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Steve Nash says lack of continuity ‘a gap’ that Brooklyn Nets must make up

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After dropping consecutive games to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Brooklyn Nets are reexamining a theme that has been recurring this season: making up for a lack of the continuity that many of their Eastern Conference counterparts have going for them.

The Nets fell to the Bucks 124-118 despite 32 points from Kevin Durant and 38 from Kyrie Irving. The loss brought into focus the Bucks core’s familiarity that has been built through several deep playoff runs.

“That is a huge factor,” Durant said afterward. “Continuity is a big thing in this league.”

The Nets’ injury misfortune has stifled connectivity within a team that already had ground to make up with several new players to integrate. The Nets’ Big Three of Durant, Irving and James Harden have played just seven games together. When they have just Irving and Durant out on the floor and no Harden, as they do now, the Nets are 7-8.

The Bucks, meanwhile, are hitting their stride and have won six out of their past eight games. Giannis Antetokounmpo, who had 36 points on Tuesday night, has found a rhythm from the 3-point line. He had four 3-pointers in back-to-back games, both against the Nets, for the first time in his career, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

Khris Middleton, who has been playing alongside Antetokounmpo for eight seasons, had 23 points on Tuesday, shooting 4-for-4 from 3-point range.

“We’ve got a gap to make up here,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “We understand that’s a team that’s been running the same offense, been playing together, same schemes on defense for years now. Gone deep into the playoffs, and that’s something we don’t have, so how can we make up that gap? That’s kind of our life in a nutshell heading home here.”

The Nets are working to build quick chemistry while also jockeying for playoff seeding. Brooklyn’s loss to Milwaukee puts the Philadelphia 76ers in the driver’s seat to take the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Philadelphia, which also lost consecutive games to the Bucks in late April, is now two games up in the loss column on Brooklyn. The Sixers, who also hold the tiebreaker with the Nets, have the easiest remaining schedule in the NBA, according to BPI.

The Nets’ loss to the Bucks also all but assures that Brooklyn and Milwaukee will finish in the second and third spots in the East, though the order they finish in is to be determined. The Nets are one game up in the loss column, but Milwaukee holds the tiebreaker thanks to these two victories.

Durant said that he believes one advantage the Nets have is their veteran presence. While they haven’t played all that many games together, Brooklyn’s players boast individual playoff experience. Durant is a two-time NBA Finals MVP. Irving won a championship in 2016. Jeff Green and Joe Harris were also on teams that made Finals runs in Cleveland. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan both made playoff runs with the Lob City Clippers.

“We got veterans on this team that played in different situations that know pretty much every terminology that goes on in this league and every kind of set that we run on both sides,” Durant said. “That’s in our advantage as well, having that veteran leadership, but we still are a connected group.”

Durant said that because of that experience, he feels like the team has “been together for years,” even though it has been only one season. Durant added: “We gotta continue to keep building on that.”

Nash summed up the Nets’ remaining regular-season goals as trying to get back to full health and trying to “overcome a lack of common experiences.”

“That is our challenge as much as anything,” Nash said. “While we do that, can we be more physical? Can we be more connected? Can we handle and control some of the controllables that can help us hang in some of these games and win some of these games while we’re trying to put the pieces together?”

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Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors cool off after lights fail at Smoothie King Center, as New Orleans Pelicans rally for win

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The New Orleans Pelicans finally found a way to slow down Golden State Warriors star guard Stephen Curry — all they needed was a lighting failure inside Smoothie King Center on Tuesday night.

With 3:58 remaining in the third quarter and the Warriors leading 77-71, Curry set up for another 3-pointer when the lights inside the building went out, leading to a one-minute delay before they came back on. Curry, who had scored 35 points up until then and appeared headed for his second straight 40-point game, managed just two more points in the final 16 minutes on 1-for-11 shooting, including 0-for-6 from beyond the arc.

And the Pelicans, who entered the night four games out of a Western Conference play-in position, started on a run that kept their faint playoff hopes alive with a 108-103 victory.

“I hadn’t seen that one before,” Curry said of the lights delay. “They tried to get me saying I shot it before the lights went out, but it’s a weird situation because we were flowing a little bit and I guess kinda after that it was kind of a rough offensive situation but — a tough game all the way around.”

ASM Global, which manages the venue, said it was “a brief technical error that was identified immediately and rectified.”

The Warriors followed Curry’s lead in going ice cold from the field after the lights came back on, scoring only 26 points in the final 16 minutes while shooting just 10-for-31 from the field.

So how much of an impact does Curry think the delay had down the stretch?

“It’s hard to say,” he said. “But it wasn’t as long as that one that happened in the Super Bowl that one year [Super Bowl XLVII in 2013], but it was kind of weird just in general, but it is what it is.”

Warriors coach Steve Kerr said he’s seen a lights delay “maybe a handful of times” during his career, but he did not think the stoppage had any impact on his team’s play — with both teams playing on the second night of a back-to-back.

“I don’t think so at all,” Kerr said. “I don’t think it played a role.”

Pelicans star forward Zion Williamson also said this was the first time he had ever played in a game with a lighting delay, before recalling a different stoppage that occurred during his professional debut at the Vegas Summer League on July 5, 2019.

“I have been a part of a game where an earthquake happened and stopped the game,” Williamson said. “Been around a little bit.”

ESPN’s Andrew Lopez contributed to this report.

