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The Nets are getting more and more confident about how to win without Kevin Durant


The Nets insisted that this year was not the same as last year, that they can better handle the absence of Kevin Durant.

They are starting to show that it might be true.

The Nets (29-17) boosted their confidence with back-to-back wins with Kyrie Irving in Utah and Golden State, their first since Durant went down with a sprained MCL. They await more clarity on their star’s status this week, but regardless of Durant’s timeline, the Nets’ spirits are higher than they were a week ago.

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“Yeah, it means a lot because you’re in a position where we’re starting to understand some things. So that’s a testament to our kids, how it shows down the stretch,” coach Jacque Vaughn said.

“The guys are starting to find their rhythm a little bit [Durant] not to be out there,” Nick Claxton said. “It’s different for everyone. He gets a lot of touches, so everyone has to find ways to affect the game offensively and also defensively. We miss him in a lot of different ways out there on the field, but we understand that.”

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During the game in Miami when Durant went down, the Nets had the best field goal percentage (.512) and were second in 3-point shooting (.392). Both numbers fell apart once they lost Durant. In their first three games without him, the Nets were dead last in scoring (99.3 points per game) and 3-point shooting (.286), and next in home field goal percentage (.430). Not shockingly, they went 0-3.


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Kyrie Irving and Nic Claxton celebrate during the Nets’ win over the Warriors on Sunday.
NBAE via Getty Images

What is an offense built around Durant without Durant?

“First choice, second choice, third choice. It doesn’t matter to me,” Irving said.

“It doesn’t matter who has the ball in their hands, as long as they are attacking [and] he is the best shot for our team. Objectively, this team sport is about winning games, not identifying one person who will carry everyone every night. … For me it’s just a team attitude, the team atmosphere and playing well together and collectively.”

The Nets have played better collectively since the fourth quarter in Phoenix, when Vaughn put Irving in the pick-and-roll and surrounded him with shooters. That limited Ben Simmons, but the result put him fourth in shooting (.535) and 3-pointers (.457) since the tweak began, and 2-1 to pull even with Milwaukee in third place in the East.

“Guys coming in and out of the lineup, we find ways to win, it’s just a team effort. Everyone buys in, gets boosted when we need it and can’t wait to get it [Durant] back,” O’Neill said.

“Yeah, the guys are starting to figure it out together,” Vaughn added.

“We’re done with Nic, we’re done with Ben, Nic and Ben, without one of those guys, ball to Ky, ball to Seth [Curry]his hands. So the kids gain confidence in each other, what we want to do especially at the end of the games.”

Curry had the ball in his hands late Sunday, scoring 9:10 in the fourth quarter to just 4:35 of Simmons and posting a game-best plus-13 in the final period.

Trailing the Warriors 110-98 with 5:42 left, the Nets went on a 22-6 run. Vaughn was shut out by Irving, Curry, O’Neale, Joe Harris and Claxton, except for 52 seconds when he fell to Yuta Watanabe at center to have five shooters on the floor.

Less than a minute in, with the floor spaced out, Curry drove for a layup, then drove again to kick to Harris for the 3rd.


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Seth Curry celebrates as the Nets beat the Warriors on Sunday.
USA TODAY Sports

“We had some success when we were able to put the ball in Ky’s hands and get shots around him,” Vaughn said. “Joe hits a huge corner 3-ball because Yuta Watanabe is in the game and he leaves the floor and he can screen and he can run the floor. So we take advantage of our roster and if the team shows up and we can have space and attack down the stretch, we will.”

But Vaughn’s answer to why the Nets have been successful in the clutch this season was much simpler.

“The coach doesn’t try to mess it up and get in the way, he lets the players do what they do,” Vaughan said. “I have special players, let them play with their instincts. Coach, don’t spoil it and live with the results.”