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Nets hope ‘uncomfortable’ stretch will help in NBA playoffs


The Nets’ past five games against playoff teams and MVP candidates — four of them on the road — have been a postseason preview.

It’s been uncomfortable and, at times, unsuccessful, but in the long run, beneficial.

“I’m happy for us to be uncomfortable right now. I’m happy for us to struggle and suffer,” Steve Nash said. “I’m glad we won [Saturday], but suffering and building that resolve and that understanding — we don’t have that common experience, so these experiences when we’re on the mat are good for us.”

After snapping a season-high four-game skid Saturday in Denver, now the Nets are bracing for Tuesday’s game in Chicago.

With just four dates left in the regular season, the Nets are still building bonds and cohesion for the postseason.

“In the playoffs, when we’re all locked-in, we’ve all just got to be on one accord, one mind,” Kyrie Irving said. “Just stick to what we have and trust it. That’s the big word moving forward in the remaining journey: it’s ‘Trust.’ When you trust that the game will reward you when you’re playing hard, when you’re supporting your teammates, doing the right things, then the game usually goes in your favor.

“This is the only time we’ve been really tested throughout the season in terms of having losses, four losses in a row. I don’t know the last time I had four losses in a row — which is very fortunate, I’m very blessed — but it’s great that we get these types of challenges. Now we go to Chicago — where we have yet to win — and play against an Eastern Conference team that we may see. So it’s exciting.”

The teams the Nets just finished playing both tested them and taught them a lesson.

“We were embarrassed the last few games,” Irving admitted.

Those last few games came against Portland’s Damian Lillard, at Milwaukee against Giannis Antetokounmpo (twice) and then at Dallas versus Luka Doncic. They lost every one, and were trailing MVP favorite Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets by 21 points Saturday before storming back to win. It was their second-biggest comeback of the season, behind only their 24-point rally in Phoenix.

After giving up 104 points through the first three quarters Saturday — tied for the most they had surrendered all season — they held Denver to just 15 in the final period on 6 of 23 shooting.

It’s a comeback the Nets are convinced can jump-start their momentum for the regular-season stretch run.

Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant dives for a loose ball against the Nuggets.
AP

“We had a different energy about us,” said Blake Griffin. “Hopefully that gets us back on track. If that happens again, we’ve got to keep the faith and do the same thing we did: dig deep and play harder.

“Any experience like this is good for us. The biggest part is if we now continue off of this and — not to say we come out and play super-aggressive and hit every shot — just that we have to have that resiliency about us. Even if we get down in one of these last four games, we stay together and dig a little bit deeper and play harder.”

Brooklyn is also anticipating the return of James Harden. The hamstrung star has missed 17 straight games, but is expected to return — maybe even in this back-to-back, Tuesday at the Bulls or Wednesday versus the Spurs.

The Nets lost their April 4 meeting in Chicago, a 115-107 setback without Harden or Kevin Durant. Harden came back from a hamstring injury the next day versus the Knicks, only to limp off after just 4:22. He hasn’t played since.

Still, regardless of when Harden returns, the Nets say they learned some valuable lessons about effort and sweat equity during this rough patch.

“There’s no guarantees you’re going to win the next game. Our mentality has to be we’re willing to outwork people, do the extra bit of effort every possession to win that possession,” Nash said. “If we’re willing to do the extra work … a lot of good things can happen.”



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