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    N.B.A. Eastern Conference Preview: The Bucks Aren't Finished Yet

    The Bucks might be better, while the Sixers and Nets are playing wait-and-see with key stars. The Eastern Conference could play out in several ways.Here lie the N.B.A.’s most compelling story lines.Potential contenders in the Eastern Conference scrambled during the off-season to assemble teams fit to knock off Giannis Antetokounmpo — now with a new, improved jump shot? — and the reigning N.B.A. champion Milwaukee Bucks. Even the conference’s perennial bottom feeders built rosters that will demand attention from basketball devotees. Some teams are just hoping that distractions don’t derail their seasons before they start.Many wonder how the Ben Simmons situation in Philadelphia will end. The 76ers seemed locked in a stalemate with Simmons, a three-time All-Star, who has wanted to be traded for months. Simmons ended his holdout midway through the preseason and reported to the team but has not played. The 76ers have said they want him on their roster, but if they persuade him to stay, can they really go forward with business as usual?Meanwhile, the Nets have a bona fide championship roster. They know this, and even with the distraction of Kyrie Irving’s murky status because he’s not vaccinated, they expect to hoist the Larry O’Brien championship trophy at season’s end.Could the N.B.A.’s balance of power, which has long rested in the West, be shifting to the East? Here’s a look at how the Eastern Conference shapes up this season.Miami HeatIn some ways, it seems so long ago. But little more than a year has passed since the Heat plowed their way to the 2020 finals before losing to the Los Angeles Lakers. Was it a fluke, aided by playing under the unusual conditions of a bubble environment, with no fans? The Heat were up and down last season before the Milwaukee Bucks ejected them from the 2021 playoffs in a lopsided first-round series.Jimmy Butler needs to be efficient. Duncan Robinson needs to be consistent. Tyler Herro needs to recapture his assertiveness. And Bam Adebayo needs to keep making the sort of strides that have pushed him toward becoming a perennial All-Star.The team should benefit from two additions: Kyle Lowry, who at 35 left the Raptors after nine seasons, and P.J. Tucker, who helped the Bucks win the championship last season.Philadelphia 76ersThe Sixers don’t need Ben Simmons to be competitive (they do have Joel Embiid, pictured), but they are better with him.Matt Slocum/Associated PressBen Simmons is, for now, back in the City of Brotherly Love.Simmons, who reportedly demanded a trade in late August and missed training camp, reported to the 76ers ahead of their third preseason game but did not play. Simmons’s future in Philadelphia remains unclear, though. He still has four years left on his maximum contract.With or without him, Philadelphia is antsy to win now. Joel Embiid is coming off the best season of his career, when he finished second in the voting for the Most Valuable Player Award. The 76ers were the No. 1 seed in last season’s Eastern Conference playoffs but collapsed in the semifinals, continuing their inability to turn regular-season wins into deep postseason success.Philadelphia is a better team with Simmons, 25, despite his offensive shortcomings. But even if he doesn’t play anytime soon, Embiid, Seth Curry, Danny Green and Tobias Harris should be experienced enough to keep the Sixers in contention.New York KnicksThe Knicks doubled down on last season’s roster, which unexpectedly made the playoffs then flamed out — albeit after a brilliant flare — in the first round. The veterans Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson are back, but Elfrid Payton, who triggered an influx of gray hairs for fans, is not. The additions of Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker are significant, and should help take the offensive load off RJ Barrett and Julius Randle, who signed a four-year contract extension in the off-season.This feels like a make-or-break year for the 23-year-old Mitchell Robinson, the center who is up for an extension and can jump through the roof. At his best, he protects the rim and is an excellent roll man. But he has had difficulty staying healthy. Look for bigger roles for Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin, who each showed promise off the bench as rookies last season.The Knicks should easily make the playoffs, but their bench depth is a question mark.Milwaukee BucksThe Bucks kept the band together. Same coach. Same star. Same core — mostly. And why not? Fresh off their first championship since 1971, the Bucks seem poised for a title defense.The challenge could be fatigue. Because of the pandemic, their postseason run stretched into July, and two starters — Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday — helped the U.S. Olympic team win gold in August. The Bucks also lost P.J. Tucker, invaluable in the late stages of last season, to the Heat in free agency.But Giannis Antetokounmpo, the two-time M.V.P., is still the face of the franchise and the proud owner of a newly minted championship ring. And he may be better than ever, showing off an improved jump shot in the preseason. With a contract that runs through the 2025-26 season, he is not going anywhere anytime soon.Atlanta HawksAtlanta guard Trae Young led the Hawks on a surprising run through the first two rounds of the playoffs last season.Brett Davis/USA Today Sports, via ReutersAfter a surprising run to the Eastern Conference finals last year, the Hawks enter the season with the burden of expectations and the benefit of continuity. This team is deep and should compete to be one of the best in the East.Most of the key players are back. The Hawks locked in their two best players, Trae Young and John Collins, with long-term extensions. Coach Nate McMillan will be running the team from opening night, as opposed to being thrust into the job midseason as he was during the last campaign after Lloyd Pierce was fired.Atlanta almost pulled off a miracle run to the N.B.A. finals last season, after taking down the Knicks and the Philadelphia 76ers, but were bedeviled by injuries against the eventual champions, the Milwaukee Bucks. Players who were unavailable or not 100 percent, like De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish and Bogdan Bogdanovic, are expected to start the season with clean bills of health. The Hawks also added some quality veteran bench pieces in Gorgui Dieng and Delon Wright, and an intriguing rookie they drafted late in this year’s first round, Jalen Johnson.Charlotte HornetsLaMelo Ball, last season’s rookie of the year, highlights Charlotte’s promising young core. He’ll likely be the Hornets’ primary facilitator and already has great court vision and playmaking ability, and he is continuing to improve his jump shot.Ball and forward Miles Bridges in the pick-and-roll were elite last season, with Bridges’s power at the basket and Ball’s precise lob placement on display. That pairing should only be better this season.The Hornets already had solid veterans in Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward, and they added Kelly Oubre Jr. and Mason Plumlee. Oubre is an inconsistent shooter, but could be impactful in transition. Plumlee is a versatile big man.This group won’t be knocking at the door of the N.B.A. finals this season, but the Hornets will be a fun team to watch, and have a real chance at a playoff berth.Brooklyn NetsWith the addition of Patty Mills and Paul Millsap, as well as the return of Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge, the Nets, on paper, are one of the best teams in N.B.A. history. In normal circumstances, they would be title favorites, given their Big Three of Kyrie Irving, James