The NBA trade deadline is in the books. How big of an impact did it have on our latest Power Rankings update?
What does it all mean ahead of Week 15? Here’s where our panel sees all 30 teams right now.
Note: Throughout the regular season, our panel (ESPN’s Tim Bontemps, Nick Friedell, Andrew Lopez, Tim MacMahon, Dave McMenamin, Eric Woodyard, Royce Young and Ohm Youngmisuk) is ranking all 30 teams from top to bottom, taking stock of which teams are playing the best basketball now and which teams are looking most like title contenders.
The Jazz have snapped out of their midseason funk. After losing five of eight games, Utah has won five in a row, giving the Jazz the league’s longest active winning streak again. Donovan Mitchell is averaging 31.6 points on .557/.513/.968 shooting splits during the winning streak. Sixth man Jordan Clarkson had been in a slump for most of the streak — he’s shooting 24.6% from the floor in the first four games — but busted out of it with 28 points on 11-of-21 shooting in Saturday’s win over the Grizzlies. — MacMahon
James Harden says he’s the MVP, and of course, he has a case. It requires a bit of amnesia to forget what happened in Houston to begin the season, but in terms of his Nets stint, he’s averaging 26-9-11 in 31 games on high efficiency and a record of 24-7. Many of those games have come without Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving, a key component to Harden’s case, because the rich keep getting richer with the Nets adding LaMarcus Aldridge over the weekend. — Young
Philly finally lost Saturday against the Clippers in Doc Rivers’ first game back in L.A. against his former team. But the important news came before the game, with Joel Embiid and recently acquired guard George Hill both being cleared for on-court activities. If the Sixers had known they’d still be in first in the East when Embiid came back, they’d have been ecstatic; they still lead Brooklyn by a game and have a chance to do just that if he gets back in the lineup again soon. — Bontemps
Key additions: George Hill
Key departures: Tony Bradley
This week: @DEN, @CLE, MIN, MEM
4. Phoenix Suns
2020-21 record: 31-14
Previous ranking: 4
It was a quick road trip for the Suns out east with four games in essentially five and a half days. After playing through the Florida portion of the trip on Tuesday (Miami), Wednesday (Orlando) and Friday (in Tampa against Toronto), Phoenix ended the week with a matinee win over Charlotte. The Suns maintained their hold on the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference but didn’t make any moves at the deadline. Instead, they just scooped up Torrey Craig for cash considerations as a part of the P.J. Tucker-to-Milwaukee deal. In four games with Phoenix, Craig averaged 8.3 points and 4.3 rebounds in 18.2 minutes a game while shooting 52.0% from the field and 45.5% from 3. — Lopez
Key additions: Torrey Craig
Key departures: None
This week: ATL, CHI, OKC
5. LA Clippers
2020-21 record: 31-16
Previous ranking: 6
The Clippers had their best week of the season — one that could determine how far they go in the playoffs. They halted the surging Hawks, swept two at San Antonio and spoiled Doc Rivers’ return by beating Philadelphia to extend their winning streak to five. But the Clippers made a critical move by trading Lou Williams for Rajon Rondo and cleared two roster spots for possible key buyout additions by trading Mfiondu Kabengele. The Clippers hope Rondo addresses their greatest needs with leadership, basketball IQ and a championship-experienced point guard who can take the playmaking load off Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Terance Mann also has emerged as a key role player, averaging 15.2 points and 8.0 rebounds this past week. — Youngmisuk
Key additions: Rajon Rondo
Key departures: Lou Williams, Mfiondu Kabengele
This week: MIL, ORL, DEN, LAL
6. Milwaukee Bucks
2020-21 record: 29-16
Previous ranking: 5
After eight straight victories, the Bucks dropped two in a row this week to Boston and New York as reigning back-to-back MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo sat with a sprained left knee. His older brother, Thanasis Antetokounmpo, stepped up with 23 points against the Knicks as the Bucks continue to try to work in their new pieces, including former Rocket P.J. Tucker. — Woodyard
