Brooklyn Nets coach Steve Nash hopes that once all the pieces are in place, his team can develop the chemistry it takes to win an NBA championship.
The Nets saw an example of a team surging at the right time over their past two games, which both ended in defeats against the Milwaukee Bucks, a fellow Eastern Conference title contender.
Brooklyn (43-23), which played without James Harden (right hamstring strain) for the 15th consecutive game, continues its five-game road trip on Thursday night against another playoff team when it takes on the host Dallas Mavericks (37-28).
"We've got a gap to make up for," Nash said. "We understand that's a team (the Bucks) who have been running the same offense together, the same schemes on defense and gone deep into the playoffs. How can we make up that gap? That's our life in a nutshell heading home here. Trying to get everyone back to full health. Trying to overcome a lack of common experience. That is our challenge."
The Nets have six games left to start to jell with or without Harden back in their lineup as they battle the Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers for the top three seeds in the East.
Brooklyn holds the No. 2 spot in the conference and is 1 1/2 games ahead of Milwaukee, but lost the head-to-head tiebreaker following Tuesday's 124-118 defeat. Kyrie Irving led the Nets with 38 points, and Kevin Durant had 32 points, nine rebounds and six assists.
But the Nets have dropped three in a row, and Harden has missed 17 of their past 18 games. Brooklyn is 10-8 during that span. Nash also said it was "unrealistic" to think Spencer Dinwiddie (partially torn right ACL) would be back for the playoffs.
"James will give us a totally different dimension, but we don't sit here and say, 'Well, wait 'til James gets back.' We try to solve the puzzle now," Nash said.
The Mavericks are tied with the Los Angeles Lakers for the fifth seed in the Western Conference and are 7-3 over their past 10 games, losing only to the Sacramento Kings during that span.
Tim Hardaway Jr. rained down 10 three-pointers on the host Miami Heat in the arena his father played in to lead Dallas to a 127-113 victory on Tuesday. Luka Doncic had 23 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists while former Heat wing Josh Richardson had 17 points.
"We're just going day-to-day with what we need to do to prepare for each given game," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "Players are aware of standings and all the machinations going on there. We've got to stay in the present, we've got to stay process-oriented and we've got to do the things that bring us success."
Dallas beat the Nets 115-98 in their previous meeting in Brooklyn on Feb. 27 behind 27 points from Doncic and 18 from Kristaps Porzingis.
Porzingis, however, missed his third game in a row on Tuesday with right knee soreness although he did participate in a pregame workout. Maxi Kleber (right Achilles soreness) also did not play at Miami.
"I know we were good after losses last year as well," Carlisle said. "I think it starts with our best players. It starts with our leaders. It's hard to quantify. The NBA is a roller-coaster, now more than ever. Resiliency is a very important thing, but the thing young teams develop over time is the ability to handle prosperity and good times."
--Field Level Media