Harden and Kevin Durant. But that was the case last year too, and the Nets bowed out in the second round of the playoffs.Health will be the principle factor for determining how far the Nets go. All of the Nets’ top players have significant miles on their legs and have missed substantial time in recent years.If there is a potentially weak point for other teams to exploit, it is defensively, where the Nets struggled last season, and their off-season additions didn’t seriously address that. This could come back to bite them in the postseason, particularly in the frontcourt against players like Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, who scored at will during last year’s playoffs, or Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid.But the offensive firepower is top notch. It’s hard to see the Nets being beaten in a seven-game series if they’re healthy.Chicago BullsDeMar DeRozan gives the new-look Chicago Bulls a threat from the mid-range.Kamil Krzaczynski/USA Today Sports, via ReutersChicago could be a sneaky-good team this season.Arturas Karnisovas, the Bulls’ executive vice president of basketball operations, voiced displeasure with the team’s 31-41 record shortly after last season. Since then, he’s added DeMar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso and Tony Bradley to a roster with Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic, whom Chicago acquired from Orlando at the March trade deadline.DeRozan is lethal in the midrange, but some have questioned how he’ll fit with LaVine, as both players are most effective with the ball in their hands. Chicago will have an upgrade at point guard with Ball, who is a deft passer. And Caruso will add a rugged spark off the bench. Coach Billy Donovan will have to figure out how they all fit on the court.In any event, Michael Jordan said that with the changes the Bulls made, they could compete in the East. How long has it been since those words were last spoken?Toronto RaptorsIt’s a new era in Toronto basketball. Kyle Lowry, perhaps the most lauded Raptor in franchise history, has gone to Miami. Without him, the Raptors are likely stuck between being too talented to get a top draft pick and not being so good that they’ll contend for a top seed in the conference.But there may be an opening for Toronto in the turbulent East: Scottie Barnes, whom the team surprisingly drafted at No. 4 this year, showed potential in the preseason. And the Raptors’ frontcourt, helmed by Chris Boucher and the newly acquired Precious Achiuwa, will be a force.There are lots of questions for the Raptors entering the season: Is Pascal Siakam, who is expected to miss the start of the season as he recovers from shoulder surgery, a true franchise cornerstone? Will Lowry’s replacement at guard, the 35-year-old Goran Dragic, last the season in Toronto? Or will Masai Ujiri, the Raptors head of basketball operations, flip Dragic’s expiring contract?Detroit PistonsYou’d be hard pressed to find any Pistons fans who haven’t already crowned the rookie guard Cade Cunningham as their Magic Johnson. Johnson, of course, won an N.B.A. title as a rookie after the Lakers drafted him No. 1 overall in 1979.Detroit drafted Cunningham, a savvy scorer and shot creator, No. 1 overall earlier this year to hopefully lift itself out of years of irrelevancy. An ankle injury sidelined him in the preseason, and the team is being cautious.Detroit’s young group showed promise last season, despite finishing with the worst record in the East, but the Pistons are another team in rebuilding mode. Coach Dwane Casey has said that this season’s goal is to earn a spot in the postseason play-in tournament.Cleveland CavaliersOnly someone like LeBron James could render an entire franchise into an afterthought. But that was what he effectively did when he departed the Cavaliers for the glamour of Hollywood in 2018, leaving them to rummage through the wilderness without him. The Cavaliers instantly went from title contender to lightweight, though the team has some up-and-comers — highlighted by Collin Sexton and Darius Garland in the backcourt — who are cause for cautious optimism.None of this is to suggest that the Cavaliers will come anywhere close to sniffing the playoffs. But a slow, steady rebuild — augmented by smart draft picks — is the way back to respectability. And there is more good news: Kevin Love (remember him?) has just two seasons remaining on his gargantuan deal, which could make him a more appealing target on the trade market.Boston CelticsJayson Tatum has shown promise with Boston, but postseason success has so far eluded him.Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports, via ReutersFrom the start of training camp, Ime Udoka, the Celtics’ first-year coach, has had a particular emphasis: ball movement. He does not want the ball to stick. He wants his players to work together to generate the best shots.This must have been welcome news to fans who got tired of watching the Celtics’ offense devolve into isolation sets last season. Jayson Tatum, 23, and Jaylen Brown, who will turn 25 this month, form one of the most talented young tandems in the league, but fulfilling their promise in the postseason has so far eluded them.Perhaps Udoka can help them deliver. He replaced Brad Stevens, who moved to the front office after a posting .500 record and losing in the first round of the playoffs in his eighth season as the team’s coach.Washington WizardsWes Unseld Jr., Washington’s new head coach, has a tall task ahead of him.The Wizards are not a championship-caliber team, even after adding solid veterans like Spencer Dinwiddie, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell. So this season will be mostly about persuading Bradley Beal, who can become a free agent next summer, to make a long-term commitment to the franchise.It’s hard to win without multiple elite playmakers, and the Wizards have just one in Beal after trading Russell Westbrook to the Los Angeles Lakers. But even in a yet another bridge year, the Wizards should, at the very least, have a playoff team. They’ll have the promising center Thomas Bryant back from injury, and the team can hope for some growth from its last two lottery picks, Deni Avdija (2020) and Rui Hachimura (2019).Orlando MagicThe Magic have a young team with a first-year head coach in Jamahl Mosley. They’ve made just two playoff appearances in the past nine seasons, and traded away their best players, Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic, in the middle of last season. Then they landed Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs at No. 5 in this year’s draft.Suggs joined a roster that is crowded at guard, with Markelle Fultz, who will return from a knee injury, RJ Hampton, Terrence Ross, Cole Anthony and Gary Harris. Suggs probably has the highest ceiling of those players, though, and he was solid in the summer league before injuring his thumb.The Magic will not be legitimate contenders for a while, so they have plenty of time to sort out their roster.Indiana PacersRick Carlisle, back for his second stint with the Pacers, is the team’s third coach in three seasons. Indiana could use some stability to help develop a young core that includes Malcolm Brogdon, Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, already a two-time All-Star at 25.But the Pacers, who have not advanced past the first round of the playoffs since 2014, are coming off a 34-38 season, and Caris LeVert is out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his back.Carlisle coached the Pacers for four seasons, from 2003 to 2007, while guiding them to three postseason appearances. It will take some hard work to get them there again. More

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    The Nets Had a Chance to Win Over New York. Now, They’ll Try Again.

