The Celtics? The Celtics have a well-known identify. They have a well-known uniform. They have the winking leprechaun, and the parquet flooring. The Celtics have an awfully crowded ceiling at TD Garden — a lot of retired numbers, a lot of championship banners. But the Celtics aren’t half nearly as good because the Nets.
The Bucks? The Bucks have Giannis Antetokounmpo, and that’s a pleasant asset. They have a positive coach in Mike Budenholzer. They have some unfinished enterprise, having entered the playoffs the previous few years prohibitive favorites within the East and getting taken out early. But the Bucks aren’t nearly as good because the Nets; they will even have their arms full with the Heat.
The Sixers? Look, the Sixers are the No. 1 seed within the East. They have Joel Embiid, both 1 or 1A on this 12 months’s MVP race, and Ben Simmons, who’s as a lot enjoyable to watch as any participant within the NBA. They have Doc Rivers, who is each terrific and on a redemptive mission of his personal. But the Sixers aren’t the Nets on each groups’ greatest day. They simply aren’t.
And the crowded pile of pretenders out west? We’ll fear about them later.
No. The Nets’ biggest obstacle to fulfilling their manifest basketball future is the Nets. The Nets are the only team that matches up with the Nets, and the Nets are, in reality, the one staff that may interrupt what ought to be a two-month joyride to Borough Hall and a crowning parade, New York’s first basketball title since the Nets ruled Hempstead Turnpike in 1976.
If the Nets are, certainly, the league’s new Objects of Scorn, then there have already been loads of people determining loads of methods this will go sideways. There are already loads of hopeful sentences that start this manner: “If Kemba can …” or, “If Giannis can …” or, “If Doc can …” And these sentences are all lovely.
And completely ineffective.
You need to root in opposition to the Nets?
Then you will have to root for the Nets.
Because solely the Nets will cease the Nets. There are some secondary and tertiary sources of self-sabotage out there — they don’t play protection effectively, in any respect, even when at full power; they’re nonetheless led by a neophyte coach; they nonetheless have restricted reps as a full unit. But there is the one 8,000-pound purple elephant that is the obvious sentry between now and a July jubilee down by the Promenade:
The Nets are uninterested in listening to about this, and you’ll be, too, in case your kryptonite was as apparent as theirs. But the very fact is the Nets’ Achilles’ heel begins with Kevin Durant’s Achilles tendon, after which it sprouts out in dozens of instructions. The Nets’ damage transactions for the reason that begin of the season is 71 traces lengthy (by comparability, the Knicks’ is 50). It incorporates everybody. It consists of all the pieces. It reads like a who’s-who and a what’s-what of sprains and strains and bruises and bumps.
… Jeff Green (shoulder) … Kevin Durant (hamstring) … Nicolas Claxton (shoulder) … Kyrie Irving (again) … Blake Griffin (concussion protocol) … James Harden (thigh) … Kyrie Irving (finger) … Nicolas Claxton (security protocol) … Blake Griffin (damage administration) … Kevin Durant (damage restoration) … Kyrie Irving (damage restoration) … Landry Shamet (ankle) … James Harden (neck) … Blake Griffin (relaxation) …
And look: Part of the Nets’ narrative is that regardless of all this — and it actually does go on so much longer than this — they nonetheless completed with the No. 2 seed, pushed Philadelphia for No. 1, and solely bolstered how loaded they’re by profitable even when two-thirds (or extra) of the Big 3 missed video games.
But there aren’t any extra Tuesday gimmes in opposition to Orlando and Cleveland. There aren’t any extra video games for (relaxation) or (damage restoration) or (load administration). If you get damage, in case you skip just a few video games, it isn’t simply the legal guidelines of depth that you simply’re tempting, however the guidelines of destiny and logic. The concept has all the time been: Rest the fellows when you may all throughout the winter so that they’ll be prepared for the push in spring and summer time.
Maybe that’s how this can go.
But as we’ve already seen from the play-in video games: These video games are simply completely different, extra intense, fiercer, extra livid. Both Durant and Irving know firsthand the postseason tempo might be ruinous and unforgiving; each may need not less than yet another ring apiece however for playoff-shattering accidents.
Maybe that received’t occur. And positive, possibly the Nets are so loaded it received’t matter even when it does. But in case you’re on the lookout for a foe that may cease this merry basketball parade, that’s the place you will have to look. Not Boston. Not Milwaukee or Miami. Not Philly. The Nets’ nemesis, if it exists in any respect, is nearer to dwelling than that. Much nearer.