NBA roundtable: Should the Nets be worried about their stars’ missed time?

The Brooklyn Nets have been considered a top NBA championship contender all season with one large caveat: their health. When healthy, Brooklyn has arguably one of the most dynamic offenses the league has ever seen.

However, the Nets have rarely been fully healthy. The superstar trio of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden has played just seven games together since Harden's addition via trade in mid-January.

Brooklyn has been great this season while weathering the stars' absences, but postseason basketball is very different. Time is running out for the Nets to get healthy and up to speed before the playoffs. Should they be worried in Brooklyn?

The first part of this week's NBA roundtable breaks down the Nets' fortunes and how injuries could impact their title hopes. USA TODAY Sports' Matt Eppers moderated the discussion with a panel of NBA experts from around the USA TODAY Network: Jeff Zillgitt and Mark Medina of USA TODAY Sports, Evan Barnes of the Commercial Appeal and Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman.

Kevin Durant has appeared in only 24 games for the Nets this season, but he remains the key to their championship hopes. (Photo: Corey Sipkin, AP)

Eppers: With Kevin Durant and James Harden both currently out and roughly a month left in the regular season, how concerned should the Nets be about how little time their three stars have played together on the court?

According to stats those three have played 186 minutes together over seven games.

Medina: It's all relative. For playoff teams, I've always felt the most important variables are in this order 1. Health. 2. Talent. 3. Chemistry. 4. Home-court advantage. It's not ideal that Durant, Harden and Irving have only played seven games together. But I think the bigger concern is more about how many more injuries might the three have to deal with moving forward so that they're available when they need them the most. But they have a lot of talent and depth to get them through things.

Zillgitt: I keep going back to what Doc Rivers said after the Clippers lost to Denver in last season's playoffs — his team just didn't have enough time on the court together. And that was with considerably more time than the Nets have with Durant, Irving and Harden. Big concern but the Nets don't have a choice because they need all three healthy for the playoffs. That's why the Nets need to sacrifice now, although not ideal. What's worse than having those three for limited time together during the regular season? Having one or more out for the playoffs.

Barnes: I think they should be very concerned. The Nets' success hinged on their Big 3 all being healthy. We know that Achilles injuries are harder to come back from and now that Durant has been banged up the last month or so, there's a concern how healthy he'll be in the postseason. How many games will he be able to play? Because while Kyrie and Harden are great players, Durant makes them title contenders.

Mussatto: We might see that being worked out real-time in the playoffs, but that's what the first round is for. The main concern is having them all healthy. The chemistry will follow.

Barnes: I agree with you guys. Time is important and chemistry can't be overlooked. Especially when teams are adjusting to you and knowing what they're doing while you're still figuring things out.

But I'm with Mark. Just like the Lakers, the Nets need to play the long game. Don't rush Durant back because you need him more on the back end.

Medina: The one good thing the Nets have going for them that's different than the Clippers is they seem to play with a lot more hunger than the Clippers did last year. Seeing them frequently last season, the Clippers showed inconsistent chemistry and effort and often mirrored a defending championship team struggling to fight complacency. Only problem: the Clippers hadn't won a title. The Nets' chemistry so far seems to have been good and the buy-in is there. But ideally, the Nets' three All-Stars have more than just seven games to iron out the dynamic.

Zillgitt: There becomes a tipping point at some time. While those three have looked great no matter with one available, two available or all three available, playing a random regular-season game is not the same as a seven-game series with Miami or Philadelphia or Milwaukee.

Eppers: I guess one strange byproduct of them missing time is knowing they can weather the absences and still be very good. Steve Nash said after the Heat game it's nothing new and everyone is used to stepping up. He didn't seem overly concerned just yet.

Zillgitt: We're not going to see Nash overly concerned about much — even if he has to trot us out there.

Medina: Great point, Jeff. I often think about the Warriors-Rockets seven-game playoff series in 2018. The health issues aside, the other significant variable pointed to which team could make the most adjustments to account for a star player struggling or a system not working. The Nets can be vulnerable with that lack of chemistry and their defense in a seven-game series when teams have more time to prepare. But very few teams can top their offensive power.

Kevin Durant (7), Kyrie Irving (11) and James Harden (13) have shared the floor for just 186 minutes this season. (Photo: Brad Penner, USA TODAY Sports)

Barnes: That's the other wild card in this. Yes, there's talent and drive to get by but how will Steve Nash fare as a head coach in his first playoff series? Will he make the right adjustments? He'll be fine but he's under a lot of pressure to see how to make this work.

I do think the Nets still have the talent to make a deep run. If Durant is healthy, there's less worry. But two big what ifs are his health and Nash's coaching. Throw in defensive concerns and it'll be fascinating to see that play out in a playoff series.

Zillgitt: I like that point, Evan. And I also like how Nash surrounded himself with strong assistants.

Eppers: Is Durant the ultimate deciding factor for the Nets? Evan said he thinks KD is the player that makes them the title contender.

Medina: I think so. I think Kevin Durant is the best player on the Nets. He has the best ability to adjust his role partly because of his Warriors experience. And for better and for worse, KD's health is less certain given the handful of injuries he's had after being out last season while recovering from his Achilles injury. Jeff had good insight in a recent story on that whole issue.

Zillgitt: Bottom line: Yes. Irving and Harden are great, no question. KD pushes them closer. He's just such a gifted scorer.

Barnes: Nash has set himself up very well indeed, Jeff. Surrounded with experienced coaches. But to Matt's question. Durant is the difference. He's closed out playoff series. He's won rings. He's a floor raiser in ways that Kyrie and Harden aren't together or separately.

For the latest NBA news and analysis, follow us on Twitter @usatodaynba.

Source: Read Full Article