This week: @LAC, @LAL, @POR, @SAC
7. Denver Nuggets
2020-21 record: 28-18
Previous ranking: 8
With the Lakers limping toward the postseason, the Nuggets saw their opening and made arguably the league’s biggest trade deadline move by adding Aaron Gordon. Gordon gives Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray another versatile and athletic above-the-rim scoring option. He also provides the Nuggets with more muscle to throw at LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard in the playoffs. JaVale McGee returns to Denver to provide rim protection, championship experience and another big body to throw at Davis. The moves also take pressure off Michael Porter Jr., who has been shooting lights out for over a month. — Youngmisuk
This week: PHI, @LAC, ORL
8. Los Angeles Lakers
2020-21 record: 30-17
Previous ranking: 7
It was a terrible week for L.A. — LeBron James suffered a high ankle sprain; the team went on a four-game skid; the front office struck out on a trade for Kyle Lowry which revealed that things aren’t going so smoothly with Dennis Schroder, the Lakers’ supposed point guard of the future — but it ended with some great news for the franchise. Andre Drummond, perhaps the best player to hit the buyout market this March, picked the Lakers. When James and Anthony Davis return from their injuries, Drummond could be the difference in getting L.A. back up the mountain this postseason. — McMenamin
Key additions: Andre Drummond
Key departures: Damian Jones
This week: MIL, @SAC, @LAC
9. Portland Trail Blazers
2020-21 record: 28-18
Previous ranking: 9
The addition of Norman Powell is an interesting one for the Blazers. They are clearly in search of a two-way upgrade and defensive versatility to complement Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, but it also opens the door for small-ball lineups with Robert Covington playing the 4. As Portland gets healthy and its depth has been reinforced, it has the look of a dangerous group that might be a bigger playoff threat than some are giving the Blazers credit for. — Young
This week: @DET, MIL, OKC
10. Dallas Mavericks
2020-21 record: 23-21
Previous ranking: 10
The Mavs are prioritizing protecting the health of their young franchise cornerstones over avoiding the play-in scenario, opting to rest Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis for part of back-to-backs since the All-Star break. Dallas is 5-5 since the break, with Doncic and/or Porzingis sitting out three of the losses, and the Mavs have slipped to 3.5 games behind the sixth seed. The Mavs are 1-4 this season in games missed by Doncic, who sat out Friday due to lower back tightness and was supposed to play Saturday before being sidelined by a non-COVID illness. — MacMahon
This week: @OKC, @BOS, @NYK, @WAS
11. San Antonio Spurs
2020-21 record: 23-20
Previous ranking: 12
San Antonio’s new starting lineup of Derrick White, Dejounte Murray, Keldon Johnson, DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl has been a net positive so far this season in 10 games over 129 minutes. While the team is 6-4 in those starts, San Antonio has a plus-1.4 net rating with that group. In 16 games this season, the Spurs’ most-started lineup of DeRozan, Murray, Johnson, Lonnie Walker IV and the recently departed LaMarcus Aldridge was a minus-12.5 in 219 minutes. — Lopez
Key additions: Gorgui Dieng
Key departures: LaMarcus Aldridge, Marquese Chriss (traded for, waived)
This week: SAC, SAC, ATL, IND
12. New York Knicks
2020-21 record: 24-22
Previous ranking: 16
New York keeps on winning, though it suffered a real loss when Mitchell Robinson broke his foot over the weekend. But the Knicks remain in fourth place in the East and are grinding out victories under coach Tom Thibodeau. A pair of big home games loom this week against the reeling Heat and Luka Doncic and the Mavericks. — Bontemps
Key additions: None
Key departures: Austin Rivers, Terrance Ferguson (traded for, waived)
