to leapfrog the 76ers, who lost in overtime to the Cavaliers. The Nets stayed a half-game behind Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference.
The Nets fell behind early, only to try to rally and pull even at 24-all. First Harden put Tim Hardaway Jr. (13 points) on his derriere with a crossover. The next trip down, he hit a four-point play.
But the Mavericks responded with the next 10 points, part of a 16-2 run that put the game away. The Nets fell behind 40-26 and never recovered.
Dallas led by as many as 22 as the Nets lost for the first time since Feb. 9.
“Luka is obviously one of the most talented players in the league. Going over some of the stuff this morning, we were talking about the amount of pick-and-rolls that he gets over the course of the game,” Joe Harris said. “He’s one of the highest in the NBA in that regard, so it’s just a lot of difficulty in terms of guarding the repetition of that when he’s constantly in attack mode looking to create.“And then he can beat you at so many levels. He’s a solid three-point shooter, but he’s really good at getting into the paint, drawing fouls and then finding a lot of shooters and creating offense for other guys. It will definitely be a difficult task for us. It’s not any one person’s job in particular. It’s definitely going to be a collective effort.”
Instead, it was a complete team loss.