Nets Insider's Rick Laughland alongside BackSportsPage's Randy Zellea are joined by Yahoo Sportsbook, NBATV and MLBTV betting analyst Ariel Epstein, to discuss the latest surrounding the Brooklyn Nets and what NBA bets will lead to the biggest payoff.




Among the topics discussed, the future of James Harden and Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn, NBA prop bets to make and Rick's History of the Nets Book, set to hit bookstores this summer, via History Press.


NBA.com

As per Adrian Wojnarowski, the Brooklyn Nets won't listen to any trade offers to James Harden ahead of the February 10 NBA Trade Deadline. Per the report, Harden has indicated that he remains dedicated to the organization but is admittedly frustrated with injuries and COVID-19 absences impacting the roster and team continuity.

Free agency will be a whole new ball of wax has Harden did not sign an extension this summer and vowed to be invested in the Nets' long-term, but also wants the opportunity to test the market for the first time in his career. 

Before Sean Marks and company turn their attention to free agency, the Nets have a title to chase. In actuality, the team's championship hopes hinge on Irving's vaccination status or a change in local New York City vaccine mandates. 

The most likely outcome is a change in mandates, but that is not necessarily guaranteed. Does this mean Marks will actively try to move the star point guard set to also be a free agent this summer and current part-time road player? 

No, but it does mean he should at least listen. There is one caveat to this, however. Kevin Durant, who is committed to the team for the next four seasons, would need to be privy to those conversations and Marks would likely need to tread lightly if he goes this route. 

Irving is doing what's best for him and his family and the Nets need to do what's best for them. If that means Irving is in the picture as a full-time player, then even better. If that scenario seems increasingly less likely, Brooklyn's front office at least needs to put feelers out on what they can net for an Irving swap. 

The Nets are sinking fast in a crowded Eastern Conference and six days after reclaiming the top spot, they've now fallen to No. 4 just slightly ahead of Milwaukee with a brutal West Coast trip including stops in Golden State, Phoenix, Sacramento, Utah and Denver starting Saturday night. 

Brooklyn is in damage control mode, hoping to save a sinking ship without Durant. It's not necessarily panic time for Marks and company, but the Nets need contingency plans if the worst-case scenario plays out with Irving 

 As far as Steve Nash is concerned, both he and James Harden are on the same page. Speaking with reporters prior to Tuesday's tipoff against Los Angeles, Nash went as far as to say Harden has not verbalized any of the frustrations cited in the Bleacher Report story and even questioned the validity of the report.

It's no surprise that the head coach is not giving any credence to the notion that his star player is unhappy with the crunch time rotations and open to a change of scenery with a part-time Kyrie Irving and injuries to Kevin Durant and Joe Harris starting to derail a potential championship season.

The reality is, as Harden outlined, he's frustrated about a culmination of factors including: injuries, COVID-19 and inconsistencies plaguing the team.

Harden did not exactly include coaching in his list of gripes, but time will tell if his relationship deteriorates with Nash. Winning cures all and assuming three-fifths of the team's starting lineup is back intact by March, Harden may be singing a much different tune come playoff time.






 


James Harden acknowledged that things aren't going as planned this year in Brooklyn during a post game press conference following Tuesday night's loss to the Lakers at Barclays Center. With injuries to starters Kevin Durant, Joe Harris and floor leader Kyrie Irving eligible for only home games, Harden's been left with a makeshift supporting cast that has not only played limited court time together, but is comprised mostly of defensive oriented players.

Harden recorded his ninth triple-double of the season on Tuesday with 33 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assist, while Patty Mills with 15 and DeAndre Bembry with 12, were the only other players to reach double figures in scoring.



Head coach Steve Nash started rookies Kessler Edwards and Day'Ron Sharpe, but they combined for only nine points on the night. 

Nash has been experimenting with different lineup combinations throughout the season, but with the Nets now 6-8 to start 2022 and sinking in the Eastern Conference rankings, there has to come a time where a consistent rotation can help build familiarity and continuity among the group.

Harden scoffed at some of the details outlined in the Bleacher Report story, indicating that if the words didn't come from him then they are exactly what they've been classified as, reports.

Harden also indicated that the frustration he's experiencing about the team's overall health and issues with consistency is a feeling that is shared organizationally.

