The Brooklyn Nets received the best news they could've hoped for yesterday when multiple outlets reported the New York City vaccine mandate would be altered so that Kyrie Irving can play at Barclays Center without receiving the jab. This, of course, comes only three weeks before the playoffs begin.
Now that Irving is guaranteed to be available for the stretch run and postseason (unless the Nets have to play the Raptors in Canada), Brooklyn will be seen as a very tough draw for the playoffs as a low seed. It is easy to understand why. Kevin Durant and Irving can score on anybody at any time. It takes a championship-caliber roster, like the one the Milwaukee Bucks boasted, and some luck, like the kind the Milwaukee Bucks enjoyed, to take down such a tandem. It'll probably result in some seeding shenanigans among the top seeds in the Eastern Conference as the season winds down. Nobody wants to run into KD and Kyrie in the playoffs, no matter how confident they are.
Here's the thing we're all forgetting, though-- the Nets still cannot play defense. Like, at all!
Last night, Brooklyn faced off against the Memphis Grizzlies, presumably motivated by the mandate news. Durant and Irving combined for a whopping 78 points and 16 assists, an absolutely absurd statline. You'd think they dominated the game, right? Wrong! The Nets lost because they gave up a cool 132 points to the Grizzlies. Even worse, these Grizzlies didn't have Ja Morant. Brooklyn gave up 132 points to a team missing its superstar player.
That is really bad. Really, really bad. And it's not likely to improve unless Ben Simmons returns by playoff time, which feels less and less likely with each passing day. Out of the eight players who will likely make up the bulk of Brooklyn's playoff rotation, only three (Bruce Brown, KD, and Nic Claxton) are passable defenders. Three are sieves on that end of the court and cannot be trusted to guard anybody (Irving, Seth Curry, Patty Mills). The other options-- Andre Drummond, James Johnson, Blake Griffin if he gets taken out of the dog house, Lamarcus Aldridge post-hip injury, Goran Dragic-- are all huge question marks on that end.
They are somehow worse defensively than they were last season. Everybody will presumably try a bit harder come playoff time but Brooklyn does not have a single elite defender. They have a few good defenders but no stoppers like every other legit contender in the East.
So the Nets are scary. For sure. Bet against Kyrie and KD on any given night at your own risk. But this roster is built to accentuate their strengths offensively rather than cover for any defensive deficiencies. In a seven-game series, that's a big problem. Let's not forget that as we trudge closer to the end of the regular season and begin to project playoff matchups.