This week: MIA, @MIN, DAL, @DET
13. Boston Celtics
2020-21 record: 23-23
Previous ranking: 14
Boston cashed in on most of the Gordon Hayward trade exception at Thursday’s deadline by landing Evan Fournier from the Magic and then promptly won two games without him over the weekend. The question now is whether Fournier, who missed Saturday’s win over Oklahoma City due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols, will make his debut on Monday against New Orleans. The other storyline to watch: Can Robert Williams III cement himself as Boston’s long-term starter at center in the wake of Daniel Theis‘ departure? — Bontemps
Key additions: Evan Fournier, Moritz Wagner
Key departures: Daniel Theis, Jeff Teague
This week: NOP, DAL, HOU, CHA
14. Atlanta Hawks
2020-21 record: 23-23
Previous ranking: 13
Nate McMillan’s eight-game win streak as the Hawks’ interim coach came to an end at the start of the week when Atlanta dropped a game to the Clippers. It will also be another long week on the road for the Hawks, who are currently on the league’s longest road trip of the season: eight games. They’ll travel to Phoenix, San Antonio and New Orleans this week before finally having a home game again on April 4 against the Warriors. — Lopez
Key additions: Lou Williams
Key departures: Rajon Rondo
This week: @PHO, @SAS, @NOP, GSW
15. Charlotte Hornets
2020-21 record: 23-22
Previous ranking: 17
Charlotte responded nicely after last week’s news of LaMelo Ball‘s likely season-ending wrist injury, winning three of its past four games. The big highlight came during Friday’s win over the Heat, where Malik Monk poured in 32 points in 26 minutes off the bench. Terry Rozier has scored at least 22 points in the four games since Ball’s injury was announced. — Friedell
Key additions: Brad Wanamaker
Key departures: None
This week: @WAS, @BRK, @IND, @BOS
16. Miami Heat
2020-21 record: 22-24
Previous ranking: 11
After rattling off 11 wins in 12 games, the Heat have fallen back to earth and enter the week in the midst of a six-game losing streak. The defense that helped get them back on track has gone missing. During the skid, the Heat are giving up an average of 113 points per game and haven’t been able to finish games late in several close contests. Victor Oladipo‘s addition should give the veteran group a needed jolt in the next week. — Friedell
This week: @NYK, @IND, GSW, CLE
17. Indiana Pacers
2020-21 record: 21-23
Previous ranking: 18
The Pacers have won four of their past five. During Indiana’s 109-94 win over Dallas on Friday, Texas native Myles Turner posted 9 points with 7 rebounds in addition to 7 blocks. Turner has 12 games with five or more blocks this season, tied for the third-most such games in a season in Pacers NBA history, per ESPN Stats & Information research. — Woodyard
Key additions: None
Key departures: None
This week: @WAS, MIA, CHA, @SAS
18. Memphis Grizzlies
2020-21 record: 21-22
Previous ranking: 19
The Grizzlies have finally revealed a timetable for power forward Jaren Jackson Jr.’s return from surgery to repair the meniscus in his left knee. Executive vice president Zach Kleiman announced that Jackson will make his season debut by the end of April. Forward Justise Winslow, one of the other young players the Grizzlies hope will be a long-term core piece, has struggled as he chips off the rust from a long injury recovery process. Winslow has shot 34.2% from the floor in his first 16 games for the Grizzlies. — MacMahon
Key additions: None
Key departures: Gorgui Dieng
This week: @HOU, UTA, MIN, @PHI
19. Golden State Warriors
2020-21 record: 22-24
Previous ranking: 15
The Warriors have lost four in a row and are playing some of their worst basketball of the season. Stephen Curry has been out since suffering a tailbone bruise on March 17 — and the good news is there is a chance that Curry plays Monday against the Bulls after going through all of Sunday’s practice. But Curry’s return isn’t going to be a cure-all for the Warriors’ defensive issues. They’ve given up an average of 121 points during the losing streak. — Friedell
Key additions: None
Key departures: Brad Wanamaker, Marquese Chriss
