NBA regular season

Slow and steady for Brooklyn’s new superteam

Naveen Ganglani
Slow and steady for Brooklyn’s new superteam

TRIPLE THREAT. Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving know what it takes to win at the highest level.

Photo from NBA

There will be growing pains, as there usually are with superteams, but more often than not it all works out

The Brooklyn Nets will be the most interesting team in the NBA to monitor as the rest of the regular season goes by. They are a primetime hour special: always exciting to watch, because on any given day, they can be a source of pure entertainment, good or bad.

When James Harden played his first two games as a Net without Kyrie Irving (who was out for personal reasons), the potential of an offensive juggernaut was on full display. Ditto for their glaring holes on defense, which were compounded when Irving returned and Brooklyn dropped two straight against the Cavaliers.

The next two games against the undermanned Miami Heat were like yin and yang. 

The Heat, playing without Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro, scored 124 on Brooklyn’s defense led by the career night of young All-Star big man Bam Adebayo, who had 41 points. It was the Nets’ offense, sparked by Irving’s 4th quarter, which closed the deal.

When both teams faced off two days later, Brooklyn struggled to score on Miami’s zone defense. Kevin Durant attributed it to his team missing many makeable shots, but also agreed the Heat’s 2-3 zone threw them off guard. Adebayo played well anew, but the Nets’ defense shut down the rest of the Heat and kept them in control. 

Late in the game, Harden, who had been quiet, shifted from assist man to takeover mode and sealed the triumph with consecutive big buckets.

This new Big Three is still finding harmony. Out of 6 possible games, they’ve only played 3 together. There will be growing pains, as there usually are with superteams. More often than not, it all works out, but Brooklyn’s front office and coaching staff will have to do their part in solidifying their weaknesses. For instance, rim protection could use improvement.

“I think our defense just held tight the whole game. Once we were able to stop them making some shots there in the 4th. We were able to pull away. But our defense won this game for sure,” Durant said after the second win against the defending Eastern Conference champs. 

That last sentence is key, because to be a championship contender – what Brooklyn aspires to be – defense is integral to winning. Especially in the playoffs. 

And even if the offense isn’t always humming, Brooklyn has 3 players who can compile points in rapid succession. 

The Heat had no business being that close against a complete Nets roster, but Brooklyn sought answers on offense with both Durant and Irving struggling from the field (a combined 12-of-38). With their defense holding up, Steve Nash’s team needed just one guy to get in a mojo. What a luxury to have – KD and Kyrie are off, but, hey, here’s Harden – the benefit of having 3 superstars.

And that was game.

“You know, it feels like he just transferred to a new school,” Durant said of Harden. “He is trying to figure out the curriculum. That’s going to take some time to figure out who your teammates are, what your rotations are in the game, and when to be aggressive, when to score.”

“I think tonight was perfect balance for him and we’re going to need more going forward,” KD added.

Harden acknowledged his new role in Brooklyn is different compared to the one he had for nearly a decade in Houston, where he was the end-all, be-all of the Rockets’ offense. James was judge, jury, and performer for the system analytics-driven GM Daryl Morey wanted to implement, but in Brooklyn, the former MVP accepts the role of setting the table before eating.

“I was in a role for 8 years controlling the ball, dominating the ball, now it’s a different experience for me but it’s still great. It is still basketball at the end of the day and I’m lucky to be able to do more than just one thing on the basketball court,” Harden said. 

“It’s a game within the game –  you got to pick and choose when to be aggressive, when to get your shooters going, when you know to let KD and Kyrie get going, and once we get a rhythm and that flow, we kind of start to feel each other out more.” 

History is on Brooklyn’s side when it comes to returns for building a super trio. It’s also important to note that Durant, Irving, and Harden have been part of long playoff runs, aware of what it takes to win at the highest level. 

The secret to their success will hinge on the little things, particularly the winning habits they form every single day – during practice when no one is watching, during dull moments of the schedule when they face teams with inferior talent, and during tight situations when they have to play situational basketball. 

Regardless of how undermanned Miami might have been, those wins were building blocks for what Brooklyn can be. –

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