Kyrie Irving was right about one thing: The Nets are a long way from being among the NBA’s best. And Saturday the league leaders showed just how far.
The Nets got battered, 117-97, by the Bucks before a sellout crowd of 17,732 at Barclays Center.
The crowd included former president Bill Clinton, seated courtside. Clinton is friendly with Bucks co-owners Mark Lasry and Wes Edens, and had sat courtside for the Nets’ 19-point home loss to Milwaukee last Feb. 4. Saturday’s beating wasn’t any better.
Predictably, the shorthanded Nets (18-23) had no answer for MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo. Milwaukee needed the Greek Freak only for a cruise-control 25 minutes, but he put up 29 points and 12 rebounds, both game highs.
The Nets coughed up 20 to Khris Middleton, allowed 50.6 percent shooting overall, including 17-of-37 from 3-point range, and were roundly outclassed. They trailed by 25 and never challenged.
Above and beyond the obvious in Kevin Durant, the Nets also played without starting small forward Joe Harris and key reserves DeAndre Jordan and Garrett Temple. Against a Bucks team that’s now an NBA-best 38-6, the result was as predictable as it was ugly.
Irving had a team-high 17 points, six assists, six rebounds and a season-high-tying four steals, while rookie Nic Claxton was one of the few bright spots with a career-high 14 points and six boards standing in for Jordan as the backup center.
But the Nets never came close, shooting 33.3 percent. They dropped their third straight game, and 10th in their past 12. And this with tough tilts looming against Philadelphia and the Lakers.
“When we have championship aspirations — that’s where we want to be — how do we get there? Do we want to be the eighth seed in the playoffs? The seventh seed?” Irving had asked rhetorically. “But you’re able to be real with the team you have here and to collectively, cohesively come together as a group. That’s what you figure out.
“But the goals are still to win a championship. I don’t come in every day to frickin’ be mediocre or to be in the middle of the standings. No. We know it’s going to take time. It’s going to be patient. But the reality is, in order to compete against the Western Conference, we need those pieces to collectively come together and the team to mesh well and everyone to be healthy. We need to have all the things clicking.”
Nothing was clicking on Saturday. Or if it was, the Bucks were just so much better, it didn’t really matter.
The Nets saw the Bucks outscore them 19-10 with the Greek Freak off the floor to close the first quarter, including the last seven straight points.
Donte DiVincenzo’s cutting layup made it 30-22 to end the period, and both teams largely played even throughout the second. It was still 51-42 after an Irving basket before the Nets coughed up the last six points of the half to go into the break down by 15.
That deficit steadily swelled throughout the third. It reached 24 when deadeye Kyle Korver drilled a left-corner 3-pointer to make the score 90-66 with 1:25 left.
It eventually hit 25 in a fourth quarter that was extended garbage time, Chris Chiozza making his Nets debut.