DENVER — It’s taken the Nets just two weeks to go from first place to free fall, from atop the East into the play-in.
Just think how far they can drop in another couple of weeks.
The Nets rolled over Sunday in a 124-104 loss to Denver before 18,241 at Ball Arena, competing for the first half before they capitulated in the second.
Trailing by just a point at halftime, the decimated Nets surrendered a 29-9 run coming out of intermission. Brooklyn (29-24) suffered its league-high eighth consecutive loss to tumble into seventh place, percentage points behind red-hot Toronto, winners of five straight.
Brooklyn played without a solid starting five in James Harden, Kevin Durant, Nic Claxton, LaMarcus Aldridge and Joe Harris. Harden is being linked to trade rumors, while Durant isn’t expected back until after the All-Star break. This winless five-game road trip raises doubt whether the Nets can stay above water until then.
The Nets are 24-12 with Durant, but they’re 2-9 since he went down with an MCL injury on Jan. 15. And Sunday they were no match for the hungry Nuggets (29-14), who broke a three-game skid of their own.
“When you’ve lost three in a row, you would hope there’s a sense of urgency,” Nuggets coach Mike Malone had said beforehand. “I just told the guys, this [Nets] team has lost seven in a row, they were down by 34 points the other night in Utah, so expect a sense of urgency from them.”
The Nets had that sense of urgency early on, until Denver and MVP candidate Nikola Jokic (27 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) took it from them.
Kyrie Irving had 27 points and 11 assists, the only member of the Big 3 still standing. Rookie Cam Thomas scored 19 points, while Blake Griffin continues his recent resurgence with 19 points on 5 of 7 from deep.
DeAndre’ Bembry’s defense did give Brooklyn a big early lift. He blocked DeMarcus Cousins sailing in for a dunk, and seconds later his swipe of a Bones Hyland pass led to a Patty Mills layup and 48-43 lead.
The lead reached 65-58 when Irving found Griffin for a step-back 3-pointer with 4:43 left in the half. But Brooklyn allowed a 14-3 run, including the first seven unanswered.
At 35 years old, former Net Jeff Green beat his former teammates downcourt for a running dunk that knotted it. And Jokic’s cutting finger roll put Denver ahead 72-68 with 1:58 remaining in the half.
The Nets trailed 76-75 going into the locker room, only the second half in franchise history both teams had scored 75 (behind the second half Jan. 31, 2021 at Washington). But the second half was nowhere near that close.
Denver stormed out of the break on a 12-2 run.
When Aaron Gordon threaded a perfect bounce pass to Jokic it reached 83-77. And after Kessler Edwards got blocked at the rim by Will Barton, Gordon found Jokic again to make it 88-77 with 7:02 left in the third.
The extended run eventually reached 29-9, when Gordon’s free throw pushed it to 105-84 with 54 seconds to play in the third.
The Nets trailed 107-91 entering the fourth, which turned into garbage time.