    Right after the final buzzer sounded on Game 7 between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Nets during the N.B.A.’s Eastern Conference semifinals last spring, Giovannie Cruz had to leave his house in Elizabeth, N.J., and go to a nearby park. Cruz, an avowed Nets fan for most of his 39 years, had watched the game with his 4-year-old son and “acted like a lunatic” until the end, when the Nets lost in heartbreaking fashion.“I literally walked around that park for almost an hour from the sheer disappointment,” Cruz said. “I didn’t want my son to see me too animated and use too much colorful language.”Last season was supposed to be the year, the season when the Nets and their fans — both the long suffering and the newcomers — would no longer be an afterthought in the N.B.A. The last time a pro sports team from Brooklyn won a championship, Jackie Robinson was wearing a uniform for the Dodgers in Major League Baseball. It was 1955.But there was more at stake for the Nets last season than simply winning a championship. In a city dominated by Knicks fans, a title could have allowed the Nets to plant a basketball-shaped flag (and raise a banner) in their efforts to shift the balance of power away from Madison Square Garden and put Knicks fans in their place. Just ask one of the Nets’ most prominent backers, the mayor of New York.Giovannie Cruz was so overwhelmed by the Nets’ elimination in the playoffs last season that he left his home in Elizabeth, N.J., to take a walk.Brittainy Newman for The New York Times“I really feel like this is the final act in the renaissance of Brooklyn and giving Brooklyn its rightful place in the world, and that has tremendous importance for the city going forward,” Mayor Bill de Blasio, a longtime Brooklyn resident before his 2014 inauguration, said in an interview before Game 3 of the semifinals series, when the Nets were up 2-0 and a championship run seemed inevitable.The renaissance will have to wait. This summer, the Nets retooled their roster, somehow managing to add talent to one of the best on-paper assemblies in N.B.A. history. With veterans like Patty Mills and Paul Millsap now coming off the bench and healthy versions of Kevin Durant and James Harden ready to take the floor, the expectations for the Nets will be sky high. That’s true even if Kyrie Irving, barred from games until he gets vaccinated, doesn’t play for a while. But if the Nets don’t win at least one ring, this era most likely will be considered one of the biggest flops ever — and the Nets will have blown their best chance to cut into the suddenly resurgent Knicks’ hold on the city.“We don’t want to be just the most popular N.B.A. team in New York City,” John Abbamondi, the chief executive of the Nets, said in an interview at Barclays before that Game 7. “We want to be a global sporting icon on the level of a Real Madrid or Barcelona. That’s our aspiration.”Nine years ago, the Nets played their first season in Brooklyn, after being in New Jersey since 1977 following the merger with the A.B.A. The team had some success with the fast-paced teams of Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson and Kenyon Martin in the early 2000s, but it spent most of its history in the basketball wilderness, rarely attracting stars or playing in important games.“It was kind of rough at that time,” said Trenton Hassell, a guard who ended his career with the Nets in New Jersey from 2008 to 2010. “We had true fans still coming, but we were doing a lot of losing so that was tough.”The Nets have drawn increasing numbers of fans to home games, helped by the recent addition of three marquee players: Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving.Sara Naomi Lewkowicz for The New York TimesMoving to Brooklyn was a new start on many levels. They had a shiny new arena, new branding and a spotlight-grabbing minority owner in Jay-Z, who was often on the sidelines with his megastar wife, Beyoncé.Old and new Nets fans are blending and forging a new collective identity. The cheers at Barclays Center are often most prominent from 96 or so fans who sit in Section 114. The die-hards there, called the Brooklyn Brigades, are sponsored by the team and are known for their creative chants. That’s a far cry from the early days in Brooklyn, when rival fans often outnumbered those of the Nets and Barclays had middling attendance overall.Richard Bearak has been a Nets fan since the 1970s and was at the championship in 1976. He’s the director of land use for Eric Adams, who is the Brooklyn borough president and the Democratic nominee for mayor of New York City. When Barclays first opened to the public, Bearak said, the arena was a “tourist attraction” that drew fans of winning, opposing teams.“A third of the crowd could have been supporting Golden State,” Bearak, 63, said. “At Madison Square Garden, it’s really hard to be a fan of another team and expect to be there in droves.”When the Nets first arrived from the Meadowlands in 2012, they did so as an interloper in some eyes. First, there were the fans in New Jersey who resented losing their team. And in Brooklyn, there were those who believed Barclays, which was part of a $6 billion commercial and residential redevelopment, would do more harm to the area than good — particularly with concerns about gentrification and congestion.A 2014 study by The New York Times based on Facebook data showed that after two seasons in Brooklyn, the Knicks were the more popular team in every New York City ZIP code, except the neighborhoods surrounding Barclays — in part because of the new residents who had moved to the remade downtown area. In response, the Village Voice referred to the Nets as “Gentrification’s Team.”Durant, who wears No. 7 for the Nets, Harden and Irving had three of the top-10 selling jerseys in each half of last season.Brittainy Newman for The New York Times“We didn’t have a fan base for New York or Brooklyn at all,” said Irina Pavlova, then a top executive with the company of the team’s owner at the time, Mikhail Prokhorov. “It was zero. It was starting from scratch, especially in a city like New York, where the Knicks are such an institution.”Pavlova said the franchise focused on using “Brooklyn” as the main calling card to recruit new fans instead of the team name, as other franchises do. The fruits of that marketing effort can still be seen today, when the most common team chant is a drawn out “Broooooklyn!”“That was done to appeal to the residents of the borough since they didn’t have a team to root for,” Pavlova said.The people cheering for the Nets these days can generally be placed in four boxes. 1. Fans since the Nets were in the A.B.A. and playing in Long Island, like Bearak. 2. New Jersey-era fans like Cruz. 3. New, Brooklyn-era fans. 4. Those who root for specific stars, no matter their team.That last group is the hardest to track and may be the most crucial for the future of the Nets in the N.B.A., where star players are more influential than in other team sports. Irving, Durant and Harden brought in an uncertain number of transient fans. In the first and second halves of last season, the A-list trio had three of the league’s 10 highest selling jerseys.Dawn Risueno, 53, a lifelong Brooklyn resident, became a Nets fan in 1990 because her ex-boyfriend preferred them over the Knicks.Nets fans Justin Messier and Dawn Risueno.Brittainy Newman for The New York TimesBrittainy Newman for The New York TimesShe has spent several years following the team across the country as part of an annual road trip. She converted her sports-agnostic husband of 18 years to the cause, and brought along her two children and seven grandchildren.“They didn’t have a choice in the matter,” Risueno said of her children and grandchildren. “Since they came literally out of the womb, I’ve had them in Nets outfits.”Bobby Edemeka, 46, a portfolio manager who was born and raised in Brooklyn, said he used to follow players instead of teams. But the Nets’ relocation to his hometown instilled pride, and Edemeka founded the Brooklyn Brigades group, which was unofficial until the Nets began sponsoring it in 2018. (Edemeka used to buy bundles of tickets and offer them for free to prospective Nets fans.)“You can travel the whole world and you’re not going to find people more proud of where they’re from than New Yorkers, and I think that goes especially so for people from Brooklyn,” Edemeka said.For pre-Brooklyn fans like Cruz, loving the team means “waiting for the bottom to fall out at all times.” Cruz lived through the 2009-10 season, when the team went 12-70. Still, Cruz was upset to see the Nets leave New Jersey two years later. He kept rooting for the team nonetheless. Many New Jerseyans didn’t.For newer fans like Edemeka, their Nets memories are mostly highlights. The team has made the playoffs in six of its nine seasons at Barclays. There have been two playoff series wins. There hasn’t actually been much suffering, all things considered.Judy and Bruce Rezmick — ‘Mr. and Mrs. Whammy’ — try to throw off the Minnesota Timberwolves with hand symbols.Brittainy Newman for The New York Times“I don’t have any of that emotional baggage,” said Edemeka, a season-ticket holder for all of the Nets seasons. “I didn’t live through 12 and 70. I’m unburdened by that legacy.”Old Nets fans and all but the newest Knicks fans know a thing or two about emotional baggage. And yet the relative success of the Nets in Brooklyn, alongside the mostly dreary days at Madison Square Garden during the same period, has not broken the city’s devotion to the Knicks.There is, in theory, a concrete way to close that gap. Fans go further to associate themselves with winners, as documented in a landmark fan behavior study by Robert B. Cialdini in 1976 — a psychological concept known as “basking in reflected glory.” The opposite — disassociating from losing teams — is known as “cutting off reflected failure.” The study found that fans are likely to say “we” in reference to their favorite team’s winning but “they” if the team loses.Rick Burton, a professor of sports management at Syracuse University, said that if the Knicks remained the more inept team, younger generations in the city not yet dug in on team allegiances may precipitate a cultural shift.“The Knicks could rule almost by default,” Burton said of the Knicks before 2012. “But with social media, 500 television channels, a million websites, Brooklyn is not that far from any of the other boroughs, suddenly we have to talk about the fact that the Nets appear to have much more of a cachet than the Knicks.”But the flip side to that is, of course, not winning, which the Nets are intimately familiar with. The promising, but ultimately deflating, semifinal series last season showed that.“It’s always been so hard to be a Nets fan,” Cruz said.Brittainy Newman for The New York Times More

