SAN ANTONIO — The Nets lost Tuesday night for a third straight time since Kevin Durant sprained his right MCL, but they claim they won’t implode in his absence the way they did last season. That’s because they insist now the locker room is together, and admit a year ago it was toxic.
“Well, last year it was…,” Nic Claxton said following the 106-98 loss to the Spurs, hesitating as he searched for the right adjective. Then he found it. “It was kind of a toxic environment. We didn’t know if everybody wanted to be here at the time.
“This year there’s no divide between everybody that’s out there. We’re going to figure it out. … We’ve just got to figure out how to play with each other without having KD, Kyrie [Irving] out there on the court. It’s different lineups. But we’ll figure it out.”
Some would call that a thinly veiled reference to James Harden. Some would say there was no veil at all.
After Durant sprained his MCL last season, the Nets went just 5-16 while he was out to fall from second in the Eastern Conference to eighth. It didn’t help that Irving was playing only in half the games (those on the road) and Harden was playing half-heartedly, sulking his way to a February trade deadline deal to Philadelphia.
Irving, who missed the loss Tuesday with right calf soreness, had alluded to Harden’s attitude as well on Sunday after the Nets lost to the Thunder, saying the team this season would handle Durant’s latest injury in better fashion.
“I’m consistently in the lineup: That helps,” Irving said. “We also don’t have halfway-in anyone in the locker room and there’s a primary focus on the big picture here.
“It was all glory-glory last week when we were winning games every game, and now we’re answering questions about potentially struggling. I don’t think we are going to struggle without Kevin now. That’s not my belief. I know guys in the locker room don’t believe that. This isn’t last year at all. So the comparisons have got to stop.”
They will stop when the Nets’ malaise stops. They’re 0-3 since Durant got hurt Jan. 8 in Miami. He isn’t expected to be reevaluated until early next week.
Irving was a late scratch versus the Spurs, but he didn’t need an MRI exam, and the Nets are hopeful he will return Thursday at Phoenix. But whether he plays against the Suns or not, coach Jacque Vaughn isn’t going to allow any alibis or self-pity.
“Yeah, the three things I said to our group being extremely professional, being consistent — and that’s what’s your approach, that’s with your mindset — and no excuses,” Vaughn said. “I’m going to continue to preach that to the group. Not looking for any excuses. That’s just who we are.
“I don’t care about last year. I care about the now. [This] was the most important game. Now I’m trying to reload and be ready for Phoenix. But I’m not going to give them a chance to have excuses.”