“I mean, it’s transparent. It’s out there. It’s glaring, in terms of the pieces that we need in order to be at that next level,” Irving said after finishing with 14 points on 6-for-21 shooting in Brooklyn’s 117-106 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday at Wells Fargo Center. “I’m going to continue to reiterate it. We’re going to do the best with the guys that we have in our locker room now, and we’ll worry about all the other stuff, in terms of moving pieces and everything else, as an organization down the line in the summer.
“It’s just something that we signed up for. We knew what we were coming into at the beginning of this season. Guys were going down left and right. [Garrett Temple] is out, [DeAndre Jordan] just got hurt tonight, Wilson [Chandler] is coming back. We’ve got complimentary young guys as well that have done a great job the last three years.
“Collectively, I feel like we have great pieces, but it’s pretty glaring we need one more piece or two more pieces that will compliment myself, [Kevin Durant], DJ, GT, Spence [Dinwiddie], Caris [LeVert], and we’ll see how that evolves.”
Irving played in his third game since coming back from a 26-game absence due to a left shoulder impingement, an injury that sidelined him from mid-November until this past Sunday, when he went 10-for-11 from the field and scored 21 points in a blowout win over the Atlanta Hawks at home.
After following that performance with another strong outing Tuesday at home against the Utah Jazz, scoring 32 points on 12-for-19 shooting, things came back to earth for Irving in a hurry against Philadelphia. Not only was he 6-for-21 for the game, but he was also 1-for-7 in the fourth quarter, and he finished the game with a plus-minus of minus-29 in just under 37 minutes.
No one else on the Nets was worse than minus-10. Brooklyn was outscored by 20 points in the 10 minutes, 28 seconds that Irving played in the fourth quarter.
“Like I said the other day, if I wasn’t up for playing any amount of minutes, I wouldn’t be out there,” Irving said. “It’s the NBA, at the end of the day, and you do your best to prepare for back-to-backs. They’re always going to be difficult, no matter what. Like I said, I just try to pace myself throughout the game.
“And the fourth quarter, certain shots I usually make at the rim, they were just a little short tonight. You have to live with those results. And a lot of my teammates picked me up. Spence did a good job continuing to attack. [Jarrett Allen] played well. I felt like we could’ve got some more swing-swing action or some second-side action. They did a great job loading up, so you got to give them credit, but I feel like my teammates had my back as well.”
Although Dinwiddie finished with 26 points on 8-for-16 shooting, 8 assists and 2 turnovers, he and Irving combined to go 2-for-13 from the field in the fourth. Philadelphia, meanwhile, got 11 points from Tobias Harris and seven from Al Horford, Irving’s teammate with the Celtics the past three years. Horford was the one who swallowed up Irving’s repeated forays into the paint in the fourth quarter, resulting in his tossing up one layup that went wanting after another.
Brooklyn’s fourth-quarter struggles are nothing new, however. The Nets entered Wednesday with the worst fourth-quarter net rating (-9.3 points per 100 possessions) in the NBA before being outscored 31-16 by the Sixers.
“It’s kind of been an issue for us all year, not being able to score in the fourth quarter efficiently,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “It kind of follows a trend. I thought we played pretty well for three quarters, we were in the game and then struggled to score at the end. I’ll have to go through and look at the quality of the shots. I thought we had a ton of good looks. We were, I think, under 50% at the rim … we just weren’t finishing.
“Like every game, a lot of different things.”
Atkinson spoke before the game about the benefits of having Irving, Dinwiddie and LeVert on the court together. He also admitted that it would take time for them to learn to play with one another. Atkinson tried to go with that group in the fourth quarter, before quickly going away from it, and he later admitted that they struggled.
“It wasn’t jelling,” Atkinson said. “I have to admit that. … We’re just going to have to find what that combination looks like. I think it’ll be game-to-game. It’s a feel.
“I thought they were good the night before. Tonight it wasn’t perfect. That’s something we have to look at the next two days.”
It will take far more than the next two days, however, for the Nets to get their full roster on the court. Durant, of course, isn’t expected to be back this season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon last summer before signing with Brooklyn. Jordan, who came to Brooklyn with Irving and Durant last summer, dislocated his right middle finger Wednesday, and Atkinson said after the game that he would have it examined Thursday. Jordan left with a wrap over his right, middle and ring fingers and without talking to reporters. Temple — whom Irving also recruited to Brooklyn last summer — sat out for the second time in three games due to a right knee contusion.
Wednesday’s loss saw the Nets fall to 18-22 on the season, with Saturday’s game in Brooklyn against the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks marking the halfway point of the regular season. After he expressed his views on the roster, Irving was asked what his goals are for the remaining months of the season.
“Just be healthy,” he said after the Nets fell to 5-9 in the 14 games he has played this season. “Be as healthy as possible. You never know what can happen as the season progresses, and we’ve just got to take every day as an opportunity to lead these guys and do what you can.
“It’s glaring that you’re missing a big piece here. We all know that. But we can’t continue to make that excuse. We’ve got to go out there and compete and continue to lock in and see where we end up.”