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    Kyrie Irving Defends Decision on Vaccine After Being Benched

    Kyrie Irving, the N.B.A. star who has been indefinitely barred from practicing or playing with the Brooklyn Nets because of his refusal to get the Covid-19 vaccine, spoke out publicly on Wednesday night for the first time since the team decided to keep him off the court, saying his refusal was a matter of personal freedom.“You think I really want to lose money?” Irving, who is set to earn about $40 million in salary this season, said on his Instagram feed in a meandering monologue that included incorrect medical information. More than 90 percent of players in the league are vaccinated, a proportion much higher than in the general population of the United States.“You think I really want to give up on my dream to go after a championship?” Irving, 29, said. “You think I really just want to give up my job? You think I really want to sit at home?”On Tuesday, the Nets said they had barred Irving from playing until he becomes “eligible to be a full participant.” New York City requires most teenagers and adults to have at least one vaccination shot to enter facilities such as sports arenas, and Irving has not practiced with the Nets in Brooklyn. Irving joined the Nets in 2019 as they built a team of superstars that includes Kevin Durant and James Harden.Irving asked that his decision to remain unvaccinated be respected and said that he has no plans to retire. He couched his refusal to get vaccinated in his opposition to mandates, saying nobody should be “forced” to do it.Irving falsely claimed his decision to remain unvaccinated does not harm other people. The highly contagious Delta variant has quickly spread in areas with low vaccination rates. And hospitals in those areas have been overrun with unvaccinated patients, leaving few beds and staff members to treat other patients. More

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    Nets Bar Kyrie Irving Until He's Vaccinated

