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New pieces, but Nets not looking different than last season

November 4, 2019
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Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving (11) looks away after his team was whistled for a foul late in the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)
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Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving (11) looks away after his team was whistled for a foul late in the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

NEW YORK (AP) — The Brooklyn Nets’ transformation from the shadows to the spotlight happened in just one night.

Building a team that can live up to their new expectations is going to take much longer.

Even with Kyrie Irving’s terrific start, the Nets remain just what they were early last season: good enough to be in just about every game, but not yet good enough to win many of them.

The Nets are just 2-4 and later this week begin a five-game road trip that includes difficult stops at Portland, Utah and Denver.

“We have three new starters and we’re still working through getting on the same page. You say well, that’s your job, to get it done. And we’re working towards that. We’re not there yet,” Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson said.

Though the Nets landed commitments from Irving, Kevin Durant and DeAndre Jordan on the opening night of free agency, they also lost a lot from a team that went 42-40 and reached the playoffs. All-Star D’Angelo Russell is gone along with what Atkinson counts as seven other rotation players from that team.

There’s plenty that remains, such as 3-point champion Joe Harris and a healthy Caris LeVert, but it’s clear they and other Nets are still getting used to playing with Irving. He was injured for almost all the preseason, so the Nets lost the ability to have that adjustment happen before the games started to count.

“You don’t know how long it takes. You hope whatever it takes, you get over it,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said.

“It happens sometimes. Doesn’t change the fact that Kenny does a great job. They’ll be fine. It may take a little longer. In the East, you could afford it if it takes a little longer. In the West you’re in trouble, but that’s just the way it is.”

The Nets went out and beat the Rockets later that night in a nationally televised game, the kind of stage the Nets can play on now with a couple superstars on their roster. But they then lost to a short-handed Detroit team 24 hours later.

Atkinson believes in the players’ commitment and believes things will change, but it may be a while. Brooklyn started 8-18 last season and Atkinson said it took half the season or longer to get in a good place.

“When does that turn? You just don’t know with a new group,” he said.

WINNING WALKER

Kemba Walker has scored 32, 32 and 33 points over the last three games, helping Boston to four straight wins after a poor start to his Celtics career.

The All-Star guard’s scoring isn’t all that has impressed his new coach.

“I said this yesterday. He takes hits, he makes foul shots, he’s available every day, and he got two or three of the biggest rebounds of the night for us,” Brad Stevens said after a 104-102 win over New York on Friday. “Running in transition he jumped up over everybody one time. So I’d say he’s a tough guy. I’m glad he’s here.”

Walker heads back to Charlotte on Thursday, one of a few high-profile return games this month. The list includes Kristaps Porzingis in New York on Nov. 14, Mike Conley in Memphis on Nov. 15, Kyrie Irving in Boston on Nov. 27, and Anthony Davis in New Orleans the same night.

OTHER GAMES OF NOTE THIS WEEK

Philadelphia at Phoenix, Monday. Joel Embiid vs. Deandre Ayton would have been a fun matchup. Alas, they’re both serving NBA suspensions.

Lakers at Chicago, Tuesday. Anthony Davis can try to put on a show in his hometown.

Golden State at Houston, Wednesday. They meet again on Christmas, if the Warriors have any healthy bodies left by then.

Milwaukee at Clippers, Wednesday. A possible NBA Finals preview.

New York at Dallas, Friday. Porzingis gets his first shot at the Knicks before the return game at Madison Square Garden the following week.

SACRAMENTO’S START

The Sacramento Kings are on their way to face the defending NBA champions, who they haven’t beaten in three years.

Still, they should feel better about their chances than they did last week.

The Kings have rebounded from an 0-5 start with two consecutive victories heading into their game Wednesday in Toronto.

“Still getting better, still a lot of things we can improve on,” guard Buddy Hield said. “We’re not the team we want to be yet, but we’ll take 2-5. Better than 0-7, so it was a good start.”

The Kings had a rocky beginning to Luke Walton’s first season as coach. A trip to India to play two preseason games against the Pacers cut into their preparation and they certainly didn’t look ready to play when the season began. The Kings were blown out by Phoenix in their opener and crushed again four nights later when Utah beat them by 32 points.

But Sacramento avenged that by edging the Jazz 102-101 at home Friday, then opened a three-game trip by pounding New York 113-92 on Sunday.

Walton wasn’t concerned even before those victories. The Kings weren’t winning, but what he was seeing in practice told him that a team that hung around the playoff race for a while last season wasn’t going to stay down for long.

“It wasn’t showing in the win-loss column, but we also know and value the importance of what we’re working on every day and know that it’s going to pay off in the long run,” Walton said.

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