Preview: Brooklyn Nets Tip Off Stretch Run Against Boston Celtics

The new-look Brooklyn Nets are a work in progress as they return to action this week after the All-Star break.

There are 23 games remaining in the season beginning with Thursday’s match-up against the Boston Celtics at Barclays Center. The Nets head into the stretch run with a 31-28 record, standing eighth in the Eastern Conference. They need to get to sixth place to avoid the play-in round, and they’re currently 2½ games behind sixth-place Boston (34-26) with another game against the Celtics on the road on March 6.

While the Nets incorporated Seth Curry and Andre Drummond to the lineup just prior to the break, they’re still awaiting the return of Kevin Durant from his knee sprain as well as the Brooklyn debuts of Ben Simmons and Goran Dragic.

“I think our biggest dilemma is probably going to be that cohesion, chemistry, the bonds that are formed, getting as many minutes as we possibly can,” said Nets GM Sean Marks during a fan event on Tuesday evening at Barclays Center. “I don’t know how many games these guys are all going to play together but I think we saw it play out last year when it was half a dozen games they played together. We do not want to be in that same boat. As many minutes as these guys can play together on the court and also for the coaching staff. This has not been an easy year for the coaching staff. I think we’ve had 33 plus lineups out there, leading the league in lineups, and nobody wants that record. We don’t want that. But it’s giving other people an opportunity and they’ve seized it which is great but over the course of these next 23 games we need to be building continuity and chemistry both on and off the court.”

In the final week before the All-Star break, the Nets began to turn the corner in ending an 11-game losing streak with a home win against Sacramento and then a comeback win against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, matching a franchise record in erasing a 28-point deficit for the victory.

“It’s about continuing to have that same character, the same principles, those same values that these guys are showing where they’re coming together, not pulling apart,” said head coach Steve Nash after the win over the Knicks. “They’re finding solutions. They’re trusting in us and we’re showing a deep trust and belief in them. Things are getting better. We’re growing I think a resolve that’s really important down the road. Like I said, just really proud of the players for the way they’ve responded with all the challenges that have been thrown at them.”

The Nets received quick dividends from the arrivals of Curry and Drummond, who played the final three games before the break and stepped right into the starting lineup. Curry had 23 points against the Kings and 20 against the Knicks and has made 12-of-23 3-pointers as a Net so far. Drummond scored 11 points in each of the two wins and had 19 rebounds against the Knicks.

“We were already in a good place from last game, even the game in Miami, there was good energy,” said Curry after the win over the Knicks. “We were playing the right way, playing hard, trying to do it together, and these last two games were really a culmination of having the right mindset, guys having the newfound energy, both us and both the guys that were here before the trade and me and Drum coming in, even Ben. We’re playing a fun style of basketball and it’s kind of like new life, so these two wins are great, but it’s really a culmination of what we’ve been doing in practice, walkthroughs and just our attitude in the locker room.”

After they play the Celtics on Thursday, the Nets will visit defending champion Milwaukee on Saturday, followed by a home-and-home with seventh-place Toronto (32-25), which is currently two games ahead of Brooklyn. Then comes first-place Miami at Barclays Center on March 3 and a three-game road trip — Boston, Charlotte, Philadelphia. Starting with a Sunday afternoon game against the Knicks on March 13, the Nets will play 10 of their final 15 games at home.

“We’re in a really good place from a team standpoint right now,” said Patty Mills during his media session at All-Star Weekend, where he participated in the 3-Point Contest. “The locker room is close, as close as it’s ever been this season and the things that we’ve been able to do off the court has really brought the group tighter together. The goal of what we’re trying to get to is clear and now that we add these pieces and get people back from injury it’s a determined, fire-burning hunger that we all have now. The importance for us to get away, have a break, enjoy some downtime with some family, but once we get back it’s pedal to the metal and we’re trying to get this thing done this year.”