    The barring of Irving complicates what looked like a surefire path to the finals for the Nets and could set up a battle with the players’ union.Kyrie Irving was supposed to be the starting point guard of the N.B.A.’s next dynasty. He was going to use his superb ball-handling skills to dish passes to Kevin Durant and James Harden, and together this Big Three would turn the Nets into champions season after season for years to come.Sure, Irving had suggested that the Earth was flat. But he had also delivered a championship to Cleveland alongside LeBron James, and he was a perennial All-Star. The Nets could stand a little quirkiness in pursuit of greatness.The Covid-19 vaccine, and Irving’s refusal to take it, could turn all of that upside down.As vaccine mandates roil workplaces across the country, a high-stakes stalemate in the N.B.A. took a dramatic turn on Tuesday when the Nets issued Irving an ultimatum: Get the shot, or stay home. In the process, the team has drawn a stark line over the issue of the vaccine with one of the more high-profile sports celebrities who has refused to get it.“Without a doubt, losing a player of Kyrie’s caliber hurts,” Sean Marks, the Nets’ general manager, said at a news conference. “I’m not going to deny that. But at the end of the day, our focus, our coaches’ focus and our organization’s focus needs to be on those players that are going to be involved here and participating fully.”Irving, 29, had faced the prospect of being able to play only on the road with the Nets this season because of local coronavirus ordinances in New York that require most individuals to be at least partially vaccinated to enter facilities such as sports arenas. The Nets play their home games at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.Marks said the decision to bar Irving from all games and practices had been made by himself and by Joe Tsai, the Nets’ owner.“Will there be pushback from Kyrie and his camp? I’m sure that this is not a decision that they like,” Marks said. “Kyrie loves to play basketball, wants to be out there, wants to be participating with his teammates. But again, this is a choice that Kyrie had, and he was aware of that.”The Nets’ decision to sit Irving for the road games that he is eligible to play in sets the stage for a potential battle between the team and the players’ union, which had already been pushing back on the league’s plan to dock the pay of unvaccinated players for games they miss because of ordinances in their home cities.Irving, a union vice president, is due to lose about $380,000, or around 1 percent of his base pay for the 2021-22 season, for every home game he misses. Marks said Irving would still be paid for road games this season. The N.B.A. players’ union did not respond to a request for comment.Irving has not spoken publicly about his vaccination status, asking instead for privacy, and the Nets danced around the topic for weeks until Tuesday. In response to a question from The New York Times about whether Irving was vaccinated, Marks said: “If he was vaccinated, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. I think that’s probably pretty clear.”Although the union said last week that 96 percent of players had been vaccinated, a few have expressed hesitancy and most have not actively campaigned for others to be vaccinated. In late September, James, the game’s most famous player, said that he had gotten vaccinated after months of skepticism.“I think everyone has their own choice to do what they feel is right for themselves and their family,” James said.In his most recent public comments, Irving insisted that getting the shot was a matter of privacy.“Everything will be released at a due date and once we get this cleared up,” Irving said during a virtual meeting with reporters on Sept. 27, adding: “I’m a human being first. Obviously, living in this public sphere, it’s just a lot of questions about what’s going on in the world of Kyrie. I think I just would love to just keep that private, handle it the right way with my team and go forward together with the plan.”Irving has long been known as one of the league’s more mercurial figures, expressing unconventional opinions on a variety of topics since he joined the Cleveland Cavaliers as the top overall draft pick in 2011.But he also has outsize influence within the league, and he led a bloc of players who disagreed with the N.B.A.’s decision to resume the 2019-20 season in a Florida bubble because of the pandemic, expressing concern that the move would limit the players’ social justice efforts after the police killing of George Floyd.Last season, Irving missed several games for unspecified personal reasons. During one of the stints when he was away from the team, video surfaced of him attending his sister’s birthday party without a mask, in violation of the league’s health and safety protocols. A few days later, while his teammates were preparing to play against the Denver Nuggets, he appeared on a Zoom call for supporters of the Manhattan district attorney candidate Tahanie Aboushi.Still, Irving’s talents seemed to overshadow any distraction. Despite having little time to develop on-court chemistry because of injuries and other absences last season, the Nets appeared primed for a deep playoff run. But injuries to Irving and Harden hindered the Nets’ postseason hopes, and they lost to the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals.The Nets are still contenders this season — with or without Irving — though his presence would clearly help.But Barclays Center and Madison Square Garden, where the Knicks play, require all employees and guests 12 and older to show proof of having received at least one vaccine dose, to comply with a city mandate, unless they have a religious or medical exemption. San Francisco has a similar requirement that applies to Chase Center, where the Golden State Warriors play. The mandates in both cities mean that the players from the Knicks, Nets and Golden State cannot play in their teams’ 41 home games during the regular season without being vaccinated.The ordinances in New York and San Francisco do not apply to players from visiting teams. Jonathan Isaac of the Orlando Magic and Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards, for example, have been vocal about their refusals to be vaccinated.Either way, unvaccinated players face a host of rules and restrictions this season. With limited exceptions, they are required to remain at home or at the team hotel when they are not at games or practices. They also are not permitted to eat with vaccinated teammates, who have far more freedom to dine out and interact with the public.Golden State’s Andrew Wiggins was unvaccinated when he arrived for training camp but relented when he was faced with the local ordinances that would have barred him from games and cost him a great deal of money.“The only options were to get vaccinated or not play in the N.B.A.” Wiggins said after Golden State’s preseason opener this month. “It was a tough decision. Hopefully, it works out in the long run and in 10 years I’m still healthy.”For now, Irving has remained steadfast. In the past, he stated that he wants his legacy to be about service rather than his work as a basketball player. He has gone to great efforts in that regard, although many of his inroads are outside any media spotlight.Irving purchased a home for Floyd’s family, according to the former N.B.A. player Stephen Jackson. During the W.N.B.A.’s bubble season, Irving started an initiative to provide $1.5 million to players who did not participate and would not be paid. His K.A.I. Family Foundation also teamed with City Harvest to donate 250,000 meals in New York.On Tuesday, Marks said he would be willing to welcome Irving’s return to the team “under a different set of circumstances.” More

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    NBA Vaccine Skeptics Speak Out