Time will tell whether this frustration continues to mount leading up to and after the All-Star break. After all, winning does cure all and if the Nets get the three starters they're missing: Durant, Harris and Irving in a full-time capacity back in time for the playoffs, Harden's discontentment with the overall direction of the season can take a seismic shift in the right direction.




 

NBA.com

James Harden is growing increasingly frustrated in Brooklyn. That much is clear as per multiple media reports citing sources close to Harden.

According to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, Harden is less than thrilled with Kyrie Irving's part-time playing status and Steve Nash's rotating carousel of lineups, particularly in the closing minutes of games and is open to a change of scenery away from Brooklyn.

On the flipside, Nets' fans are watching Harden play an uninspired brand of basketball. The Beard has never been a hustle player, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, but the same passion, fervor and intensity he played with upon his trade to the Nets last season is absent from his play so far this year.

It appears to be a culmination of factors, officiating coupled rule changes are impacting his ability to get to the line with regularity, Harden nursing his injured hamstring back to full health earlier this season along with subpar conditioning on his part.

Harden is only 31, but for a player who's had the type of mileage, usage and beating his body has taken over the years from feasting at the charity stripe, he's an old 31. 

Add all these physical factors are only part of the equation with the mental toll of Irving's on again, off again eligibility along with Kevin Durant being sidelined for at least the next month challenge Harden immensely to hold down the fort in Brooklyn.

When Harden joined the Nets in January of 2021, he envisioned a Brooklyn superteam predestined for greatness and ready to be a budding dynasty. Injuries, bad luck and off the court issues have prevented Brooklyn's big three from realizing its potential halfway through year two.

The championship window is still open, but likely more than half closed. Harden is feeling the urgency to win now. Without his full complement of stars, including Durant's ongoing rehab and Irving's ongoing refusal to comply with local mandates, questions about Beard's willingness to remain a Net past this season are mounting.

Things could change drastically over the next month or so with spring around the corner and COVID-19 potentially entering a more "endemic"phase. Should this scenario play out, a loosening of local mandates would allow Irving to return full-time and assuming Durant's and Joe Harris' injury recovery don't hit any bumps in the road, Harden's full arsenal of weapons might be at his disposal ahead of April's NBA playoffs.

For now, trade rumors involving Harden are still premature and while he'll be fully invested in winning a title with Brooklyn this season, how the next few months play out will go a long way in determining whether he'll re-sign with the club long-term or look for another title contender to join in free agency.


 

Photo by Doug Bearak

NBA trade rumors are going bonkers right now including a proposed trade between Brooklyn and Philly involving a James Harden for Ben Simmons swap among other moving parts.

These are fun scenarios for the NBA trade machine, Twitter and water-cooler talk, but none of it is grounded in reality.

The Nets are not looking to trade Harden, especially in exchange for a player who disappeared in last year's playoffs and has hid behind the stigma of a "mental health" problem to force his way out of Philadelphia.

Yes, Simmons is six years younger than Harden, a more willing defender,  more athletic and with tons of upside, but he also brings lots of baggage, a mental block when it comes to perimeter shooting and won't reach anything near his potential until after Kevin Durant is past his prime.

The Nets are a win-now club that needs Durant to take the next 4-6 weeks to heal from his MCL sprain and either Kyrie Irving to decide to comply with local vaccine mandates and become eligible to play full-time or those said mandates are relaxed (assuming the country enters more of an "endemic" phas) to this health crisis) and he returns in a full capacity.

Harden and Irving are both set to become free agents at the end of the year, but it's clear that both want to return and likely finish their respective careers in Brooklyn.

The last thing Sean Marks will do is make a panic move and ship out either player in the midst of a championship quest.

The Nets need health, luck and continuity on their side and need to fix issues inside the organization before giving up on core pieces for a younger, more unproven commodity.

 

Photo by Doug Bearak


When Kyrie Irving and James Harden take the court together sans Kevin Durant in the lineup, the dynamic backcourt has won nearly 82 percent of the games over the last two seasons. 

You heard it right. A record of 18-4 to be exact. A superb mark for a lethal combination of playmaking, scoring prowess and ankle-breaking handles. Durant is not expected back until after the All-Star break at the absolute earliest, but it's far from panic time in Brooklyn. 

Irving and Harden combined for 26 points in a fourth quarter barrage in San Antonio 117-102 win on Friday, marking the first time the Nets beat the Spurs back-to-back times on the road and the fifth consecutive win overall in a head-to-head matchup historically dominated by the Spurs.