This week: CHI, @MIA, @TOR, @ATL
20. New Orleans Pelicans
2020-21 record: 20-25
Previous ranking: 21
Zion Williamson finished the week with a fury. He bested his previous career high of 36 points in back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday night. He finished with 39 points in a loss to the Nuggets on Friday before going off for 38 points against the Mavericks in a victory the following night. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Williamson joined Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Adrian Dantley, Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Scottie Pippen and Giannis Antetokounmpo as the only players to have at least 75 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists while shooting at least 70% from the field in a two-game span. — Lopez
Key additions: James Johnson, Wes Iwundu
Key departures: JJ Redick, Nicolo Melli
This week: @BOS, ORL, ATL, @HOU
21. Sacramento Kings
2020-21 record: 21-25
Previous ranking: 24
It was fitting the NCAA tournament was going on this weekend, because Harrison Barnes‘ game winner over the Cavs on Saturday — created by a full-court inbounds pass from De’Aaron Fox with 1.6 seconds remaining — was reminiscent of Duke’s Grant Hill hooking up with Christian Laettner to beat Kentucky in 1992. Don’t look now, but the Kings have won four in a row, putting them only a game back of the final play-in spot in the West. — McMenamin
This week: @SAS, @SAS, LAL, MIL
22. Chicago Bulls
2020-21 record: 19-25
Previous ranking: 20
Even with changes to the starting lineup and rotation, the Bulls struggled to get in sync with three losses to Utah, Cleveland and San Antonio this week. In Nikola Vucevic‘s Bulls debut, the two-time All-Star put up a team-high 21 points, 9 rebounds and 3 assists in 32 minutes despite a loss in San Antonio. Look for Vucevic and Zach LaVine to get it together for a playoff push. — Woodyard
This week: @GSW, @PHO, @UTA, BRK
23. Oklahoma City Thunder
2020-21 record: 19-26
Previous ranking: 23
With Al Horford shelved for the rest of the season, the Thunder aren’t being shy about their intentions the rest of the way. But also, consider a few things: They were only 8-8 with Horford this season, and with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander out for a month or so because of a foot injury, they weren’t doing much anyway. The Thunder also want to play their young players. One of whom is Horford protégé Moses Brown, who put up 21 points and 23 rebounds on Saturday. — Young
Key additions: None
Key departures: George Hill, Al Horford (sitting out)
This week: DAL, TOR, @PHO, @POR
24. Toronto Raptors
2020-21 record: 18-28
Previous ranking: 22
Toronto promptly dropped two games in a row after breaking a nine-game losing streak, leaving the Raptors closer to 13th than 10th in the standings at a rather late stage of the season. There’s still time for Toronto to right itself, and keeping Kyle Lowry will help — assuming the right foot soreness that held him out of Sunday’s loss to Portland doesn’t linger. But the idea this team can be a problem for an opponent in the first round is looking more and more remote by the day. As a result, whether it can leap up in a loaded lottery is looking like the much more relevant question. — Bontemps
Key additions: Rodney Hood, Gary Trent Jr.
Key departures: Norman Powell
This week: @DET, @OKC, GSW
25. Washington Wizards
2020-21 record: 16-28
Previous ranking: 25
Russell Westbrook practically willed the Wizards to a win against Detroit with his 15th triple-double (19 points, 19 rebounds and 10 assists) to stop a three-game losing streak. While the Wizards have still dropped eight of their past 10 and Bradley Beal is hampered by a hip bruise, they made a move that they hope will keep their dwindling playoff hopes alive. Washington traded Moritz Wagner and Troy Brown Jr. for Daniel Gafford and Chandler Hutchinson. The 6-foot-10 Gafford gives Washington a rim protector and hopefully helps fill the big-man void left by Thomas Bryant‘s season-ending injury. — Youngmisuk
Key additions: Daniel Gafford, Chandler Hutchison
Key departures: Moritz Wagner, Troy Brown Jr.