    More than 90 percent of players have received at least one dose of the vaccine, but some, like Nets guard Kyrie Irving, won’t say if they have been or plan to be vaccinated.More than 90 percent of N.B.A. players have been vaccinated against Covid-19, according to the league, and all referees and key team personnel without exemptions will be, too, by the season’s start in three weeks. But a few high-profile players, including the Nets star guard Kyrie Irving, have expressed skepticism about vaccines or been evasive about their vaccination status.Because the Nets are projected to be a top championship contender, and the team is one of just three whose players must be vaccinated to play in their home arenas, Irving’s vaccination status could be as much of a factor in the N.B.A. rankings as his team’s play.“I would like to keep all that private,” Irving told reporters on Monday in response to a question about whether he expected to play home games this season. “Please just respect my privacy. All the questions leading into what’s happening, just please. Everything will be released at a due date once we get this cleared up.”While the Nets held their media day at Barclays Center on Monday, Irving answered questions from reporters by video conference instead of in person. Multiple reports said that Irving was not present because of the league’s health protocols. In Rolling Stone magazine over the weekend, Irving’s aunt Tyki Irving was quoted as saying that Irving was unvaccinated for reasons “not religious-based, it’s moral-based.” It’s not clear when the interview took place.Since Sept. 13, Barclays Center and Madison Square Garden, where the Knicks play, have required all employees and guests ages 12 and up without a religious or medical exemption to show proof of having received at least one vaccine dose, to comply with a mandate from Mayor Bill de Blasio regarding sports arenas.A similar requirement in San Francisco applies to Chase Center, where the Golden State Warriors play. These mandates mean that the players from the Knicks, Nets and Golden State cannot play in their teams’ 41 home games without being vaccinated, which the N.B.A. and the New York arenas are defining as having received at least one dose. At Chase Center, players must be fully vaccinated. The N.B.A. has said that teams do not have to pay players for missing those games because they are not vaccinated. For Irving, who is in the third year of a four-year, $136 million contract, that could mean a substantial loss.The N.B.A. players’ union has not agreed to a vaccine mandate for its members, but the referees’ union did agree to one. All league and team personnel who come within 15 feet of players must be fully vaccinated unless they have religious or medical exemptions. In the W.N.B.A., 99 percent of players were fully vaccinated by June. The women’s league does not have a vaccination mandate.At least one N.B.A. player has tried to obtain a religious exemption to forgo the vaccine: Golden State guard Andrew Wiggins. The league said Friday that it had rejected his request. Like Irving, Wiggins would not discuss his vaccination status on Monday, during Golden State’s media day.“Who are you guys where I have to explain what I believe?” Wiggins said. “Or what’s right or what’s wrong in my mind?”In Washington at the Wizards’ media day, however, guard Bradley Beal explained why he is unvaccinated. The three-time All-Star missed the Tokyo Olympics after testing positive for the coronavirus. Beal told reporters of the experience: “I didn’t get sick at all. I lost my smell, but that was it for me. Everybody is going to react differently.“Some people have bad reactions to the vaccine. Nobody likes to talk about that. What happens if one of our players gets the vaccine and can’t play after that? Or they have complications after that? Because there are cases like that.”There are no publicly known cases of professional basketball players missing time because of side effects related to the vaccine, and severe side effects are rare for anyone. However, some athletes have spoken about lingering respiratory and muscle issues after having Covid-19. The N.B.A. and the players’ union reported more than 75 positive coronavirus tests among players during the 2020-21 season, most of them before vaccines were widely available.Another vocal vaccine skeptic is the Orlando Magic’s Jonathan Isaac, a 23-year-old forward, who told Rolling Stone he was unvaccinated, and confirmed it on Monday to reporters.“At the end of the day, it’s people,” Isaac told the magazine, referring to the scientists who developed the vaccines. “And you can’t always put your trust completely in people.”.css-1xzcza9{list-style-type:disc;padding-inline-start:1em;}.css-3btd0c{font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.375rem;color:#333;margin-bottom:0.78125rem;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-3btd0c{font-size:1.0625rem;line-height:1.5rem;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}}.css-3btd0c strong{font-weight:600;}.css-3btd0c em{font-style:italic;}.css-1kpebx{margin:0 auto;font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.125rem;line-height:1.3125rem;color:#121212;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-1kpebx{font-family:nyt-cheltenham,georgia,’times new roman’,times,serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.375rem;line-height:1.625rem;}@media (min-width:740px){#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-1kpebx{font-size:1.6875rem;line-height:1.875rem;}}@media (min-width:740px){.css-1kpebx{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-1gtxqqv{margin-bottom:0;}.css-16ed7iq{width:100%;display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-align-items:center;-webkit-box-align:center;-ms-flex-align:center;align-items:center;-webkit-box-pack:center;-webkit-justify-content:center;-ms-flex-pack:center;justify-content:center;padding:10px 0;background-color:white;}.css-pmm6ed{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-align-items:center;-webkit-box-align:center;-ms-flex-align:center;align-items:center;}.css-pmm6ed > :not(:first-child){margin-left:5px;}.css-5gimkt{font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-size:0.8125rem;font-weight:700;-webkit-letter-spacing:0.03em;-moz-letter-spacing:0.03em;-ms-letter-spacing:0.03em;letter-spacing:0.03em;text-transform:uppercase;color:#333;}.css-5gimkt:after{content:’Collapse’;}.css-rdoyk0{-webkit-transition:all 0.5s ease;transition:all 0.5s ease;-webkit-transform:rotate(180deg);-ms-transform:rotate(180deg);transform:rotate(180deg);}.css-eb027h{max-height:5000px;-webkit-transition:max-height 0.5s ease;transition:max-height 0.5s ease;}.css-6mllg9{-webkit-transition:all 0.5s ease;transition:all 0.5s ease;position:relative;opacity:0;}.css-6mllg9:before{content:”;background-image:linear-gradient(180deg,transparent,#ffffff);background-image:-webkit-linear-gradient(270deg,rgba(255,255,255,0),#ffffff);height:80px;width:100%;position:absolute;bottom:0px;pointer-events:none;}.css-19zsuqr{display:block;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}.css-12vbvwq{background-color:white;border:1px solid #e2e2e2;width:calc(100% – 40px);max-width:600px;margin:1.5rem auto 1.9rem;padding:15px;box-sizing:border-box;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-12vbvwq{padding:20px;width:100%;}}.css-12vbvwq:focus{outline:1px solid #e2e2e2;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-12vbvwq{border:none;padding:10px 0 0;border-top:2px solid #121212;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-rdoyk0{-webkit-transform:rotate(0deg);-ms-transform:rotate(0deg);transform:rotate(0deg);}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-eb027h{max-height:300px;overflow:hidden;-webkit-transition:none;transition:none;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-5gimkt:after{content:’See more’;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-6mllg9{opacity:1;}.css-qjk116{margin:0 auto;overflow:hidden;}.css-qjk116 strong{font-weight:700;}.css-qjk116 em{font-style:italic;}.css-qjk116 a{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;text-underline-offset:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:1px;text-decoration-thickness:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:visited{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}According to Rolling Stone, Isaac was “studying Black history and watching Donald Trump’s press conferences” to inform his vaccine stance. (Former President Donald J. Trump was vaccinated in January, but states that he won in the 2020 election have much lower vaccination rates than those that favored President Biden.)On Monday, Isaac disputed the magazine’s characterization of him.“I’m not anti-vax. I’m not anti-medicine. I’m not anti-science. I didn’t come to my current vaccination status by studying Black history or watching Donald Trump press conferences,” Isaac said. “I have nothing but the utmost respect for every health care worker and person in Orlando and all across the world that have worked tirelessly to keep us safe.”Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker, who helped lead his team to the finals last season, announced on a Twitch livestream over the weekend that he had Covid-19 and had lost his senses of taste and smell. He is expected to miss at least part of training camp, which begins this week, as a result.“I’m not going to tell you guys if I have the vaccine or not, but you can still get Covid with the vaccine,” Booker said on the stream, adding, “Educate yourself.”Several players have participated in campaigns encouraging people to get vaccinated, including Jrue Holiday of the Milwaukee Bucks and Karl-Anthony Towns of the Minnesota Timberwolves, whose mother died of Covid-19. Commissioner Adam Silver said in the spring that he expected most players to get vaccinated.Several of Irving’s teammates said on Monday that they were not worried about his vaccination status.“That’s on Kyrie, and that’s his personal decision,” Nets forward Kevin Durant said. “What he does is not on us to speculate what may be happening, but we trust in Kyrie. I expect us to have our whole team at some point.” More