 

 Harden's 37 point, 11 assist and 10 rebound triple-double is his eighth 30-point plus triple double during his Nets' tenure. To put that in perspective, since the team's inception in 1967, all Nets' players have combined to produce 12 such triple-doubles. Harden is two-thirds of the way to shattering a franchise mark in less than two seasons with the team. 

Truly remarkable. 

Irving was not exactly a slouch either pouring in 24, with the same silky smooth attacks to the rim and elusive handles he's showcased throughout his NBA career. Even with Irving available on a part-time basis, for now, the Nets are in good hands with him playing alongside Harden. 

In fact, Brooklyn now holds claim to the East's top record with Chicago and Miami dealing with a bevy of injuries of late.

 

Brooklyn will travel to Minnesota Sunday as the dynamic duo of Harden and Irving will lead the charge, but starting Tuesday the Nets host consecutive games with the Lakers and Nuggets where The Beard will need to play at an MVP level to elevate his supporting cast and keep the good times rolling in Brooklyn. 



Photo by Doug Bearak


 The Brooklyn Nets are more popular than the New York Knicks, at least that's what merchandise sales data via NBA Store and NBA.com indicates this season.

Nets GM Sean Marks joined the club in 2016 and the team motto became, "If you build it, they will come."

They, being Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden. The trio is among the leading vote getters ahead of the 2022 NBA All-Star Game and undoubtedly the most talented combination playing for one team.



As for the Knicks, a team that came into to the season like a lion and went out like a lamb in last year's playoffs. Julius Randle, the NBA's Most Improved Player a season ago, scored just four points on Thursday in an embarrassing loss to New Orleans.

RJ Barrett has shown flashes, but has also struggled for stretches of the year. New York doesn't touch the star power or staying power assembled in Brooklyn.

For two franchises competing in the same market, the big brother Knicks are taking a backseat to the title contending Nets.

Not helping the Knicks' cause is MSG Network's dispute with Comcast which prevents cable subscribers from watching the team play on the local network and is subject to blackout rules for nationally televised games.

The reality is sinking in that the Nets are simply better in every factet and more popular than the Knicks.

 

Photo by Doug Bearak


It's common practice to downplay the importance of the NBA regular season nowadays. With load management prevalent across the league, teams just aren't chasing home court advantage in the same form and fashion they did even five years ago.

For the Brooklyn Nets, fans are even suggesting an absurd tanking scenario where they would secure a lower playoff seed and allow an  unvaccinated Kyrie Irving to be eligible for more games.

It's an unconventional theory, one that I'm sure Steve Nash and the rest of the locker room give absolutely no credence to. 

So, with the Nets a half game back of the Bulls, who travel to Milwaukee Friday and half game behind the Heat, who play in Atlanta, the prospect of the Nets reclaiming first in the Eastern Conference with a win is a very real possibility.

This may seem like a trivial pursuit to some, but building chemistry and confidence for the team without Kevin Durant to bail them out is going to be of the utmost importance.

Nash's mission is to remain with striking distance of Miami and Chicago and now with a chance to overtake the conference heavyweights, this is an occasion that Kyrie Irving, James Harden and the rest of the Nets' supporting cast will need to rise to in Durant's absence.

Despite the whirlwind of controversy surrounding Kyrie Irving's vaccination status, his commitment to basketball being questioned and his propensity for posting cryptic social media messages, the Net point guard's talent is undeniable. 

Having practiced on just a handful of occasion with his fellow teammates so far this season, Irving hit the ground running in his season debut against Indiana on January 5 with 22 points, four assists and three steals on 52.9 percent shooting. Ineligible for Brooklyn's first 35 games of the regular season due to remaining unvaccinated, Irving picked up right where he left off in the 2021 NBA playoffs. 

The guy is a complete freak of nature, a basketball savant and as gifted a player as the league can showcase. The wildest thing of all is that basketball is only part of Irving's story, who is passionate about social justice, honoring his Native American heritage and giving back to underprivileged communities both domestic and foreign. 

In fact, sometimes basketball has taken a backseat to Irving's other off-the-court pursuits and endeavors. Even with a lot on his mind, Irving went for 27 points on January 17 in a loss to Cleveland and 30 in a narrow win over Washington Wednesday night. 

Few players are more scrutinized, more polarizing and perhaps misunderstood than Irving. His come and go nature with the Brooklyn Nets is something Steve Nash and company have simply grown accustomed to. 

