Slumping Nets look in desperate need of Kyrie Irving with loss to Grizzlies

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This isn’t a hiccup or a fluke.

The Nets are in a full-on funk. And they desperately need Kyrie Irving to help them out.

After having already suffered their first back-to-back losses of the season, the Nets saw their skid stretch to three straight Monday night with a humbling 118-104 beating at the hands of Memphis before 17,089 at Barclays Center.

It’s hard to say which was more humbling: Losing to a decimated Clippers team that was filled with replacement players on Saturday night, or getting utterly thrashed at home in a gut-check game. The point is the Nets shouldn’t be picking between such dubious choices. And they know it.

“We’re frustrated after the Clippers loss. We definitely let that one slip,” center Nic Claxton said before the game. “So we’ve just got to fill in the holes and just be sharper, play a whole 48 minutes, and like I said, just got to bounce back.”

The Nets (23-12) didn’t bounce back. As a matter of fact, they got bounced out of their own building by an explosive young Memphis team that’s beaten them in their last five meetings.

Kevin Durant puts his head down during the Nets’ loss to the Grizzlies on Monday. Kyrie Irving is expected back in the lineup as early as Wednesday.
Corey Sipkin, AP

Kevin Durant had a team-high 26 points and James Harden added 19 and eight assists. But Durant had a rare off night, just 8 of 24 from the floor, while Patty Mills was completely smothered. And the Nets’ non-shooters got exposed.

“There are some challenges when we lack shooting and spacing and optionality,” coach Steve Nash said. “But they’ve done a great job of handling it when that’s not their skill set. Sometimes we’re putting two or three of them on the floor at the same time, and in our league that’s very difficult. They take liberties. It’s a great challenge for us.”

Meanwhile, they got torched by Memphis’ young backcourt. Ja Morant had 36 points, eight assists and six rebounds, while Desmond Bane added 29 points on 5 of 11 from deep.

The Nets came in having fallen out of first place in the Eastern Conference, a game behind the Chicago Bulls and tied with defending-champion Milwaukee. They’re staring at third place, headed off onto the road to play Wednesday in Indiana. Irving is targeting that game for his season debut, and it can’t come fast enough.

“It’s like a broken record, but it definitely starts with that energy and effort. And if we can’t bring that and be connected on both sides of the floor, then it’s hard for all the other things to get done,” warned Mills, who has been the single biggest X-factor for Brooklyn.

Bereft of Joe Harris’ shooting, the Nets have become reliant on Mills. And he was scoreless Monday, 0-for-6 from the floor and 0 of 5 from behind the arc.

“We were all at the [Clippers] game. We all felt it,” Mills said. “And for us to have a couple of nights sleep on it just to understand it’s one of those [situation] you take a look at yourself in the mirror and understand what we’ve got to bring to the team, each and each individual collectively as a group to get the job done.”

Nets
Pattie Mills tries to block a shot by Desmond Bane on Monday night.
Corey Sipkin

The Nets never led, and trailed by as much as 28.

The Nets were down just 71-65 after a pair of Harden free throws with 6:31 left in the third quarter. But they surrendered a 25-6 run, with Morant hitting a pair from the charity stripe to cap the spurt and make it 96-71 with 36.5 second left in the period.

An alley-oop dunk by Brandon Clarke pushed it to 103-75 early in the fourth.

“Memphis plays hard, they play the right way, they’re very well coached, they’re very physical, the offensive rebound at an elite level and they get our transition, and they force turnovers,” Nash said before the game. “So these are some of the things that have caused us problems in the past.

“We have to bring it and be very switched-on, ready to match not only what they do well but some of the things we’ve struggled with. Frankly, it’s a great challenge for us.”

One they failed miserably.

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