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    The Nets Don’t Need More Stars. A Little Help Will Do.

    The team’s top-level talents have their roles. But it’s around the edges, in rim protection and bench scoring, where some growth is needed.It seems nice to be the Nets.Yes, their season ended prematurely after a disappointing second-round loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in the playoffs. But the defeat could easily be chalked up to injuries to their star guards, Kyrie Irving and James Harden. And even then, the Nets almost won the series, thanks to the heroics of Kevin Durant. More

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    The N.B.A. Champion May Literally Be the Last Team Standing

    Injuries to stars have dominated and reshaped the playoffs, raising questions about the legitimacy of winning it all this year in a weakened field.The Milwaukee Bucks were in the midst of a comeback on Tuesday against the Atlanta Hawks, who were without their best player, Trae Young. With the Bucks up two games to one in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals series, a win would have put the franchise on the brink of making its first N.B.A. finals since 1974. More

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    ‘It Hurts’: Season Is Over Before Nets See How Good Big Three Can Be

    Injuries kept the Nets from knowing what they could really look like once their stars — Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden — were playing well together.Whether Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving could collaborate, share the basketball and play good enough defense to bring a championship to New York’s less heralded N.B.A. franchise were unknowns that nagged at the entire league.Now, after being eliminated by the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series, the Nets cannot hush their skeptics until next year. After a 48-24 season and playoff ride that lasted only two rounds, the biggest questions about their three stars remain unanswered.Injuries overrode potential basketball issues and neutralized the Nets’ status among Las Vegas oddsmakers as title favorites. Durant, Harden and Irving shared the floor for only 43 seconds in the Bucks series. In Game 7, with only Durant as a dependable offensive option and Irving in street clothes, Milwaukee outlasted the Nets, 115-111, in overtime at Barclays Center, which inflicted a searing pain of its own.“It hurts,” Coach Steve Nash said, lauding the efforts of Durant, who scored 48 points in 53 minutes in Game 7, and Harden, who also played all 53 minutes, despite a hamstring strain. “I hurt for them more than anything.”The N.B.A.’s 75th season will be remembered for its Covid-19 protocols, game postponements and empty arenas for months. But the Nets became the league’s biggest on-court story after their acquisition in January of Harden from the Houston Rockets. Five years after General Manager Sean Marks was hired to rescue a franchise devoid of elite talent and draft picks, Marks built a legitimate contender by assembling one of the most impressive offensive threesomes in league history.The trouble for the Nets was not their defensive shortcomings, the depth they sacrificed to make the trade with the Rockets, the lack of available practice time during the coronavirus pandemic or Nash’s inexperience as a first-year coach. It was this: In the regular season, Durant, Harden and Irving were healthy enough to play together for only 202 minutes across eight games. Their 130 minutes together in a five-game dismissal of the Boston Celtics in the first round proved to be their only burst of continuity as a unit. Milwaukee won three of the final four games of the series after Irving’s nasty right ankle sprain in the first half of Game 4.These playoffs were supposed to be the Nets’ chance to shift a slice or two of cultural relevance to Brooklyn from Manhattan in a city teeming with Knicks fans. In the end, neither Marks nor Nash really came away knowing what the Nets could really look like when whole.Some key moments that brought the Nets to this point:Durant and Irving Sign OnEntering the 2019-20 season, there was much speculation about where Durant and Irving would end up. Earlier in the previous season, Irving had committed to staying with Boston long-term, while Durant seemed to be on his way to another title with Golden State. As the world found out after their seasons unraveled — Durant’s through an Achilles’ tear in the 2019 N.B.A. finals — they wanted to play together.The Nets had enough salary cap flexibility to sign them, as well as their friend DeAndre Jordan. The Knicks had the same wherewithal, but Durant and Irving chose the Nets and took Jordan, who finished the 2018-19 season with the Knicks, with them.Nets officials made the moves knowing Durant would probably miss his entire first season as a Net while recovering from the Achilles’ injury. Irving wound up playing only 20 games in his first season in Brooklyn because of shoulder problems. Both are now halfway through four-year deals.Nash’s HiringSteve Nash had a 48-24 record and was the Eastern Conference’s coach of the month in February in his first season as a Nets and N.B.A. coach.Elsa/Getty ImagesThe Nets shook the N.B.A. again by hiring Nash as coach in September 2020. He had no coaching experience, even at the assistant level, but he won two Most Valuable Player Awards and was one of the best point guards in league history.He was essentially chosen by Marks, his former Phoenix Suns teammate, who felt he had the gravitas and communication skills to manage the Nets’ two mercurial stars. Harden would not arrive until a few weeks into Nash’s first season on the bench. The Nets also brought in Mike D’Antoni, Nash’s former coach in Phoenix, to lend veteran guidance.