In his first season with the Nets, Irving played in 20 games before undergoing surgery to his shoulder. Last season, Irving played in 54 regular season games and missed time due to injury and personal reasons being away from the team. So far in five games this year, Irving is averaging 22.8 points, 5.8 assists and 5.0 rebounds. 

For a guy who practiced with the team briefly during training camp in California and rejoined the club for the first-time in the last two weeks after a four-month absence, it should be astonishing for his production and impact to be what it is. 

But not for Irving. 

Despite his icy relationship with the media, the Nets' point guard is arguably the most popular player in Brooklyn's locker room and receives plenty of praise and admiration from teammates. When he was inactive, there was a sense of joy and passion missing from the Jason Harden and Kevin Durant-led Nets. Not that either of those star players are lacking those qualities, but Irving emanates such pure joy and love for the game when he plays that it becomes infectious. 

Vaccine mandates notwithstanding, teammates and fans simply missed Irving's presence and awe-inspiring play. Now that he's back, albeit in a part-time capacity, everyone is reminded of his otherworldly talent and exactly why the Brooklyn Nets are favored to win the title with him in the fold. 


 Team sports are all about sacrifice. I'm the last one to tell anyone what to put in their body, period. When you're Novak Djokovic, of course you're letting down your fans and those expecting you to rewrite major tennis history at this year's Australian Open.

But for Kyrie Irving, his decision to remain unvaccinated has far reaching consequences beyond an individual sport such as tennis.

Djokovic's choice impacts his own legacy, while Irving's impacts not only that but his team's championship pursuit.

Team sports are predicated on sacrifice including: minutes, money, recognition, family time and off the court pursuits.

Players aiming to win a title often throw themselves  full bore into that cause for the betterment of the team and to inspire teammates.

Irving is considered a team leader, a source of inspiration for the locker room and without saying, one of the team's most dynamic players. So when Kyrie indicates he's no closer to complying with local vaccine mandates than he was back when training camp opened in July, while it's not unexpected for a player dug in firmly on his stance, it makes you wonder whether he's putting himself and his own beliefs ahead of the team?

Irving cannot be the only individual or NBA player with reservations about the vaccine and each person should be judged on a case by case basis, but the Nets' guard still hasn't made it clear why he's unwilling to join the rest of his teammates in a full-time capacity.

At the end of the day, the choice is Irving's and his alone, but with every choice there are consequences. Assuming things stay status quo, despite the Omicron variant spiking and now on the downturn, the Nets can't rely on Irving to help carry them to the promise land.

The New Jersey native convinced Durant to join his childhood team and bring a first ever championship to the club. Without Irving, there is no Durant, but when faced with a conundrum of sacrificing personal belief for the betterment of the team, Irving has landed on the side of doing what's best for him.

Where that leaves the Nets this season remains to be seen. Will they bow out of the second round of the playoffs again with Kyrie at home on his couch during a decisive Game 7 at Barclays Center?

Will they hoist the Larry O'Brien in Brooklyn without Irving there to enjoy the fruits of the team's labor. This is a bizarre situation that has no end in sight, so while it's fine to defend to the death an individual's right to choose, there comes with that real consequences and in a team sport, the team should come ahead of the individual. For Irving, that hasn't been the case over the course of his career and certainly isn't the case now.


photo by Doug Bearak


Kevin Durant is the leader in the clubhouse to win the NBA's MVP award. Leading the league at 29.3 points per contest and shooting a blistering 52 percent from the field for a perimeter-oriented player is nothing short of extraordinary.

So for critics suggesting that Durant, who will likely be sidelined 4-6 weeks with a sprained MCL in his left knee, could fall out of MVP contention just by the mere fact that he's missing games is utterly ridiculous.

By the timeline that most are estimating, Durant could miss 20-30 games depending on his rehab.

Is it fair to penalize a player for missing less than a quarter of a season when the body of work throughout this campaign and his entire career speaks for itself?

Not to mention his biggest threat, Steph Curry, has seen his scoring take a precipitous fall after injuring his hand and despite his fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson returning to the team.

Among the leading candidates for MVP, Durant's injury won't preclude him for hitting the ground running when he returns to the court and it's realistic to think he'll pick up right where he left off in no time. 

So while Durant's detractors will point to his injury as a reason to bump him out of the MVP conversation, those who know and follow the game, know who the real MVP is this year.




