Five things we've learned about the Nets in Week 1 of the 2020-21 NBA season

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Early season NBA action often produces wacky results. On Sunday alone, you may have noticed that the supposedly lowly Knicks and Cavs routed Eastern Conference contenders Milwaukee and Philadelphia, respectively, while the Clippers, another team with championship designs, fell behind Dallas by 50 points – at halftime!

Welcome to pandemic basketball, where injuries, scheduling, and load management protocols play a large role in determining outcomes.

So, it came as no surprise that the all-in Nets followed up stirring victories over Golden State and Boston to start their 2020-21 season with a pair of losses to Charlotte and Memphis, neither of whom made the playoffs last season.

Like many teams of their ilk, the Nets feel that if they can just get through the regular season in one piece, they like their chances in the playoffs.

Unfortunately, the partial ACL tear Spencer Dinwiddie suffered in Charlotte on Sunday put an early damper on things, and rookie coach Steve Nash will have to adjust his plan to account for the disruption – especially on nights like Monday versus Memphis, where both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant rested.

With 68 games remaining, Nash will have time to figure out what works, but here is what we’ve already learned in the Nets’ first week:

1) Durant is still elite defensively
KD missed about 18 months while recovering from his Achilles surgery, but his return has been spectacular. He has averaged 26.7 points over three games with a ridiculous 53/69/84 shooting split, but as impressive as that sounds, Durant’s defense has been even more eye-opening to those who wondered if he lost anything to the injury. Whereas KD could control his movements on offense, defense is reactive, which figured to put more stress on his footwork.

Yet, according to NBA.com’s tracking numbers, Durant has held his man to 12-for-36 (33%) shooting, including 1-for-14 (7%) while contesting three-pointers, and averaging 1.7 steals and 0.7 blocks per game. He’s even taking on some of the league’s toughest assignments, like Boston wings Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. If I had to nitpick, I wish he wouldn’t leak out on fast breaks so often; the Nets shouldn’t have a defensive rebounding percentage below 70 percent when he’s on the court. Overall, though, Durant’s length and basketball IQ are just what this team needed on the defensive end.

2) Durant and Irving seem to be joined at the hip
Not only did both stars take the same load management night off – in the first three games, every second the two stars logged came simultaneously. That is unusual, since most coaches in this situation prefer to stagger their stars’ minutes. Nash, however, has been entrusting Caris LeVert with running the show solo during KD and Kyrie’s rest periods.

It's a bit of a gamble, especially without Dinwiddie, the only other Net who qualifies as a facilitator. This also could just be a regular season thing to placate the mercurial Irving by maximizing the time he has on the court with his buddy, but you have to admit: Irving does seem to relish it.

3) DeAndre Jordan is pacing himself again
Similar to last season, the center has been earning Nets fans’ wrath with what we can most charitably call selective efforts. Many are wondering why Nash hasn’t replaced Jordan in the starting five with Jarrett Allen, since the comparative performances to date haven’t been close.

This bears watching, even though Jordan did turn it on in the middle of last season while Allen slumped. My view is this should be a nightly toss-up depending on the opponent. Against Memphis, Nash correctly matched up Jordan with Jonas Valanciunas, since Allen often struggles against bulky bigs who bully him underneath the rim. Next up for Brooklyn is a pair of home games versus Atlanta, which tends to play smaller. Riding Jordan in these contests seems illogical, especially if he’s still pacing himself.

4) Goodnight, sweet Prince
Inserted into the starting lineup on Monday in Durant’s spot, Prince nearly shot Brooklyn out of the game early. It has been that kind of a start for him, as evidenced by his 16/17/75 shooting split through four games. If he defended, rebounded, or created for others, you could live with some off shooting nights in small samples – but unfortunately, Prince does none of those other things well enough to help teams win, so if he can’t shoot, he’s practically unplayable.

Though Nash went with a nine-man rotation with the Nets so short-handed against Memphis, he may bump it back to ten going forward. That would give Prince a few more opportunities to prove his worth. Otherwise, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot is lurking over his shoulder to steal his minutes.

5) Can the Nets win a load management night?
As I noted in my last column, the schedule-makers gave Brooklyn seven back-to-backs in the first half of the season alone. Don’t count on Durant and Irving to play both ends of many (any?) of them, and here is where you feel for Dinwiddie, who was willingly sacrificing his stats in a potential free agent season for the good of his team.

Instead of Dinwiddie splitting alpha male duties with LeVert on Monday, that role fell on Chris Chiozza, a two-way player. We were also treated to the full TLC, as Luwawu-Cabarrot scored a scorching 19 points in the first half followed by a 1-for-6 brickfest in the second half, with four total turnovers to boot.

If the Nets could not beat 0-2 Memphis, which played without ascending forward Jaren Jackson Jr and then lost explosive guard Ja Morant to an ankle injury in the first half, who can they beat?

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Devils and Jets, follow Steve Lichtenstein on Twitter: @SteveLichtenst1

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images