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Lonzo Ball lives up to words with rebound performance in New Orleans Pelicans’ win

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NEW ORLEANS — After a difficult loss Monday night to the Golden State Warriors, New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson said he received a text message from his point guard, Lonzo Ball.

Ball was coming off a 3-of-18 shooting performance in a game that had play-in implications for New Orleans. It was one of the worst shooting nights of his NBA career.

Williamson said Ball told him: “I’ll be there tomorrow.”

“Those were big words,” Williamson said.

Ball responded to his off night by tying his career high with 33 points, hitting a clutch step-back, one-foot jumper to put New Orleans ahead for good with 25.3 to play and knocking down four free throws after that to lift New Orleans to a 108-103 win over the Warriors on Tuesday night.

It was the second time in three games Ball has hit his career high in points; he set the mark in a win against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday. But in between those two 33-points efforts was a clunker of a shooting night, something that weighed on him after the final buzzer sounded.

“I just knew I let my team down and I wasn’t gonna do that two nights in a row,” Ball said about sending the text to Williamson. “I know the type of player I am and I believe in myself. I knew I wasn’t gonna shoot 3 of 18 again. I just wanted to let Z know I was gonna be there with him tonight.

“I know what I can do on the court and I didn’t step up to the plate last game. I wanted to be there for the guys tonight, especially Zion. He’s going out every night basically getting 30 and 10 for us. For me to have the type of performance I had yesterday is pretty unacceptable, especially at this time of the year. I wanted to fix it.”

Ball had 11 points and knocked down three of his four 3-point attempts in the first quarter. He finished strong, as well, with 12 points in the fourth quarter, the third-most he’s ever had in the final period, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

All 12 of his fourth-quarter points came in the final 3:18. He hit a pair of 3-pointers to tie the game — at 95 with 3:18 left and at 98 with 2:13 to go — before hitting the step-back jumper for the lead. He added four free throws late to improve his season percentage at the line to 80.0% — a big step for someone who shot 41.7% from there just two seasons ago while with the Los Angeles Lakers.

“He went up there with so much confidence and just knocked down free throws,” Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy said. “He’s worked on that. And when you work on something that much and get good at it, you’re going to have great confidence.”

Williamson said he had “a lot of respect” for Ball sending the text message and coming out and backing it up with his play Tuesday.

“I’m glad he’s my teammate,” Williamson said. “You love to have teammates like that can say stuff like that and come the next day and show out. He just wants to win. That’s what I love about Lonzo. He just wants to win. And he’ll do whatever it takes to win.”

After Ball put the Pelicans up two late, Williamson came up with one of the biggest plays of the night. Stephen Curry‘s 3-point attempt to answer Ball’s shot was off target, and after Williamson went up for the rebound, Warriors guard Mychal Mulder came up with the rebound. But Williamson tipped it away and got the steal around the center-court logo and dribbled into the Draymond Green, who took a foul that was deemed clear path, since Ball was breaking away for a layup on the other side of the court.

Williamson knocked down his two free throws, and Ball hit his, as well, to stretch the lead to six with 14.6 left.

“That loose ball was a winning basketball play,” Van Gundy said. “That’s what we talked about today. Over these last seven games, counting tonight, we want to focus on playing winning basketball. We talked about taking care of the ball. Only 12 turnovers tonight. We talked about our defensive commitment. We talked about getting back, which was a lot better tonight. We didn’t necessarily play pretty basketball, but we made more winning plays tonight than we did last night.”

Some of those winning plays came without the help of Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram, who suffered a left ankle sprain just before halftime. Ingram played until the 4:39 mark of the third quarter before exiting for good.

Van Gundy said X-rays on Ingram’s ankle were negative but had no further updates.

The win kept the Pelicans alive in the hunt for the play-in tournament in the Western Conference. New Orleans improved to 30-36 and sits two games behind the San Antonio Spurs (31-33). San Antonio owns the tiebreaker over the Pelicans after winning the season series 2-1.

Both teams have difficult roads the rest of the way. New Orleans has a five-game road trip starting Friday against the 76ers before facing Charlotte, Memphis, Dallas and Golden State. The Pelicans finish the season May 16 against the Lakers in their final home game of the season.

San Antonio has a rough stretch ahead with upcoming road games against Utah, Sacramento and Portland before one home game against Milwaukee followed by two road games against Brooklyn and New York. The Spurs finish the season with a back-to-back at home against the Phoenix Suns, who could still be competing for the top seed in the West.

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Sources — Nate Bjorkgren’s future with Indiana Pacers uncertain due to issues with players, staff

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Amid a year of difficulties with players and staff, Indiana Pacers coach Nate Bjorkgren’s future with the franchise is uncertain as the regular season nears an end, sources told ESPN.

Bjorkgren has significant work to do with his relationships among players throughout the team and with some members of the organization, but has thus far shown a willingness to try to address those issues, sources told ESPN.

The Pacers, 30-34 and ninth in the Eastern Conference, have been beset with injuries and missed games this season, but Bjorkgren’s style of coaching and communication — on the court, in the locker room and in individual settings with players and staff — has often been the root of team turmoil this season, sources said.

Bjorkgren has one more guaranteed year on the three-year contract he signed with the Pacers upon arriving from his assistant coaching position with the Toronto Raptors. Bjorkgren’s future as coach is expected to be addressed after the season, sources said.

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