One thing is clear, no outside pressure or influence is going to sway Kyrie Irving to change his vaccination stance. Even Kevin Durant's injured left knee and Joe Harris still working back from shoulder surgery won't sway Irving off his decision.

'I made my decision and I'm standing on it", Irving told beat reporters following the Nets loss in Cleveland.

 

The Nets reversed course on their preseason decision to preclude Irving from being a part-time player, but don't count on the Nets' point guard pivoting on his vaccination choice.

Brooklyn's GM Sean Marks will need to be active ahead of the February trade deadline anticipating Irving will only be available for road games and Durant and Harris likely only with the team for the final 4-6 weeks of the regular season coming off injury.

As Omicron cases hit a peak last week, public health officials are cautiously optimistic that the country and world at large is through the worst of the latest spike in cases from the variant.

This doesn't mean that there's an imminent change to vaccine mandates in public spaces within New York City, but it leaves open the possibility that Irving can return in a full capacity as it's clear he's not budging from his decision.




Nba.com

 Finally, a positive update on the injury front for the Brooklyn Nets as Joe Harris has been cleared for light shooting and made the trip with the Nets to Cleveland on MLK day, according to head coach Steve Nash.

Harris underwent ankle surgery on November 29 and was expected to miss 4-8 weeks. Brooklyn is right in the middle of that recovery timeframe and Nash indicated that Brooklyn's sharpshooter is making progress and starting on court work. 



The Nets did not issue a single update on Harris' progress since late-November, so while he's not quite practicing with the team, this encouraging news will help ease the loss of Kevin Durant for the next 4-6 weeks.

Nash has turned to a trio of rookies in Cam Thomas, Kessler Edwards and Day'Ron Sharpe to shoulder significant minutes with the team shorthanded.

James Harden and Kyrie Irving as a part-time road star, will need to elevate their games.

The more healthy bodies in the rotation, the better likelihood the Nets will remain near the top of the Eastern Conference, even with Durant on the shelf until at least after the All-Star Break.

photo by Doug Bearak

It seems as though a greater force is preventing Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden from taking the court together. 

 Brooklyn's Big 3 is 13-3 playing together and 59-35 when missing at least one head of the three-headed monster. Playing just 14.5 percent of 110 possible games is not something that GM Sean Marks and head coach Steve Nash envisioned for the superstars. 

 Even before Harden's arrival, Durant missed the 2019-2020 campaign rehabbing his Achilles injury and Irving played in just 20 games before undergoing shoulder surgery. Don't mention to Nets fans the shuffling on and off the injury report for Harden and Durant last year, while Irving missed time due to personal reasons. 

Harden re-aggravated his hamstring in Game 1 of the 2021 NBA playoff semifinal round against Milwaukee before returning for the final three games of the series seriously hampered by the setback.

 Irving suffered a serious ankle injury in Game 4 and missed the remainder of the playoffs. Optimism was running high heading into 2021 Nets training camp that finally the three amigos would stay healthy and eligible, but Irving's refusal to comply with New York City's vaccine mandates forced him to miss the first 39 contests of this year. 

 Now just when Irving is cemented as a part-time player and optimism growing that either he will warm to the idea of getting vaccinated or mandates will be loosened or lifted this spring, Durant will miss 4-6 weeks with a MCL sprain in his left knee. Bad luck is one thing, but when a franchise that has often been snakebitten throughout its history, fans can't but wonder if this simply another chapter in a cursed story?

 Brooklyn's championship window is in Year 2 with no guarantee that Harden or Irving will re-sign as both are set to become free agents. The reality is that the arrow is still pointing up at a potential first NBA championship for the Nets and perhaps the sun will finally shine on this hard luck organization

 

WikiCommons

Kevin Durant is everything to the Brooklyn Nets. The gifted 7-footer is the heartbeat of the team and his health and well being should be a top priority.

The Nets are notoriously tight-lipped discussing injuries with the media and need to remain ultra conservative with the timeline for his return to the court whether an MRI confirms a knee sprain or even a better prognosis.

Sans Kyrie Irving until this past week, Durant's minutes were getting out of control this season and even Steve Nash admitted that his workload needed to be curtailed and urged his star to take more rest days.


With over three weeks until the All-Star break and a road heavy schedule where Irving will be eligible to play alongside Harden, Durant's next game should not come until February 24 against the Celtics.

