The Nets are suddenly an undeniable choice to be featured in the NBA’s Christmas Day slate of games and will play in the league’s holiday showcase for the first time in seven years.
The Nets were part of the festivities in their first two seasons in Brooklyn (2012 and 2013) but haven’t been since. There was a time when the Nets played on Christmas for six consecutive years, from 1979-84, with five of those games against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
“I think everyone realizes that Christmas is a big day for the NBA, I think it’s five games on national TV,” head coach Steve Nash said on a Zoom call Thursday. “To be able to play in one of those featured games is a special moment and something that I think for our guys, they grew up watching games on Christmas Day. To be out there, it’s not lost on them that it’s a special occasion.”
But this season, the Nets aren’t drawing excitement from a new arena or facing against their New York rival to win on Christmas Day.
The Nets travel to Boston on Friday fresh off a dominant season-opening win over the Warriors, in which the league got its first official look at the start of the Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving era in Brooklyn.
Friday will be Irving’s first regular-season game against the Celtics, his former team (from 2017-2019), since joining the Nets in June last year.
“I think Ky is just in a really great place, playing well and it’s just another NBA game,” Nash said. “Maybe it has more meaning to him, but you’d have to ask him. I think, in my eyes, he’s just trying to continually refine and improve his skills and performances. Get that rhythm and get back to playing NBA basketball. He’s only played 20 games in the last 18 months, so I think he’s just really focused on continuing to build his game conditioning and sharpness.
“Obviously, we’ve seen in the preseason and opening night he’s playing at a really high level. I think he’s just trying to stay there and continue to build and adapt to the demands of our schedule and our league.”
After facing the depleted Warriors on Tuesday, the Nets are expecting a bigger test from the Celtics. Every player on the Nets’ roster played at least six minutes in the near 30-point win over Golden State, but Nash doesn’t expect that to be the case every game.
Nash said he plans to use as many players as he can, “without limiting the rhythm because of too many changes, rotations, lineups” to start the season, while attempting to stick to a 10-player rotation.
“However, it’s easy to say that and when you’re down 10 in the third, the ideal minutes becomes something for the trash can pretty quick,” Nash said. “We’ll see how it goes but we’re definitely trying to play guys and give a lot of guys as many looks as possible for as long as we can.”
It’s a balancing act the first-year coach has had to contemplate with Irving and Durant, who would no doubt be on the floor in the midst of a 10-point deficit late in the game. Nash, however, must balance their health as both have battled injuries.
“Those are our stars, so we need them, we lean on them,” Nash said. “They take a little more of a burden and responsibility and at the same time we try to protect them. You always are trying to strike that balance. Especially coming off injuries, you want to make sure that where you can save them some minutes, more so for the cumulative effect rather than a night to night effect, we will try to.”
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