This week: IND, CHA, @DET, DAL
26. Cleveland Cavaliers
2020-21 record: 17-29
Previous ranking: 26
The losses are piling up for the Cavs — eight in their past 11 games — including a couple of clunkers over the weekend. Cleveland mustered just 86 points in a loss to the LeBron-less Lakers on Friday, scoring a measly 10 points in the third quarter. It followed that up with just 98 points in a loss to Sacramento, despite winning the turnover battle with seven miscues compared to 18 for the Kings. — McMenamin
Key additions: Isaiah Hartenstein
Key departures: JaVale McGee
This week: @UTA, PHI, @MIA
27. Orlando Magic
2020-21 record: 15-31
Previous ranking: 27
Yet another rebuild is underway in Orlando after the Magic traded away their veteran core of Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon prior to the deadline. Now they must hope that some of their new first-round picks turn into solid pieces in the future — while also hoping that Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz come back to being solid players after dealing with serious knee injuries over the past year. — Friedell
Key additions: Wendell Carter Jr., Gary Clark
Key departures: Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier
This week: @LAC, @NOP, @UTA, @DEN
28. Detroit Pistons
2020-21 record: 12-33
Previous ranking: 28
The Pistons have dropped four straight, including a 106-92 loss in Washington on Saturday during which they trailed by as many as 30 points but cut the deficit to three points in the fourth quarter. At the deadline, the Pistons traded Delon Wright to the Kings for Cory Joseph, and second-round picks in 2021 and 2024. — Woodyard
Key additions: Cory Joseph
Key departures: Delon Wright, Blake Griffin
This week: TOR, POR, WAS, NYK
29. Houston Rockets
2020-21 record: 13-32
Previous ranking: 30
Guard Kevin Porter Jr.’s development is one of the Rockets’ top priorities the rest of the season and one reason trading Victor Oladipo made sense despite not getting much value in return from Miami. Porter had 25 points in Saturday’s win over the Timberwolves, his third time scoring that many points in eight games in a Rockets uniform. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, the Rockets had previously had only two such performances by players 20 or younger in franchise history. — MacMahon
Key additions: Kelly Olynyk, Avery Bradley, D.J. Augustin, D.J. Wilson
Key departures: Victor Oladipo, P.J. Tucker
This week: MEM, @BRK, @BOS, NOP
30. Minnesota Timberwolves
2020-21 record: 11-35
Previous ranking: 29
One of the (many) issues with the Wolves is that they just aren’t playing competitive games. With a young team, the experience of being in close games and making key plays late is crucial. But of the Wolves’ past nine losses, only one was decided by two possessions. They are routinely getting blown out by 15 or 20, which makes it hard to develop a young roster. — Young
Key additions: None
Key departures: None
This week: @BRK, NYK, @MEM, @PHI
NBA playoffs 2021 – Trae Young, Ja Morant weigh in on Nikola Jokic ejection
Game 4 of the NBA playoff series between the Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns took a dramatic turn when Denver big man Nikola Jokic, the league’s newly crowned MVP, was ejected for a flagrant foul 2 with 3:52 remaining in the third quarter and the Nuggets trailing the Suns by eight points.
Jokic took a wild swing at the Suns’ Cameron Payne, hitting Payne across the face as he made a hard swipe to knock the ball loose. The foul came after Jokic didn’t get a call on a one-handed runner, as he briefly glanced over at a referee and gestured.
Suns star Devin Booker immediately confronted Jokic, as the teams briefly scuffled before being separated.
After he was ejected, Jokic appeared to apologize to Payne.
Folks quickly weighed in on social media, with NBA stars Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks and Ja Morant of the Memphis Grizzlies among those who felt the ejection was too harsh, particularly in an elimination game. Denver was down 3-0 in the series entering Sunday night’s Game 4, and Phoenix completed the sweep with a 125-118 decision.
playoffs. elimination game. give him a flagrant 1 and play ball man .