“I wasn’t hired to come in and be a tactical wizard,” Nash said on a podcast hosted by the N.B.A. sharpshooter JJ Redick.Hiring Nash, who is white, nonetheless elicited criticism, given the dearth of Black coaches in the N.B.A., whose player pool is estimated to be nearly 80 percent Black. Nash’s hiring came after Jacque Vaughn, who completed the 2019-20 season as the team’s interim coach and had the Nets playing unexpectedly well without Durant and Irving in the N.B.A.’s so-called bubble in Florida. Vaughn, who is Black, stayed on as an assistant alongside D’Antoni and Ime Udoka. On ESPN, Stephen A. Smith called Nash’s hiring “white privilege.”“Well, I did skip the line, frankly,” Nash said at his introductory news conference. “But at the same time, I think leading an N.B.A. team for almost two decades is pretty unique.”The Harden BlockbusterHarden entered this season as a disgruntled member of the Rockets. He wanted out after D’Antoni and Daryl Morey left the team without an established coach and its top front-office executive, and Harden pushed for a trade to the Nets to reunite with Durant, his former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate. It was an audacious move for someone with three years left on his contract — and it cemented the Nets as league villains when it worked.Harden reported late to training camp to apply pressure on the Rockets to trade him. Appearing to be in less than optimal shape made his disinterest palpable during the eight regular-season games he played. The Nets, off to a 6-6 start, ignored Harden’s checkered playoff résumé and the rampant skepticism that one ball would not be enough to satisfy three high-volume scorers, and proceeded with trade talks.In January, the Nets acquired James Harden, pictured shooting over Giannis Antetokounmpo, but he strained a hamstring and missed more time than he had in any previous season.Wendell Cruz/USA Today Sports, via ReutersIn a four-team trade, Marks agreed to surrender control of the Nets’ top draft pick through 2027 to the Rockets and deal two young fan favorites, Caris LeVert (to Indiana) and Jarrett Allen (to Cleveland), to land Harden. As a bonus, the trade kept Harden from landing alongside center Joel Embiid in Philadelphia, after the 76ers offered the Rockets a deal involving Ben Simmons.The deal remains a gamble for the Nets. Every year without a championship will increase the scrutiny and pressure. Management must decide whether to pursue contract extensions with Durant, Harden and Irving that would cost hundreds of millions in salary and luxury tax or risk seeing any of the three opt for free agency after next season under their current contracts.“This is just the start of our journey,” Joe Tsai, the Nets’ owner, said on Twitter after the Game 7 loss. Known as one of the league’s wealthiest owners alongside the Los Angeles Clippers’ Steve Ballmer, Tsai certainly has the financial might to keep the core together.Irving’s AbsencesDuring the pursuit of Harden and after his arrival, Irving missed seven games in January for personal reasons. Marks said Irving’s sudden unavailability and the acquisition were “completely separate.” Yet the Nets felt it was urgent to maximize Durant’s championship window and made the trade with that in mind, according to two people familiar with the club’s thinking who were not authorized to discuss it publicly.Kyrie Irving, left, who was out since Game 4 with a right ankle sprain, supported his Nets teammates from the bench in Game 7 against the Bucks on Saturday night.Elsa/Getty ImagesThe Nets knew they wouldn’t have a training camp to try to assimilate Harden into the team, but figured that by bringing in a durable player, they would almost always have two elite players on the floor. It also became clear, soon after Harden’s arrival, that he was best suited to be the team’s playmaker, according to one of the people. Clear, even, to Irving.“We established that maybe four days ago now,” Irving said in February. “I just looked at him and I said, ‘You’re the point guard and I’m going to play shooting guard.’ That was as simple as that.”Cries that Harden was a luxury item for the Nets faded fast. The team went 29-8 in the regular season in games that Harden played and 12-11 without him.InjuriesHealth woes began almost immediately; Spencer Dinwiddie was lost to a season-ending knee tear just three games in. Dinwiddie averaged a career-high 20.6 points per game the season before, and he was expected to be yet another scoring threat on a team full of them.Durant overcame his Achilles’ tear in a big way, ending his season with 49 points against Milwaukee in Game 5 and 48 points in Game 7. But he wound up playing in only 35 of the Nets’ 72 regular-season games because of a hamstring injury. Harden, who was dealing with his own hamstring injury, missed more time in the regular season (21 of the final 23 games) and playoffs than he had in any previous season.The Nets were rocked in April when LaMarcus Aldridge, a former All-Star they had signed after he negotiated a buyout with the San Antonio Spurs, retired at age 35 because of a longstanding heart condition. Nash used a franchise-record 38 starting lineups in those 72 games and four separate ones in the Bucks series, leaning upon the well-traveled Jeff Green; Blake Griffin, a former All-Star who joined the team in April; and Griffin’s former Detroit Pistons teammate Bruce Brown.For the playoffs, the Nets finally seemed healthy — for one round. Harden missed all but the opening minute of the first four games of the Milwaukee series and lacked explosion or lift in his legs when he volunteered to return for Game 5 after Irving’s ankle sprain. Green’s plantar fascia strain kept him out of the first three games with the Bucks.“It’s been a really difficult year,” Nash said. “We’ve had a lot thrown at us.”Even with the injuries and Milwaukee’s stars healthy, the Nets came within an inch of advancing to the next round. With one second left in regulation in Game 7 and the Nets down by 2 points, Durant made a contested shot from the right wing that appeared to be a 3-pointer for the win. But his toe was on the 3-point line, and it counted as a long 2, sending the Nets to overtime instead of to the Eastern Conference finals.“My big ass foot stepped on the line,” Durant said. “I was just seeing a little screenshot how close I was to ending their season on that shot. But it wasn’t in God’s plan, and we move on.” More