The Brooklyn Nets were busy ahead of the NBA trade deadline on Thursday afternoon, and by night, they looked like a different team. That said, the Nets lost 118-95 to the Cleveland Cavaliers to extend their season's struggle to another day.
The Cav's all-star guard Donovan Mitchell shot 27 points and forward Evan Mobley contribued with 14-points, 12 rebounds, and two block-shot performance.
The Nets had just nine available players for the game. Guard Spencer Dinwiddie and forward Royce O’neal were traded, and forward Harry Giles III, one of the feel-good stories in the league this season, was waived.
Forward Cam Johnson, guard Lonnie Walker IV and forward Dorian Finney-Smith were all listed as DND (did not dress) for the game because of injuries. And with Nets Center Day’Ron Sharpe out indefinitely with a hyperextended knee, Nets coach Jacque Vaughn had a short bench.
Guard Dennis Schröder, who arrived from the Toronto Raptors, and center Keita Bates-Diop and forward Jordan Goodwin, both of whom came from the Phoenix Suns, did not dress for the game.
Nets guard Ben Simmons was on the floor for the tip-off because of the roster shuffle and stated in the post-game press conference that he would prefer to start and not come off the bench. Simmons is still playing with minute restrictions after being out for months with a nerve impingement in his lower back.
His positive effect on pace, space, rebounds and fast-break initiation were on full display in the Nets' blowout win over the Utah Jazz, but was missing against the Cavaliers. The Nets scored just six fast-break points in the first half, where Simmons had zero rebounds and two assists, though Mikal Bridges poured in 18 first-half points on 7-14 shooting.
Even with the short-handed lineup and Simmons effectively flat, the Nets went into the locker room with just a single-digit deficit, trailing 59-51 at the half.
The third quarter is where the Nets unravelled, as they opened the second half with more than five minutes of scoring futility. Cleveland went on a 21-0 run to push their lead to 29 points until Nets guard Cam Thomas broke the drought with a pull-up jump shot at the 6:39 mark of the third. That bucket made it 53-80, but the game was effectively over at that point.
The Cavaliers entered Thursday's game with a 7-game-winning streak, the longest active streak in the NBA, and are now 16-2 since the calendar year changed. They have one loss after the January 11th victory over the Nets in Paris and are currently ranked second in the Eastern Conference behind the Boston Celtics.
The Nets, with a 5-13 record in 2024, are going in the opposite direction and are 4-9 since returning from France.
The trades made at the deadline will not turn the Nets into a contender but perhaps the new players, combined with a healthier roster, can lead the Nets to the play-in tournament.
The Nets are up against the San Antonio Spurs at Barclays Center tomorrow.