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Biggest Nets' question after blowout loss to Warriors: What if Kyrie Irving was playing?

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One game in November does not determine a team’s fate.

Just because the Brooklyn Nets were routed at home, 117-99, by the joyful Golden State Warriors on Tuesday in the NBA's premier early-season showdown, it doesn’t mean the Nets can’t contend for a title in May.

It means the Nets aren’t there now, a fact Brooklyn coach Steve Nash acknowledged after the game that featured two early MVP candidates: Golden State’s Steph Curry, who had 37 points, and Kevin Durant, who had just 19 points, 10 below his season average.

"I just don't think we're in that category yet," Nash said of the league’s elite teams one month into the season. "We got a lot of work to do.”

The Nets are a respectable 10-5, good for third place in the much-improved Eastern Conference that has Washington and Chicago in the top two spots.

The Warriors exposed Brooklyn weaknesses on both sides of the court.

Andre Iguodala (left) helped to limit Kevin Durant to just 19 points on 6-of-19 shooting from the field.
Andre Iguodala (left) helped to limit Kevin Durant to just 19 points on 6-of-19 shooting from the field.

Even Nash said no one expected the Nets to be a top-10 defense at the start of the season, but they’re ninth, which is a solid start.

The Warriors poked holes in that defense with Curry’s 3-point shooting and 26-for-33 shooting in the paint. Golden State’s ball movement led to shots at the rim and 25 assists on 41 made shots.

It was just too easy for the Warriors, who led 113-85 with 6:18 left in the fourth quarter.

The Warriors took control of the game late in the second quarter, turning a 3-point deficit into a 63-58 halftime lead.

It fell apart for Brooklyn in the third – outscored 35-18. Kevin Durant missed his eight field goal attempts, though some were uncharacteristic misses. But give Golden State’s top-ranked defense and Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala credit for making it difficult on Durant. Those two were Durant’s primary defenders and held him to 2-for-10 shooting.

After that James Harden was Brooklyn’s only real offensive threat. The Nets were too reliant on Durant and Harden, and when Durant didn’t have it, the Nets suffered.

“They junk up the game,” Nash said. “They’re a smart team that play box-and-one, triangle-and-two, but I thought we got too stagnant, too iso-heavy and didn’t move it and attack the basket. It was a good lesson for us.”

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Which leads to the unfortunate part of the Nets’ season. They missed Kyrie Irving in this game. He is a three-tier shotmaker who can break down defenses. Harden and Durant can do that, too, but Irving’s skillset adds another dimension.

While the Nets have made a decision to play this season without Irving until he gets the vaccine – and as of now there’s no reason to believe he will receive it – his absence will be notable in certain losses.

Durant and Harden are talented enough to help the Nets win enough games to keep them near the top of the East. Maybe even talented enough to help the Nets win the championship. Durant is taking the patient approach.

“It’s a process, and it takes a while,” he said. “But I like where we are. Guys are getting better. All of us understand what we need for one another, and it’s only going to get better from here.”

But if the Nets don’t win the title, it will be a huge “what if” season. What if Irving had played.

In a league where title windows open and shut quickly, Irving’s absence is a storyline that will accompany Brooklyn all season.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Nets exposed in showdown vs. Warriors: Would Kyrie Irving have helped?