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Nets’ second-half title push facing these issues

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The Nets enter the All-Star break 24-13, just a half-game from first place in the Eastern Conference, and with the third-best mark in their history.

But after completing a successful first half of the season, there are plenty of questions to be answered to have a better second half. After all, when GM Sean Marks added James Harden to Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, he was pushing the chips into the middle of the table, with the pot an NBA title.

“I think we all know what our ultimate goal is here, and we’re not going to shy away from that,” Marks said on YES Network. “So it’s a great challenge and great opportunity.”

Their odds of getting there may rest on how they answer these questions:

How is KD?

Durant has sat out 18 games already, about half of the schedule. He missed the last nine with a hamstring injury, with another round of imaging slated around the time of their March 11 return vs. Boston.

Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and James Harden
Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and James Harden
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Still, after an 18-month layoff for Achilles surgery, the Nets will cautiously play the long game.

“We can definitely improve,” coach Steve Nash said. “Kevin Durant is one of the all-time greats, so to add him to our team will make us better automatically.”

Get the Big Three together

Between Harden’s Jan. 16 arrival, Durant’s hamstring and two weeklong contact tracing quarantines, and Irving’s lengthy personal leave, that Big Three has somehow still only logged 186 minutes together.

Brooklyn’s 5-1 record with them starting — and a solid 16-3 mark with even two of them in the lineup — augurs well. But while Harden is an ironman, the Nets have to keep Durant and the oft-injured Irving fit.

“We just didn’t have a ton of time together early on,” Joe Harris said. “It wasn’t like James and a lot of the guys on the roster were here at the beginning of the season. There’s been a lot of shake-up over the course of the season. But we’re starting to get to a point where things are solidified, and you’re starting to see it on the court.”

That defense

Worries over their defense are still valid, especially with every scene of a blown switch or DeAndre Jordan being late to close out.

Even the season’s first half has to be divvied up into three parts. The first was before the Jan. 16 Harden trade, when Jarrett Allen anchored a serviceable defense. Then came the first 13 games after Harden’s arrival, when the Nets struggled at 7-6 with the league’s worst Defensive Rating (119.4).

But from a humbling Feb. 9 loss in Detroit on, the Nets closed the first half a league-best 10-1 run and 18th-ranked Defensive Rating.

“We know what we’re trying to accomplish, and we know our positioning on the court on both ends of the ball,” Harden said.

Added Harris: “We’re trying to learn on the fly in the games. But we’re really starting to jell now.”

Harden’s MVP candidacy

Bruce Brown stumped for Harden as MVP, and it’s neither farfetched nor surprising. The three-time scoring champ finished second, first, second and third in MVP voting the past four years, and has put himself back in the race.

Brooklyn is 17-6 when Harden has played and just 7-6 when he hasn’t. He’s averaging 25.5 points, 8.7 boards and a league-high 11.4 assists for the Nets, sacrificing shots for wins and taking a leadership role. But he claims his leadership hasn’t changed one iota.

“The same,” Harden said. “It’s just, I get credit now. Previously I wasn’t getting credit.”

What’s the roster endgame?

The 10-day deals for Andre Roberson, Tyler Cook and Iman Shumpert end over the break. Any could be brought back; or with the G-League ending, two-way player Reggie Perry could get elevated into any of their vacated spots.

But with so much roster flexibility, expect bigger moves by the March 25 trading deadline. Injured Spencer Dinwiddie is drawing interest, and the Nets will watch to see if Andre Drummond gets bought out. They’re also reportedly interested in Houston’s PJ Tucker, according to ESPN and The Athletic.

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Bulls’ Zach LaVine called cops on ‘obsessed’ fan at his home

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Zach LaVine had an unwanted visitor.

The Chicago Bulls star had to call the police after an “allegedly obsessed” woman showed up to his Chicago home and refused to leave on Thursday night, according to TMZ. 

The woman reportedly traveled from out of state, demanding to speak with the first-time All-Star, who was home at the time.

Police took her a local hospital for mental evaluation, and she has not been formally arrested or charged with a crime.

LaVine, 25, wrapped up first-half action with the Bulls on Wednesday and was drafted to Kevin Durant’s All-Star side for Sunday’s festivities in Atlanta.

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Blake Griffin a free agent after Pistons buyout

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Blake Griffin will be free to sign with the Nets or another interested NBA team after agreeing to a contract buyout with the Detroit Pistons.

The six-time All-Star forward “has interest from most of the NBA’s top playoff contenders and is expected to make a decision on his next team after conversations with prospective teams,” ESPN reported.

The Nets, Lakers, Heat, Warriors and Clippers – his former team — are among those that have expressed interest, according to the New York Times. ESPN.com added that the Blazers are interested

The 31-year-old Griffin hasn’t played since Feb. 12 while the Pistons attempted to trade him before the March 25 deadline, but they found no takers due to the remainder of his $36.6 million salary for this season and the $39 million he’s owed for 2021-22.

Blake Griffin was released by the Pistons on March 5, 2021
Blake Griffin was released by the Pistons on March 5, 2021
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Griffin is averaging a career-low 12.3 points and 5.2 rebounds in 20 games this season. He was dealt by the Clippers to Detroit in 2018, during the first season of a five-year extension worth $171 million.



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Broncos send a pretty strong warning to Drew Lock

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Drew Lock is no lock to remain the Denver Broncos’ starting quarterback in 2021.

General manager George Paton and coach Vic Fangio both said Thursday that the team expects to bring in competition for Lock, possibly with the ninth pick in the NFL Draft.

“Obviously we’re always looking to bring in players at all positions that can raise the level of competition, and the quarterback is no different in that regard,” Fangio said, according to the team’s website.

“Until we get or until Drew proves to be the next great quarterback, like the ones that the Denver franchise has been used to in years past or certain teams around the league … are used to, we’re going to always try and bring in competition. But I have confidence that Drew can continue to improve.”

Lock made 13 starts in 2020 and tied with Carson Wentz for the league lead with 15 interceptions. He finished 32nd in the league among qualifying quarterbacks with a 75.4 passer rating, ahead of only Dwayne Haskins, Wentz and Sam Darnold.

Drew Lock faces the Patriots on October 18, 2020.
Drew Lock faces the Patriots on October 18, 2020.
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“Very talented, was inconsistent at times, has a lot to work on,” Paton said Thursday. “But I’ve spoken with Drew, I see him every day. He’s here early. He’s working. He really wants to be great. And we’re always going to try to bring in competition at every position, and quarterback as well. But I like the track that Drew’s on.”

Lock, the Broncos’ second-round pick in 2019 out of Missouri, had started five games as a rookie, winning four of them. Denver went 4-9 with him as the starter last season.

“I’m confident that Drew’s going to continue to improve,” Fangio said. “Drew’s had a great offseason up to this point. There’s not a lot you can do, but he’s working hard on his own, coming over here and getting workouts, and I know he’s doing a lot at home by himself, watching video by himself. He’s got a good setup over there. And he’s doing anything and everything he can to improve, even in February and now in March.”

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