— Ja Morant (@JaMorant) June 14, 2021
A Flagrant 2 ?? Wow.
— Trae Young (@TheTraeYoung) June 14, 2021
They really just kicked this man out the game…!? Wow? #Jokic
— Russell Wilson (@DangeRussWilson) June 14, 2021
Joker look scary like the real joker lol … like he got a couple hit man the way he look at booker …
— Nick Young (@NickSwagyPYoung) June 14, 2021
league soft ..
— Ja Morant (@JaMorant) June 14, 2021
Stiil can’t believe they ejected
MVP Jokic for hitting a ball real hard
— Robert Griffin III (@RGIII) June 14, 2021
Get him outta there!!!! Smh hate to see it… 😈 #RallyTheValley
— cameron jordan (@camjordan94) June 14, 2021
Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic ejected with Flagrant 2 foul for hard swipe at Phoenix Suns’ Cameron Payne
With the Denver Nuggets on the brink of playoff elimination, league MVP Nikola Jokic was ejected from Sunday night’s game with a Flagrant 2 foul after taking a wild swing in frustration at Phoenix Suns guard Cameron Payne.
After a lengthy review, Jokic was handed the Flagrant 2 and ejected from Game 4 of Denver’s Western Conference semifinal playoff series with 3:52 remaining in the third quarter and the Nuggets down eight.
The foul came after Jokic didn’t get a call on a one-handed runner, as he briefly glanced over at a referee and gestured. In apparent frustration at the no-call, he ran over to take a hard swipe at the ball, hitting Payne across the face.
Referee David Guthrie could be heard on the broadcast explaining the decision saying, “After replay review, there is wind up, impact and follow-through.”
Suns star Devin Booker took immediate exception to the play from Jokic, confronting the big man as both teams briefly scuffled before being separated. Booker was assessed a technical foul.
A Flagrant 2 is defined as being “unnecessary and excessive contact committed by a player against an opponent.”
The Suns lead the series 3-0 and have had complete control since Game 1, winning all three games by double figures.
Jokic left with 22 points on 9-17 shooting, plus 11 rebounds and 4 assists in 28 minutes.
Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving exits Game 4 with right ankle injury, X-rays negative
The Brooklyn Nets first lost James Harden 47 seconds into their Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Milwaukee Bucks. Now, after the Bucks evened the series at two games apiece with a 107-96 victory at Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum Sunday afternoon, the Nets are headed back to Brooklyn, New York, for Game 5 on Tuesday facing the possibility of playing the biggest game of their season without two of their three superstars.
Kyrie Irving was unable to return to Sunday’s game with a sprained right ankle. After Irving made a layup midway through the second quarter, he landed on Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s foot. Irving’s right foot bent significantly and he immediately appeared to be in considerable pain. He stayed on the court for several minutes before eventually getting to his feet and walking back to the visiting locker room without assistance but with a pronounced limp.
Brooklyn ruled Irving out for the rest of the game just before the start of the second half. Nets coach Steve Nash said after the game that X-rays on Irving’s ankle were negative. Irving left the building using crutches and with his ankle in a walking boot, sources told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols.
“I have no idea what is going to happen with [Irving] in the coming days,” Nash said. “We will cross our fingers and hope that it is better than I don’t know — better than what — better than missing the next game?
“We all have to pitch in. We all got to play together.”
When interviewed on the court by Nichols after the game, Antetokounmpo said that he wasn’t even aware of what Irving hurt when he initially hit the floor.
“I really don’t know,” Antetokounmpo said, when asked what happened from his perspective on the play. “I thought he got hit in the groin at first. When I went back to the locker room, they said that he sprained his ankle. I wish him a quick recovery, and hopefully he can be ready for Game 5. Wish him nothing but the best, but we have to keep focusing on ourselves, keep focusing on the task at hand, keep having fun and try to win games.”
