NEW YORK — After Kevin Durant and James Harden were the only two Nets players to score in double figures Sunday against the Charlotte Hornets, Durant said Brooklyn is not losing confidence amid a 1-2 start and has enough to win without Kyrie Irving.
Durant, who poured in 38 points in the 111-95 loss, was asked twice if he thinks the Nets have enough to win without their starting point guard, especially when things get tough in games.
“While we are playing in a game, I am not going to sit there and say … when we get down or it is a tight game, like ‘Damn, we don’t have enough,'” Durant said. “We are not going to be thinking about [that] during the game. We definitely want Kyrie Irving out here on the floor. And he is a huge part of what we do. But it is not happening right now. So we got to figure it out.
“But no one is going to lose confidence while we playing and hope Kyrie comes to save us during the game. No, we got to play. Everybody here is confident in what they do. We just got to play.”
The Nets have started the regular season like it’s an extended preseason. Coach Steve Nash has been experimenting with different lineups and rotations to adjust to the absence of Irving, who has not complied with New York City’s vaccine mandate of getting at least one vaccination shot in order to play at Barclays Center and Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Knicks.
In last week’s season opener, the Nets were outhustled and outmuscled by the Milwaukee Bucks, who routed them 127-104. They then needed a triple-double from Durant and to score 16 of the game’s final 17 points to beat the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday.
On Sunday, demonstrators stood outside Barclays Center to voice support for Irving’s stance on not getting vaccinated. Inside the arena, the Nets could’ve used Irving, as Durant and Harden (15 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds) were the only two Nets to score at least 10 points.
The Nets were outscored 32-17 in the fourth quarter, with Durant scoring 9 points and Harden adding 4 in the frame.
“Yeah,” Durant repeatedly answered when asked if the Nets have enough to win. “I am not about to say there’s not going to [be] enough out here. I am not going to say that. I feel like we had a nice control of the game in the first half. They played a better second half.
“It’s three games in. Of course, we have enough.”
Harden, who tried to play through a hamstring strain in the second round of the 2020-21 playoffs, said he is still building his confidence as he starts this season. One thing that could help the former MVP is getting to the line with the frequency he is used to.
Harden is averaging 18.3 points, 8.0 assists and 7.3 rebounds but has gone to the line just nine times in three games. He averaged 10.1 trips to the line each season from 2014-15 to 2019-20.
Nash believes the rules changes for this season on the officiating of “overt, abrupt or abnormal non-basketball moves” of offensive players with the ball looking to draw fouls, especially inside, has wrongly hurt Harden.
“I feel like he’s unfairly become the poster boy of not calling these fouls,” Nash said. “Some of them are definitely fouls still. But they’re just so alert and aware and he’s the poster child of these new decisions … I get it, there’s a line, but some of them are still fouls.”
“I think it’s on the drive,” Nash explained of when he thinks Harden isn’t getting calls. “They’re hyper aware of him reaching for guy’s arms. But guys aren’t set, and they’re getting caught not in a legal guarding position, bumping him. That’s a foul; that has nothing to do with the hands. Those are the ones that I take a little exception to. But James will get there.”
Harden had one free throw against Charlotte but isn’t complaining.
“No matter how much of a big deal we try to make it, a foul’s a foul,” Harden said. “It’s pretty simple. I feel like they’re putting too much emphasis on rules, and not even rules, but certain people to where you look at it as clear fouls. For me, you’ve just got to keep going. No big deal.”
“… I’m not the type to complain about it,” Harden later added. “I ask every official, if they see a foul, just call a foul. Sometimes, I feel like, coming into a game, it’s already pre-determined or I have a stigma getting foul calls. But I just ask for the officials to just call what they see.”