Brooklyn will finally have their “big three” on the court for the first time this season tonight when Kyrie Irving makes his debut in Indiana. The 29-year old point guard is only eligible to play in road games that do not take place in New York or Toronto.
The ten-year veteran adds a whole different dimension to the lethal offense that the Nets can put on the floor. Brooklyn has two MVPs that are capable of taking over in late-game situations, but neither Kevin Durant nor James Harden can drive the lane and finish at the rim as well as Irving. His touch and body control makes him one of the most elite finishers in the game.
Irving’s return couldn’t come at a better time for the Nets, who have lost three games in a row, and four of their last six. In fact, Brooklyn has just two wins since December 16. Even more surprisingly, their entire three-game losing streak has taken place at home. They have a solid chance of ending that skid tonight as they take on a beaten-up Pacers team that is on the second night of a back-to-back after suffering their fifth consecutive loss last night in New York.
There will certainly be some rust with Irving’s return to action, as he has not played since their final playoff game against the Bucks back in June. What exactly will Brooklyn be getting?
Last season, Irving played in 54 regular-season games and ranked 9th in scoring at 26.9 points per game. He finished 21st in assists and had the 11th-best PER (Player Efficiency Rating) in the league. Like Durant and Harden, the shifty point guard is an elite free-throw shooter as he has shot 92 percent from the line in each of the past two seasons. Those things certainly matter in close games.
That is actually an area where the Nets have thrived this season as they are 4-0 in games decided by one possession and 1-0 in overtime games. Oddly enough, Brooklyn is the only top-six team in the East with a losing record against teams that are .500 or better. They are 8-10 in those games but 15-2 against teams that are below .500 for the season.
Simply put, the Nets are beating the teams they are supposed to but struggle against the elite teams in the league. That is a clear indication that this team is not championship caliber as currently constructed. Adding an All-Star like Irving certainly changes that, even on a part-time status.
More from Kevin Durant on what it means for Kyrie Irving to come back:
"This is our livelihoods, this is something we dream about every day. To go through this situation and get an opportunity to play right now, I know there's a lot of emotions going through his head." pic.twitter.com/xAZxXEaaXO
— Nets Videos (@SNYNets) January 4, 2022
Irving changes all of that, by addressing their biggest weakness on offense. By breaking down the defense and setting up his teammates, it creates opportunities for role players to shine. That is where the debate about having home court advantage in the postseason should end.
The question surrounding this team going forward is whether or not they actually want to have home court in the playoffs. Normally that is an absurd question to ask, but this situation is anything but normal.
Is it better for Brooklyn to have Irving on the floor on the road, or play without him at home?
The initial answer to that question would most certainly be to have him playing, even if it meant playing on the road. When thinking about it more, it really makes more sense for the Nets to have home court advantage. Getting the first two games at home is definitely an advantage, especially if it comes down to a decisive game 7. The second part of this deals with the reserves.
Role players tend to play much better at home than on the road. That is truly what separates this team from other contenders. Having guys like Joe Harris, Patty Mills, Blake Griffin, James Johnson, and Nic Claxton contributing more makes them impossible to defeat, even if they have just Durant and Harden.
"I don't think Brooklyn can win a championship without Kyrie Irving. With Kyrie Irving, they are the favorite to win a championship."@IsiahThomas breaks down what Kyrie's return means for the Nets. pic.twitter.com/Nf7rAPuxKN
— NBA TV (@NBATV) January 4, 2022
For those same reasons, some opposing teams may prefer to not have home court, if it means they don’t have to face Brooklyn’s fully-loaded roster. The main focus for the Nets should be to stay inside the top three of the loaded East. Should they fall any lower, it would likely mean facing the defending champions and the red-hot Bulls in the postseason.
Heading into this season the Nets were considered the favorites to make it to the NBA Finals. Irving’s situation has definitely changed that outlook but this team will be just fine going forward. This will undoubtedly put more pressure on Steve Nash, but he has shown the ability to deal with that.
Brooklyn reversed their stance on the situation, likely due to outside pressure. With Harris’ injury, Durant logging the 2nd most minutes in the league, and Harden not in shape to play at a high level, the Nets may have had no choice but to press the panic button.
Later this month, Brooklyn has a four-game road trip that starts in Cleveland, where he won his only championship. The Nets have a five-game west coast trip at the beginning of next month. These stretches are where the team will truly benefit from having him in the lineup. It will be interesting to see how this team functions with their three stars, with a healthy Harris and Mills playing a sixth-man role.
They will adjust and adapt on the fly. After all, that is the name of the game this season.
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