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The Nets’ best lineup headed into the postseason without ever having played a second together in the regular-season. Their Big 3 has spent less time together than it takes to sit through a movie.
But the Nets weren’t worrying about it going into their Eastern Conference first-round playoff opener Saturday night against the Celtics. They couldn’t afford to.
“We can’t have any concerns. We want to go out there and play well, but we can’t be [afraid], be concerned that we haven’t — you can’t walk onto the floor with that type of mindset,” Kevin Durant said. “We understand that we haven’t played a lot of games together. But we’ve been on the court together in practices, we’ve been around each other in the training facility, on the bus, on the plane.
“So if we can’t get on the floor, we’ve been trying to fill in the blanks with other stuff as far as watching film, communication, just talking out what we see amongst each other. … Everybody in this league has been going through protocols and injuries and not having a lot of continuity with their lineups. That’s just the name of the game this year, and we’ll do our best to adapt.”
Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden have played just 202 minutes together over eight games, or 5.8 percent of the game time possible. No team in the last quarter century has won a title with their top three scorers together for so little during the regular season.
“Someone said to me they’ve played the amount of minutes they’ve played on the floor together is shorter than ‘The Irishman,’ ” Steve Nash quipped of the 209-minute Robert De Niro flick. “That’s just what it is; that’s our gap. I keep saying it. We know it. We accept it. We recognize it. We don’t have the luxury of one full season together, let alone most of our competitors are running this back for Year 2, 3, 4, 5.
“We’re not going to have that. … We can’t control that. What can we control? We just continue to build every day, work to seek those things: Competitive spirit, connectivity. The cohesion’s something that’s going to come in time; how can we be good enough to survive until it becomes more well-rounded? That’s as much a challenge as anything.”
The 2000-01 Lakers won after Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and Derek Fisher had played just 10 games together. The Mavericks won a decade later with Dirk Nowitzki, Caron Butler and Jason Terry logging 231 minutes, or 5.9 percent of the game time, together.
The Nets came into Saturday’s playoff opener with their Big 3 not having played a second alongside Joe Harris and either Blake Griffin or Nic Claxton. They’ll have to work even harder for chemistry than those title teams did.
“Us not playing very many minutes together is not ideal,” Griffin admitted. “But I think the level of IQ these guys have and how they play the game and how easy they make the game for their teammates, we’ll try to lean on that.”
But they’re banking on individual history to help overcome a lack of shared experience. Their Big 3, Griffin and Jeff Green have played a staggering 16,183 postseason minutes over 453 games. The time wasn’t all together, and none was for this team, but the Nets hope it matters.
“It plays a big part, just knowing the situation we’re in, the importance of what’s at stake and just overall experience of having those games under our belt, understanding the moment, having fun in the moment most importantly, because these [chances] don’t come every year,” Green said. “So, being appreciative of what’s at hand.
“So, we’re very well comfortable with any given situation throughout the playoffs. That experience definitely is a good thing to have in the back pocket.”
Each of the Big 3 has missed extensive time. Harden and Griffin arrived midseason and Harris is just returning after missing the last three games. The presumed prime lineup finally practiced together on Thursday.
Still, the Nets insist they’re not worried.
“Honestly, no,” Claxton said. “We haven’t practiced it much, but when you’re playing with players of that caliber, it’s really easy.”
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