Nets have to ‘do better’ at Barclays Center

Home is where the heart is, but it’s also where the Nets’ struggles are.

Brooklyn blew a golden opportunity on the road, where it had both superstar Kyrie Irving and the NBA’s best record. Now the Nets return to Barclays Center with a short-handed roster and James Harden the only star still standing, but slumping.

“[Our road record] is pretty solid. We got to do better at home,” Harden admitted, adding succinctly, “Home ain’t nothing.”

And Harden isn’t lying.

Brooklyn (29-17) is a half-game behind Miami for first place in the Eastern Conference, but its surprisingly poor home form has kept the Nets from enjoying a healthy lead. And they’ll need more from Harden to turn that around, especially against the likes of the Lakers on Tuesday.

Nets guard James Harden drives to the basket during a game against the Thunder at Barclays Center.
NBAE via Getty Images

The Nets’ 12-11 record at Barclays Center is just the 18th-best home mark in the league, and the second-worst among all teams with winning records.

Yes, the Nets are bereft of Irving at Barclays Center, due to his refusal to adhere to New York’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. But he only recently returned to the court on Jan. 5, and is hardly to reason for their shocking home-road splits.

The Nets are 17-6 on the road, the best record in the East. And when they boarded a plane Jan. 16 to embark on this past four-game trek, they were 15-4 and tied with Phoenix for the best in the league. Having Irving available buoyed hopes and expectations of a strong trip.

They got dashed.

An opening loss in Cleveland set the tone, and a defeat in Minneapolis on Sunday wrapped up a disappointing 2-2 trip despite Irving’s strong play.

Nets guard James Harden (13) looks on during the second quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center.
James Harden
Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY Sports

“I’m slowly crawling into my prime right now,” Irving said. “But coming off a road trip like this was a good test, and I’m just grateful I was able to get up and down and come out of these games healthy. I feel like I’m in a better rhythm just shape-wise, being able to play both ends of the ball and shots in terms of getting to my spots and knocking down some easy shots.

“I felt like they were good for the flow of the team. And then, game-to-game just making adjustments. That was new for me. [So] 2-2, we split it. Wish we were 3-1 or 4-0, but sometimes it just happens that way.”

Now the Nets return to Barclays Center, where they have dropped six of their past eight games.

They host the Lakers — with LeBron James scorching and Anthony Davis probable — and then the Nuggets.

“We just talked about it in the locker room, four days at home and then we’re back on the road. It’s just a lot to look forward to,” Irving said. “First, the guys are going to have to galvanize and be able to take care of this back-to-back against two great teams in the league that ultimately are going to be competing in the Western Conference for a championship run. So it will be a good test.”

“In the meantime, I’m staying in the gym, staying in shape as best I can, just playing with the ‘stay ready’ group and staying engaged and doing what I can to stay in a rhythm.”

With Irving banned at home and Kevin Durant recovering from an MCL injury, the Big 3 has still played just 16 games together, and that’s not likely to change until after the All-Star break.

The Nets are 3-2 this season with Harden as the lone star. To beat the Lakers and Nuggets, he’ll have to play better than he did at Minnesota, when he had just 13 points — 10 below his season average — on 4 of 13 shooting, earned just four free throws and finished a minus-14.

“It’s frustrating, but whatever. [Sunday] was just a tough one for us,” said Harden, a minus-25 in his last 13 games. “It didn’t come our way and we’ve just gotta regroup and get ready to come back home.”

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