Brooklyn Nets NBA Restart: Season Recap So Far
Catching up on the story of Brooklyn's season as the Nets prepare to resume play
After more than four months, the Brooklyn Nets will tip off again on Friday as the NBA resumes its season in Orlando. Brooklyn’s last game before the league suspended its season in the wake of the expanding COVID-19 pandemic was a 104-102 win against the Lakers in Los Angeles on March 10.
The season was stopped with the Nets holding a 30-34 record and standing seventh in the Eastern Conference, a half-game ahead of the Orlando Magic. With the restart on the horizon, let’s take a look back at how the season transpired before it was halted, as the Nets navigated injury and adversity to stay in the playoff picture.
HELLO KYRIE, AND KEVIN, AND DEANDRE
An Instagram post on the afternoon of Sunday, June 30, 2019 shook the NBA and changed the course of a franchise. Kevin Durant was bound for Brooklyn, as were Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan, three All-NBA talents choosing the Nets in free agency. The roster makeover also included a trade for Taurean Prince and the acquisition of veteran free agents Garrett Temple and Wilson Chandler.
With Durant sidelined for the season following his NBA Finals Achilles tear, the spotlight on the court belonged to Irving at the start. This was the homecoming Irving had sought, after growing up in New Jersey rooting for the Nets. Right from opening night, he seized the moment.
Irving opened up with 50 points against Minnesota in his Nets debut, then two nights later delivered a game-winner against the Knicks. In his first 11 games as a Net, Irving averaged 28.5 points, 7.2 assists, and 5.4 rebounds per game, scoring 30 points or more four times in the first three weeks, including 33 points as the Nets opened up a five-game road trip with a win at Portland against a Blazers team coming off a Western Conference finals appearance.
A ROOKIE AND A ROUGH ROAD TRIP
On that West Coast trip, the Nets got a glimpse of potential and a shot of adversity.
With DeAndre Jordan sidelined by an ankle sprain, opportunity arose for rookie Nic Claxton in the road trip opener at Portland. In preseason action, the young big man had flashed energy and explosiveness. His regular season debut was no different as he went for eight points and six rebounds in just 12 minutes of a win at Portland. Claxton’s first impression was enough to keep him in the rotation for the next month, even after Jordan returned to action.
But setbacks were coming. The Nets moved on to Phoenix, where a one-sided loss proved to be the last game for Caris LeVert until after New Year’s thanks to a thumb injury that required surgery. In Denver, the Nets lost their third straight with Irving playing through pain. Sidelined by a shoulder injury that would eventually end his season, Irving missed Brooklyn’s next 26 games.
SPENCER STEPS IN, STEPS UP
The close of the five-game road trip, a 117-111 win in Chicago on November 16, tipped off a remarkable run of resilience. With Irving and LeVert sidelined, Spencer Dinwiddie stepped into a leading role and performed at an elite level. The Nets went 12-6 through Christmas with Dinwiddie averaging 26.1 points per game, ninth in the NBA during that stretch, plus 7.2 assists per game. On November 25, Dinwiddie was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week after leading the Nets to three wins in four games. That very night, he delivered another victory with a game-winning jumper to beat Cleveland on the road, 108-106. In back-to-back games in December, Dinwiddie scored a career-high 41 points at San Antonio, followed by 39 against Atlanta in a win that lifted the Nets to 16-13 on December 21.
Dinwiddie’s pick and roll partner, center Jarrett Allen, elevated his game as well, averaging a double-double with 14.2 points and 11.7 rebounds per game while shooting 68 percent, putting up his second career 20-20 game with 22 points and 21 rebounds against Cleveland during Thanksgiving week. Joe Harris averaged 15.9 points while shooting 41.3 percent from 3-point range and 48.2 percent overall. While that trio carried the load offensively, a group effort powered the Nets to a top-10 defensive rating over those 18 games.
NEW YEAR’S RETURNS
As the momentum faded after Christmas, reinforcements were on the way. LeVert returned on January 4, but the big surprise at Barclays Center that evening was Irving publicly discussing his shoulder injury for the first time since he had last played back in Denver. A week later, the superstar guard was back, making 10 of 11 shots and scoring 21 points in a rout of Atlanta. Two nights later, he put up 32 points and 11 assists against Utah.
But coming off 45 points in an overtime win at Detroit, Irving, the Nets, and the entire NBA family were stunned on January 26 with the tragic death of the legendary Kobe Bryant. A mentor to Irving, a childhood idol of Los Angeles native Dinwiddie, and an iconic figure to a generation of current NBA players, Bryant’s death left the Nets with a shaken and silent locker room on that Sunday afternoon.
At Barclays Center two nights later, having put aside his familiar No. 8 jersey in honor of Bryant, Dinwiddie scored 28 points and powered a decisive fourth-quarter run in a win over Detroit. Then Irving made his own statement. In a rout of Chicago, Irving lit up Barclays Center with 54 points, three shy of the franchise NBA record, while making 19-of-23 shots and 7-of-9 3-pointers. It was the last magnificent moment of a limited season for Irving. He suffered a knee sprain in Brooklyn’s next game in Washington, and in late February opted for shoulder surgery that ended his season.
Irving’s injury opened the door for LeVert to return to the starting lineup after coming off the bench during his first month back. Right away he torched Phoenix for 29 points plus seven assists in a 119-97 win at Barclays Center on February 3. That matched his career high at the time, but he quickly eclipsed it with 37 points against Toronto two games later.
In Brooklyn’s final 16 games before the season was suspended, LeVert averaged 24.1 points, 5.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds while shooting 41.3 percent from 3-point range. In Boston on March 3, LeVert was transcendent. With the Nets trailing the Celtics by as many as 21 points, LeVert carried them to a comeback win with a 51-point night, scoring 37 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. He forced OT with three free throws in the final second, then scored the first eight points of the extra period. Three nights later, back in Brooklyn, LeVert added his first career triple-double as the Nets rolled over San Antonio, with 27 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists.
NEW COACH, AND A SUDDEN STOP
The March 6 win over the Spurs would be the last game as Nets coach for Kenny Atkinson. Hired to take over a 21-win team in the summer of 2016, Atkinson steered a Brooklyn rebuild that was centered on the development of draft picks and talent that had not blossomed elsewhere, from Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris to Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, and D’Angelo Russell. It paid off in a 42-win season that brought the Nets back to the playoffs in the spring of 2019.
But on the morning of Saturday, March 7, the Nets announced that Atkinson and the team had mutually agreed to part ways. Moving to the head of the bench was Jacque Vaughn, Atkinson’s top assistant throughout his Brooklyn tenure. The Nets won Vaughn’s debut the following evening against the Bulls, then prepped to take off for what they expected to a be a four-game West Coast trip.
In Los Angeles, the Nets delivered a highlight win of the season. Dinwiddie’s jumper with 28.8 seconds remaining was the game-winner — his third of the season — breaking a tie and giving Brooklyn a 104-102 win against the Western Conference leaders. But the road trip, and the season, stopped there, with the NBA suspending play the following night.
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