As Nash knows better than anyone, Durant is a gamer and wants to play every minute of every game. Brooklyn is learning it needs to protect Durant from himself and this instance is a perfect example.

Irving and Harden can hold down the fort in his absence and the Nets can play the long game and hold Durant out as an extra precaution.

 


The Brooklyn Nets played arguably their best home game of the season, a place they're a middling 11-11, but the biggest storyline to emerge from Saturday's win over New Orleans is that Kevin Durant exited in the second quarter in what the team classified as a knee sprain.

After Bruce Brown crashed into Durant's knee, causing it to hyperextend, the Nets' power forward tried to shake off the injury before signaling to the bench and walking off the court with play still going on.

Durant is scheduled for an MRI, and while it appears as though he's avoided a major injury, watching the franchise leave the game in that fashion and undergo further testing, is concern enough for Nets' fans.

Brooklyn travels to Cleveland on MLK day, with Kyrie Irving and James Harden expected in the starting lineup, but the biggest star of the Big 3 will not play and now the question remains how much time with Durant miss?

The All-Star break is a little more than three weeks away, so it's  plausible, the Nets could hold Durant out until after the break.


NBA.com
 

The Houston Rockets have overcome a disastrous start to the season but are still heading nowhere fast. Stephen Silas' group jumped out of the gate with a 1-16 start and currently sit at an improved mark of 12-31 yet are not even within an earshot of a playoff spot. 

The Rockets will be sellers ahead of the February trade deadline and the Nets, despite holding claim to the NBA's most efficient offense in league history last season, are struggling to produce points against elite teams. 

No timetable has been given for Joe Harris' return from ankle surgery and Kyrie Irving's part-time status is helping fill the scoring void, but not entirely. 

Enter Eric Gordon, who is in the final year of a four-year, $75.6 million deal he signed in 2019. At 33, Gordon is still chasing an NBA title. Gordon was James Harden's running mate in Houston for several title pushes that fell short, but he remained loyal to the organization through the rebuild. 

Gordon was less than complimentary regarding Harden's unceremonious exit from the Rockets, but if R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish can patch up a rocky relationship from their time with Duke, now as teammates on the Knicks, so too can Harden and Gordon in Brooklyn. 

The Rockets' shooting guard is averaging 14.8 points on 50 percent shooting from the field and 45 percent from 3-point range. 

Harris' return to the Nets is still up in the air and its clear Brooklyn is missing a knockdown perimeter shooter to space the floor and creative driving lines for Harden, Irving and Kevin Durant to attack the paint. 

Gordon is also an underrated defender and has playoff battle scars from several deep Western Conference Finals runs with Houston. With still heavy money and two more years left on his current deal, the Rockets are very likely to try and move him and will have a modest asking price to take on that type of contract for an aging sharpshooter. 

For the likes of Brooklyn, Golden State and Phoenix, Gordon makes a ton of sense. The leader in the clubhouse from a fit standpoint remains the Suns as he'd reunite with Chris Paul and flourish in that offensive system, but with ownership turmoil in the Valley of the Sun and organization's refusal to extend big man Deandre Ayton, Gordon might land elsewhere. Depending on interest in Gordon, he could be a buyout candidate as his most productive years are behind him. 

 Nets' GM Sean Marks has been very creative around the trade deadline to improve the team and given the heavy minutes Harden and Durant have amassed, an inconsistent supporting cast and Irving being ineligible for home games, netting a perimeter defender like Gordon with a smooth shooting stroke is something to strongly consider in Brooklyn. 

The Brooklyn Nets are 13-3 when Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving take the floor together and 59-35 when at least one superstar is sidelined. 

The reality may be sinking in that a combination of age, overusage and injury might prevent fans from seeing the ultimate version of the Big 3 that many anticipated. Whether it's hamstring strains, COVID-19 protocols, compliance with local vaccine mandates, missing time for personal reasons and a multitude of other issues, the Nets are, in fact, hardly ever whole. In the tiny sample size as a complete unit, Brooklyn has shown glimpses of being a dynastic group and deserving of the title as the odds-on favorite to win the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

 As the Nets found out in the 2021 NBA Playoffs, championships are not won on paper. Steve Nash has been dealt a hand of three Aces, but when he's unable to play his best cards, the Nets' bench and supporting cast has been exposed. Despite the emergence of a trio of talented rookies in Cam Thomas, Kessler Edwards and David Duke, the win-now Brooklyn Nets are now just 1-8 against the top-four seeds in each conference and even after shellacking the East's top club in the Bulls on Wednesday night, two-thirds of the Big 3 was sidelined in a lopsided loss to Oklahoma City on Thursday. Just when Brooklyn appears to be building momentum, camaraderie and chemistry, something pops up that disrupts that progress. The Nets are their own worst enemy. 

