Depleted Nets focusing on playing better, not just wins and losses

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WASHINGTON — To truly contend for the NBA championship, the Nets must be process oriented, not results oriented. The focus can’t be on getting wins, but getting better.

That means even with Kevin Durant, Joe Harris and Nic Claxton all injured, and Kyrie Irving still ineligible to play at home due to his refusal to get a COVID-19 vaccine, they must concentrate on the small stuff to win the big prize.

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“We have to continue to have growth as our project,” coach Steve Nash said before the Nets faced the Wizards on Wednesday night. “We’re here to try to get better. Winning and losing should be secondary to are we getting better every week? If we’re getting better every week, we’ll win enough games to stay afloat here. But we do have the challenge with Kevin out, Joe out, Nic has been out a stretch now, Ky playing on the road, trying to incorporate him, get him back to himself.

“We can’t worry about anything other than growth. Are we getting better? Are we more clear on what we’re trying to accomplish? Are we more resolute to do the little things? That’s where our growth is. And hopefully we can move this thing forward, so when those guys do come back in we’re in a better position and they move into a group that’s moving at a higher efficiency.”

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Kyrie Irving and James Harden

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The Nets are expected to be without Durant, who sprained the MCL in his left knee Saturday against the Pelicans, for four to six weeks. But they came into Wednesday third in the Eastern Conference, just one-half game behind the Bulls and Heat. The top six teams in the conference were separated by just 2 ½ games, but those teams have managed to put some clearance between themselves and the non-contenders.

That means the Nets could — and should — be concentrating on themselves. They need to be building cohesion, shoring up their rebounding, figuring ways to actually beat good teams, etcetera.

“We’re obviously facing some adversities at the moment. We’ve been dealing with adversity throughout the whole season. This is no different,” Patty Mills said. “We’ve just got to understand that we’re just trying to get better each and every day. If we can trend in that direction with who we’ve got at the moment, when we get everyone back and we’re in a better place, that’s the most important thing.

“Result-wise, it’s about us and where we want to be at the end of the season and how we can get better now and what we can learn from now through this time with Kyrie here, and then when Kevin comes back obviously down that stretch of the season. We’re just putting everything in the bank learning from our wins, especially learning from our losses and about how we can become better from that.”

The Big 3 of Durant, Irving and James Harden have played just 16 times together — going 13-3 — since Harden was acquired from Houston just over a year ago. The three have logged just 32 minutes together this season.

Durant isn’t likely to come back until after the All-Star break, and from that point until the end of the season, Irving will only be eligible for eight games.

“This is nothing new for us unfortunately,” Nash said. “We’re used to having guys in and out when different things occur. So we’re used to it. We have the history to deal with it the best we can. And although it’s a tall order, we stay positive, we stay resolute and we also continue to have that growth mindset that we want to learn, grow and push ourselves to be better at the end of the road.

“So if that’s your goal, we don’t want to get caught up in the minutia of wins and losses day-to-day, week-to-week. We want to continue to try to get better, find things out about ourselves and our group week-to-week that put us in a better position at the end of the season than we are now.”

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