OKLAHOMA CITY — On one sideline last night, coach Avery Johnson and the Nets looked at the other side and thought, “That is what we could become.”
On the other side, All-Star Kevin Durant and the Thunder looked at the Nets and thought, “That is what we were.”
Then the Thunder probably gave thanks and burned incense because those days are well in the past.
The sloppy, overmatched Nets took themselves out of it early, committing 12 of their 23 turnovers in a dreadful second quarter and the Thunder, behind 27 Durant points, coasted from there to a 114-93 victory, the Nets’ third straight defeat and 14th in 17 road games.
“That second quarter, they really turned it on on us,” Johnson said. “We were very sloppy with the basketball. . . . A combination of 12 turnovers and missing layups. We don’t have any defense for turnovers.”
And they didn’t have any defense on the last play of the first half. Devin Harris (19 points) drove and scored with 6.8 seconds on the clock. But Russell Westbrook (17 points) went coast to coast, split whatever it was that passed for a Nets defense and dunked — with :01.8 to spare. That left the Nets down, 57-46, at halftime. They trailed by 18 at the end of the third quarter. Johnson showed the play on film at halftime.
“It just can’t happen,” Harris said. “It just ended a quarter that we weren’t very good. Start to finish, it couldn’t have ended any worse than it did.”
But there could be better times ahead. It can get worse than the .525 (125-of-238) shooting the Nets have yielded in their three-game skid. Durant admitted he sees similarities in the current Nets (9-23) and the team he joined in Seattle that won 20 games in 2007-08 and 23 the following year. Durant enjoyed 50 victories last season.
“I do,” Durant said. “The only difference is we were a lot younger. . . . But they play very hard and have a great coach in Avery Johnson. They have a lot of good pieces to be a really great team. Their record doesn’t show how good of a team they are but they’re a team that is going to be reckoned with.
“Maybe not right now, but next year or a couple years after that. I think they’re a good team.”
They weren’t last night. That second quarter set the tone. But at least they went an entire 1:53 in the third quarter before committing a turnover: charge by Brook Lopez (19 points). It was hard to see them as a team to reckon with when they repeatedly came down and passed to the wrong team.
But Durant said patience and perseverance are needed.
“You just know the tough times aren’t going to last forever,” he said. “One thing we always said was we were going to come in and work hard every day and things would start to change. And they did. We told ourselves, ‘We’ve got to care about the game’ and that’s what we did and it started to turn.”
Johnson wanted a team to rebuild from the ground up. Well, he’s got one.
“This was what I signed up for. This was a challenge I wanted,” he said. “I didn’t want to go anywhere where it was a 50-win team. I wanted to go someplace where we could build it from the ground up.
“Build through the draft, maybe a few smaller free agent type moves,” he said. “For us, sometimes the fast track is the wrong track because haste makes waste. Everybody in the NBA wants to win the championship. For us right now it’s just get back to the playoffs.”
And get through games like last night.