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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Kristian Winfield

Nets get embarrassed, 130-108, in season opener vs. Pelicans

NEW YORK — Kevin Durant said he wanted to “beat the snot out of” the New Orleans Pelicans in the season opener.

It was the Pelicans who did the beating and the Nets who left boogers all over their home floor.

The Nets walked out of Barclays Center battered, bruised and with their tails between their legs after taking a thumping on opening night. They never led, only held the momentum once — when cutting into the deficit entering halftime — and trailed by as many as 26 in their 130-108 loss to the Pelicans on Wednesday.

It. Was. Embarrassing.

It was particularly embarrassing for both Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons, who may as well have not dressed if they were going to play the way they did.

Simmons looked timid, reluctant to play aggressive like he proclaimed he would — save for the aggressive reaching and bodying that got him fouled out after 23 minutes of action. He finished with more fouls (six) than points (four) and looked to set his teammates up even when as close as two feet from the rim. In fact, Simmons never scored on his own accord. His first basket was a dime from Royce O’Neale, and his last was a half-court alley-oop from Irving on a broken Pelicans inbound pass. He also totaled five assists, five rebounds and three turnovers.

Irving couldn’t buy a bucket if they were on Amazon for Prime Day. He shot 6 for 19 from the field and missed all six of his attempts from downtown, finishing with 15 points and five assists.

The only thing worse than the final score was the rebounding disparity. While the Pelicans started Jonas Valanciunas and Zion Williamson, the Nets countered with Simmons, Durant and Nic Claxton.

It was a failure, as were the minutes head coach Steve Nash attempted to go small with Simmons at center and Claxton on the bench. The Pelicans won the battle on the boards by 22 with Valanciunas hauling in 13.

The manner in which the Nets lost has to have caught the eye of general manager Sean Marks. After all, the top of the Eastern Conference is chock full of teams bigger than the Nets can ever be with the roster as currently constructed.

There’s Joel Embiid on the Philadelphia 76ers; Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez on the Milwaukee Bucks; Jarrett Allen, Evan Mobley and Kevin Love on the Cleveland Cavaliers; and Al Horford and Robert Williams on the Boston Celtics.

Marks opted against signing a veteran big man with some size — like DeMarcus Cousins or Hassan Whiteside — during the offseason. Second-year center Day’Ron Sharpe was not the answer on Wednesday night.

And neither was the Nets defense, because unlike Brooklyn, every member of the Pelicans’ Big Three scored at least 20 points. Williamson bulldozed his way to the rim time and time again for 25 points on 11-of-22 shooting. CJ McCollum finished with 21 points and Brandon Ingram looked like the best player on the floor. He even shifted Durant once with a crossover before pulling up for the and-one on a mid-range jump shot.

Ingram finished with 28 points. Durant finished with a game-high 32, but they were empty calories since the Nets absorbed an embarrassing season-opening defeat.

Play of the Night

Had to be Durant’s block on Ingram’s two-handed dunk attempt in the third quarter. Durant shifted over from the right side of the baseline while Ingram drove down the center of the lane and met him at the rim before rejecting the dunk.

The good

O’Neale is making the injured Joe Harris an afterthought with his strong 3-point shooting coupled with his defensive prowess. O’Neale shot 2 of 3 from downtown and also finished with three steals and two blocks. It’s difficult to envision him moving back to the bench when Harris, rehabbing a sore foot, returns to the rotation.

The bad

Sharpe shot 1 of 8 from the field and missed a handful of open layups at the rim. He grabbed eight rebounds, but if he can’t finish at point blank, it’s hard to see him getting minutes.

The ugly

Barclays Center was jam-packed, standing room only, for the season opener. But it was Pelicans fans who cheered as their team left the floor at the end of the game. Not an ideal way to start the season. Nets fans looked for a reason to cheer all night, but their team didn’t give them one.

Next up

The Nets host the scrappy Toronto Raptors for Game 2 before a two-game road trip: at Memphis and at Milwaukee.

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