There hadn’t been a more impressive team in the early part of the NBA season than the Brooklyn Nets after blowout wins over the Warriors and Celtics that everyone got a chance to watch.
Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving meshed like peanut butter and jelly in nationally televised showcases of their talents as they finally got together to open the 2020-21 season after Durant had to sit out all of last year following an Achilles tear in the 2019 NBA Finals.
Durant looked no worse for the wear, which says a lot since that injury is tough to come back from. Brooklyn crushed Golden State 125-99 in the opening game of the entire NBA season and then dismantled Boston at TD Garden 123-95 in the third game of the Christmas Day quintuple-header. Kemba Walker was missing for the Celtics but Irving still sent a message to his former team considering he’s still considered the scapegoat for how his tumultuous one season sporting a shamrock on his chest transpired.
Durant had to sit out all of last year following an Achilles tear in the 2019 NBA Finals. Durant looked no worse for the wear, which says a lot since that injury is tough to come back from. Early work. pic.twitter.com/d3b8e4Cubs— Washington Wizards (@WashWizards) December 29, 2020
Even with just 72 games set to be played this season, the NBA schedule remains a marathon and you can’t get too far ahead of yourself or allow perceptions to be set in stone this early on. That reminder came quickly for anyone who rushed to the window wanting to back Brooklyn based on the small sample size that saw it become one of six teams in league history to win their first two games by more than 25 points. It hadn’t been done since Sacramento accomplished the feat to open the 2002-03 campaign.
Steve Nash utilized all 15 players on his roster against the Warriors, which is something that had never happened due to roster expansion due to COVID-19. Heading to what would’ve been only the third 3-0 start in franchise history, the Nets then suffered some major trauma in a 106-104 loss at Charlotte in which key guard Spencer Dinwiddie suffered a partially torn ACL, ending his season.
Brooklyn then went on to lose to Memphis at home on Monday and enter a set of back-to-back home games against the unbeaten Hawks this week searching for answers after running into some adversity for the first time. Dinwiddie was an excellent backcourt partner for Irving in that he could take some pressure off him with playmaking skills and was a solid spot-up shooter who can also defend opposing point guards. Considering that Nash will want to keep Caris LeVert coming off the bench since everyone liked how aggressively he has been handling his sixth-man role, someone like Tyler Johnson may get the call. Shooter Landry Shamet is also an option, but Brooklyn will no longer be as deep as it expected to be, which is crucial in this strange season where the NBA hasn’t even announced a back-half of the schedule.
As of Monday, the Nets were +200 to win the Eastern Conference and +450 to win the NBA title. You’ll want to wait for better numbers before pulling the trigger there now. Durant is +1200 to win the MVP while Irving comes in at +5000. Although both are solid candidates, the fact they’re on the same team will likely mean they’ll split votes in each getting the credit for Brooklyn’s accomplishments.
In short, it’s time to pump the brakes on getting too excited about the Nets’ exploits. Yes, it’s fun to see a potential super team take shape, but they’ve got a lot of work to do over the next few months and have to succeed in one of the NBA’s toughest divisions. The Raptors, Celtics and 76ers are all formidable in their own right, led by All-Stars who will be up for the challenge of sending Brooklyn a message that there’s a pecking order in the Atlantic and no one will be handing anything over easily without a fight.
Bulls at Wizards: Chicago visits Washington D.C. on New Year’s Eve as the backcourt combination of Coby White and Zach LaVine collides with Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal. The Bulls have been terribly disappointing out of the gate and will face a talented duo that has started the season putting up numbers. Lay the points with Washington at home here. WIZARDS
Suns at Nuggets: Phoenix will spend New Year’s Day dealing with Nikola Jokic in what should be one of the most attractive matchups in 2021’s first day of action. Deandre Ayton will make sure the Nuggets’ All-Star center will have to run up and down the floor with him for most of the game and I see avoiding foul trouble being a major focal point to Monty Williams’ game plan, so look for a high-scoring game here. OVER
Clippers at Suns: L.A. found itself down 50 points at the break against the Mavericks last Sunday, so my expectation is that they’ll be far more prepared to play in this one. Old friend Chris Paul will have to deal with the pesky defense of Patrick Beverley, while Phoenix’s young wings will have their work cut out for them against Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
Look for the visitors to post an outright win, potentially as a small favorite, and lay the points in what should be a strong bounce-back game. CLIPPERS
Last week: 2-1