Over the next two days, an already intense focus on Brooklyn’s injury situation, with Harden recovering from right hamstring tightness — the same hamstring injury that kept him out for several weeks late in the regular season — in the opening moments of Game 1 in Brooklyn will intensify if Irving is on the shelf, as well.
Before Sunday’s game, Nash — who had said multiple times in recent days that Harden has been “progressing,” offered up some more specifics, saying that he’s doing on-court work, including shooting, and still working through his rehabilitation. Nash said that while Harden was progressing toward a return, he didn’t have all the details of the exact work Harden is able to do.
When asked about the potential for Harden to return in Game 5 Sunday evening, however, with the knowledge that Irving, too, may be out for some time, Nash said that whatever decisions that will be made with regard to Harden’s availability would be made independently of anything happening with Irving.
“I don’t want James to be rushed back,” Nash said. “If he’s able to play next game, or the game after, that’s fantastic. If he’s not, we don’t want to rush him back and jeopardize doing something worse or making this a long-term injury.”
After the Nets controlled the first two games in Brooklyn – even with Harden sidelined for virtually all of them – this series is now in an entirely different place after the Bucks held serve and won both games in Milwaukee, squeaking out a victory in a defensive slugfest Thursday night in Game 3 before the Bucks finally saw their offense come alive in Game 4.
Milwaukee finally started to see some perimeter shots fall in Game 4, as the Bucks went 16-for-47 from 3-point range in their victory. And while that 34% hit rate from deep is still nothing special, it was a vast improvement from the 24.7% clip (22-for-89) that the Bucks shot at through the first three games of the series.
But with the possibility of both Harden and Irving being sidelined, Milwaukee will now be able to throw even more attention than it already was in the direction of Brooklyn’s remaining superstar, Kevin Durant, who had 28 points in Sunday’s loss but went 9-for-25 from the field, and shot a combined 20-for-53 in the Nets’ two losses in Milwaukee to even the series.
Nash took exception with some of the defense Brooklyn is playing against Durant – specifically that played by his longtime friend, and fellow Texas Longhorn, P.J. Tucker, of whom Nash said was bordering on “non-basketball” physicality with his aggressive defense against Durant the past two games.
“He’s playing extremely physical, and made it difficult,” Nash said. “That’s his role on their team and I thought it was borderline non-basketball physical at times, but that’s the playoffs. You have to adapt and adjust. Something definitely in a sense changed from the way the game was played in Brooklyn and here in Milwaukee.”
For his part, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer scoffed at the idea that Tucker was doing anything out of line with his play.
“He’s just guarding him,” Budenholzer said. “If that’s not basketball, I don’t know what is. So, I think we’ve got to just keep the same mindset, to guard him, to make everything tough, so nothing changes.”
While nothing may change with the approach to guarding Durant, obviously everything changes for the Nets as they will wait to see what the prognosis on both of their injured stars. Bucks guard Pat Connaughton, however, said that Milwaukee can ill-afford to overlook the rest of Brooklyn’s roster – much of which played a part in dismantling the Bucks in the first two games of this series.
“We actually said it doesn’t matter who is out there,” Connaughton said. “We want to make sure we continue to play our type of game. Obviously James went down in Game 1, Kyrie went down at one point today, but they have a lot of talented individuals and a lot of talent as a collective unit on that team.
“For us, it’s about continuing to focus on our brand of basketball. The toughness on the defensive end, the things we instill in ourselves and in each other, and the ball movement, player movement that we have on the offensive end. I think that is the most important thing as we continue to move forward.”
Still, it was clear the Nets were – understandably – impacted by Irving’s departure from the game. While Brooklyn opened the game 6-for-14 from 3-point range, the Nets were just 4-for-19 after Irving’s injury, and committed 10 turnovers over the final 30 minutes of action.
“We missed him, obviously,” Nash said. “It was a big adjustment tonight to play without him and James, but we’ve had that type of year. So, we have to find a way to figure it out, to look at the tape and get better.”
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