Wednesday, March 29 2023

NEW YORK – At the beginning of every season, New York’s two NBA teams talk a good game: They want to be a destination for top-free agents; they want to strive for a culture where championships can be won; and, most importantly, they want to keep disgruntled players already on their rosters happy. 

The Knicks and the Nets have been everything short of a disaster and in the loaded Eastern Conference, time may be running out to turn it around – at least for one team.

Hours before the two teams met during a nationally-televised contest Wednesday, the Nets found their replacement for Steve Nash in veteran assistant coach Jacque Vaughn. Nash, who was unceremoniously dismissed on Nov. 1 after two-plus seasons, won nearly 60% of his games, but only won one playoff series in that time.

The 47-year-old Vaughn has been on the Nets staff since 2016. In that time, he has been an assistant for two different head coaches – and was an interim coach for each (the first stint coming after Kenny Atkinson and the team parted ways near the end of the 2019-20 season).

Nets general manager Sean Marks has been noticeably more visible this season and that’s by circumstance because of the drama surrounding the team. From explaining how the team resolved Kevin Durant’s trade request to Nash’s firing and, finally, telling Kyrie Irving to go away after the guard refused to apologize for his repeated failure to renounce antisemitism, Marks has had his hands full.

Management said that Vaughn’s elevation to the top job is because he was the best candidate, despite the team’s reported flirtation with suspended Boston Celtics head coach Ime Udoka.

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“At this particular time, to be honest, we were going to have to find somebody better than JV in order for it not to be JV,” Marks said. “Like all other searches we’ve ever done, whether it’s the front office or coaching staff, it’s never appropriate to talk about who may or may not be a candidate.”

“That decision was not up to Kevin,” Marks added. “Kevin’s job here is to go out and play basketball and that’s what he wants to do. That’s what he enjoys to do. Let’s let him go and do that.”

Vaughn, who has a 68-163 record as a head coach, which includes his three-year stint with the Orlando Magic, took the promotion in stride, saying he didn’t mind being passed over the when the job was open in 2020.

“I guess I was the write-in candidate,” Vaughn said. “I said to my wife, I might not have been her first choice and we’ve been together 20 years, so it can all work out.”

At least for one game, the Nets looked like a competent team, capable of defending at a high level and getting other people involved.

The intensity started less than three minutes in when Knicks forward Julius Randle was met at the free throw line with chants of “overrated.”

Brooklyn Nets forward Joe Harris celebrates after hitting a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter against the New York Knicks.Brooklyn Nets forward Joe Harris celebrates after hitting a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter against the New York Knicks.

Brooklyn Nets forward Joe Harris celebrates after hitting a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter against the New York Knicks.

It went downhill from there as the Knicks never led as Brooklyn built a 25-point lead in the first half, sending its city rivals back across the river with a loss. The Nets were dominant in the 112-85, wire-to-wire beatdown, their eighth straight victory in the series.

Durant was at his efficient best, toying with defenders who dared get in his way, while facilitating the offense when needed. He led five Nets in double figures and recorded his 17th career triple-double with 29 points, 12 assists, and 12 rebounds in becoming the first player since Michael Jordan to score at least 25 points in each of his team’s first 12 games.

“We don’t want this to be a honeymoon stage for us,” Durant said after the game. “We want to continue to keep pushing through, keep finding ways to get better, finding ways to turn those weaknesses to strengths and keep pushing from here.”

In the first eight games, the Nets were one of the league’s worst defensive teams, giving up at least 125 points four times. In each of the past four games, Brooklyn has not allowed more than 94.

Seth Curry hit six 3-pointers and finished with 23 points off the bench against the Knicks and Edmond Sumner, Irving’s replacement in the lineup, scored a season-high 18.

Brooklyn had 30 assists on its 42 made field goals.

Randle scored 15 of his 24 points in the first quarter. R.J. Barrett added 16 for New York.

For the Knicks, a season of promise so far has been anything but after falling below .500 amongst a litany of issues.

Although they are shooting three percentage points better than last season (when they ranked 27th in that category), the extra possessions they are getting because of outstanding rebounding are not translating into points. Even with the addition of free-agent acquisition Jalen Brunson, New York is scoring more than 53% of its points in the paint.

Wednesday night, the Knicks looked like they were the ones that had drama following them all season.

New York shot 32% in Wednesday’s game, including 12-for-43 (28%) from 3-point range, while scoring a season-low in points. The Nets outrebounded them 55-46.

Brunson, who scored 14 points, was not in the mood to describe the night.

“It’s not OK. They played harder than us,” he said. “I’m OK with missing shots, I’m OK with aggressive mistakes. But effort and heart – from all of us – that’s what we need.”

The Battle of New York “rivalry” is currently nonexistent thanks to the Nets’ domination.

“If I see a Knicks fan, I’m always gonna give them a thumbs-down or just give them some (expletive) about being a Knicks fan.” Durant said. “So it only adds to the rivalry and the fans feel more engaged if they see a player engaged in the rivalry as well. So, it’s all in fun.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Despite ongoing turmoil, Nets dominate rival Knicks once again

Source: Yahoo Sports


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