When Nash's crew is locked in on both sides of the ball, compliant with local vaccine mandates and perhaps most importantly, healthy, there are only a handful of teams who can hang with the group labeled "Scary Hours". The Nets are halfway through the regular season, Irving has played in merely three games, Durant's minutes are at an all-time high and Harden took nearly 30 games to start resembling the player who carried the Nets for stretches of the 2020-2021 season. The NBA All-Star break is less than a month away and Brooklyn needs to get its ducks in a row if it hopes to ramp things up in time for a championship pursuit. 

Keeping the Big 3 healthy, developing chemistry with the supporting cast, while not overtaxing them with heavy minutes should be on Nash's mind throughout the remainder of the year. As the numbers show, the Nets are one of the most talented Big 3's the league has ever seen, but unless they're whole in more aspects than one, this team may fall short of its tremendous upside.

This global pandemic is no joke matter. The COVID-19 Omnicron variant is spreading like wildfire across all corners on the globe. Now with unvaccinated Kyrie Irving back on the court for Nets' road games after the team reversed course on its preseason decision to preclude him from being a part-time player, the attention has turned to the point guard's eligibility to play in home games. James Harden, clearly being facetious with the media, who has harping on this issue, joked he would take matters into his own hands. With a report from the New York Daily News suggesting that New York City's local vaccine mandate has a loophole where the Nets' could allow Irving to play by paying a nominal fine. The first violation amounts to a warning followed by $1,000, $2,000 and $5,000 fines to infinity for all future violations. For billionaire owner Joseph Tsai, the financial penalty is hardly anything at all, but what kind of message does that send to fellow New Yorkers that money can simply buy an unvaccinated individual a Golden Ticket into a vaccinated palace? How far are the Nets willing to go to make a sure a key piece of the championship puzzle is in place? Time will tell, but Brooklyn earned an impressive 138-112 blowout win at the United Center over the top-seeded Chicago in Wednesday with Irving eligible and in the starting lineup.
Brooklyn plays Portland Monday night with and Kyrie Irving listed in the starting lineup. Irving will be able to play in 13 of the Nets next 18 games as they approach the All-Star break. This stretch will represent one of the most important in the team's championship pursuit as Irving will need to develop a rapport with new teammates and build his stamina after missing the beginning of the season. Brooklyn had lost five straight homes games before squeaking by the Spurs in overtime on Sunday at Barclays. With a NBA-best 14-3 road record, it's expected Irving added to the lineup will only improve that sterling mark. Milwaukee and Miami are both 2.5 games back of Brooklyn and the Nets trail top seeded Chicago, who they play at the United Center on Wednesday night, by 1.5 games. The Nets can either leapfrog Chicago ahead of the All-Star break or sink back into the pack over the next 18 contests. Irving is a difference-maker and glue guy in the locker room despite his icy relationship with the media. It's clear Brooklyn's title hopes hinge on Irving's availability and whether or not he's seamlessly integrated into the lineup and meshes with a new supporting cast. Steve Nash will need to capture the moment over the next 18 games and inspire the Nets to stack as many wins as possible before the All-Star break to ascend atop the Eastern Conference.
Losers of three straight games, the Brooklyn Nets are showing signs of a team exhaling and waiting for their third star to return to the court. Call it a midseason slump, but the absence of bench production, outside of a furious fourth quarter rally against Memphis on Monday night, point to the Nets taking their eyes off the ball. Brooklyn has dropped behind Chicago at the top of the East while Milwaukee is closing ground fast. Yes, Kyrie Irving will pay when the Nets take on the Pacers in Indiana on Wednesday, but the team can't simply continue playing lackluster fourth quarter basketball and expect star power to carry it through difficult times. Once Irving ramps up and with roughly just 18 road games he's eligible for playing in the rest of the way, the playoffs will be here before we know it. The Nets have built some bad habits over this three game skid and while their talent is undeniable, Steve Nash will need to correct the team's untimely mistakes and lack of cohesion regardless of whether Irving is in the lineup or not.
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