The new-look Brooklyn Nets were always going to face an uphill climb this season without their new signing, Kevin Durant.
As the 10-time All-Star and two-time champion continues his recovery from a ruptured Achilles, the Robin to Durant’s Batman — Kyrie Irving — has been given the responsibility of shouldering the load of carrying the Nets to a second-straight playoff appearance.
The problem is that those shoulders aren’t right at the moment.
Irving missed his second-straight game on Monday night due to a right shoulder impingement. The Nets were blown out by 29 points, 115-86, by an Indiana Pacers team that was without Malcolm Brogdon, Victor Oladipo, TJ McConnell, and Jeremy Lamb.
The result dropped the Nets to 5-8 on the season, which is not close to the start many expected from a team led by Irving in a weaker Eastern Conference.
Irving initially suffered the shoulder injury last Tuesday against the Utah Jazz in a 119-114 loss and tried to play through it two nights later against the Denver Nuggets in a 101-93 defeat.
Brooklyn’s lone win in the four-game stretch since Irving’s knock came on Saturday against a lowly Chicago Bulls team to cap off a 10-day, five-game road trip.
While the point guard is considered day-to-day, Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson didn’t ease any uncertainties around Irving’s absence on Monday.
“I hope [it won’t be an extended issue],” Atkinson said (h/t New York Post). “I will say this — just from my personal opinion, shoulders are tough. Those aren’t easy to deal with. Probably everybody in this room, when you have a shoulder thing, it’s just not easy. Listen, I know he’s working diligently to get back on the court. I know he wants to be out on the court bad.”
For a Nets team that is also without Caris LeVert for five weeks after he underwent surgery to repair ligaments in his thumb, the problems the healthy Brooklynites are trudging through have become clear.
“It’s frustrating because it’s sort of been the same scenario for a lot of the season where we haven’t put a full 48 minutes together,” guard Joe Harris said.
After allowing just 19 points in the first quarter, the Nets were thrashed for 41 in the second by the Pacers to put them in an insurmountable hole. It spoiled Spencer Dinwiddie’s solid night as he dropped 28 on Indiana while averaging 23.7 points per game over his last six.
“But it’s a lot of stuff where, you know, you come in prepared, the game plan is there, coaches have you ready and then it’s just sort of a lack of energy on our part,” he added. “And that’s why it’s frustrating.”
The Nets’ defense is currently the second-worst in the Eastern Conference, yielding 118.5 points per game.
On the offensive side of the ball, Harris is one of those players that have lacked consistency during Irving’s injury woes.
Brooklyn’s biggest threat from beyond the arc has averaged just 10.6 points in just over 30 minutes per game over his last five outings. He’s been held to single-digits in three of them, including a seven-point effort against the Pacers.