The NBA is a lot like nature. It’s a lot easier being the hunter than the hunted.
The Nets were reminded of that Sunday in Charlotte.
Brooklyn came out flat and paid for it, stung 106-104 by the hungry Hornets for their first loss of the season.
Other than Kevin Durant (29 points) and Kyrie Irving (25), the Nets aren’t used to playing with a target on their backs. But with their stars both healthy and playing, Brooklyn might as well add colorful bull’s-eyes to the back of their Basquiat-inspired jerseys.
“It’s definitely disappointing. … I think we could have played better. I know we could have played better,” Jarrett Allen said. “I know we could’ve come out and had a lot more energy. I know we weren’t playing to our full potential.
“Being in the position we are now with KD and Kyrie back and we’re a full team, we’re definitely going to have the target on the back every single game. We’re definitely going to get every single team’s 100 percent. So we have to come out there ready every single time.”
The Nets weren’t anywhere near ready, following a sloppy first two quarters with an even worse third. They trailed by 16 in the fourth, before an 18-4 run got them within two. But they got no closer.
“It’s good to have that target on your back,” Durant said. “It’s going to bring the best out of you.”
Durant missed a potential tying fadeaway with just 7 seconds left, and the Nets suffered their first loss of the season after blowouts of Golden State and Boston.
“I don’t think we [had] a sense of urgency. We were little passive,” coach Steve Nash said. “We’re going to have a target on our back, and we have to rise to the occasion.
“You think you may be a better team, [but] you’re going to get a team that’s much better than they are the previous night because they see the names on the back of the jersey and they’re going to rise to the occasion.”
For a Nets team used to being the hunter, that’s going to take an attitude adjustment. They’re in the rare position of being the hunted, despite not having won anything yet.
“From being a Net all my life it’s definitely something I’m going to have to be used to,” Allen said. “No disrespect to us, but we never were the team at the top. We were always the underdogs fighting and looking at other people as targets. And now the roles are reversed.”
The Nets were outscored in the paint 64-26, partly due to some defensive breakdowns on switches and partly due to 19 turnovers that allowed Charlotte to get into transition and early offense. Spencer Dinwiddie left the game with a knee injury in the third quarter and did not return.
Still, the Nets were down just 84-81 in the fourth when they surrendered a 13-0 run, with a Miles Bridges step-back 3 making it 97-81 with 7:59 to play.
The Nets did try to rally, scoring 10 straight with a Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot 3 pulling them within six.
The run reached 18-4, Allen earning a trip to the line with 2:20 to play. But after sinking the first, he missed the second to leave the Nets down 101-99. Then Irving got blocked which led to a Devonte’ Graham corner 3. The Nets trailed by five and never got over the hump.
Another Luwawu-Cabarrot 3 pulled them within 104-102, and they had a chance after PJ Washington missed two free throws. Durant ran a two-man game with Irving, had a chance for a dagger 3 but took a couple dribbles in and pulled up from 9 feet away. His shot rolled around and out with 7.4 seconds to go.
Terry Rozier’s free throws ensured there would be no OT.
“I thought it was going in. It looked good,” Durant said. “I’m sure we’ll get that situation back again throughout the season and I can capitalize on it.
“It was good to play in a fourth-quarter game again, play a game we had to fight uphill and claw back to get back into the game. … They made more plays than us. But it was fun playing in that environment again.”
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