Nets' Irving drama makes other East contenders look stable
Tue, Feb 7, 2023 4:26 AM
By NOAH TRISTER, AP Sports Writer
Blake Griffin is no stranger to trade drama. He was dealt from the Clippers to the Pistons in 2018, and last season he was playing for the Brooklyn Nets when they sent James Harden to Philadelphia in a February blockbuster.
These days, Griffin is with the Boston Celtics, who seem awfully stable when compared with those Nets.
“It's a tough time of year, but as far as this team goes, we're in a pretty good spot,” Griffin said after Boston's win at Detroit on Monday night. “This team is very focused.”
In the aftermath of another Brooklyn bombshell — the Nets broke up their remaining All-Star duo of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving by trading Irving to Dallas — the other top teams in the Eastern Conference can feel pretty content with their situations. Boston has the best record in the NBA and a team that reached the Finals a season ago. Milwaukee has the league's longest current winning streak at eight games.
Even the 76ers, who haven't always been a picture of tranquility in recent years, have won nine of 11 and are third in the conference, just three games behind the Celtics.
The Nets had a stretch of 16 wins in 17 games from late November to early January, but Irving's recent trade request — and the fulfillment of it — now leave Brooklyn a very uncertain threat in the East. Cleveland jumped ahead of the Nets on Monday night and into fourth place in the conference.
“I don’t think (the trade) affects Boston, Milwaukee — they’re still at the top,” Detroit coach Dwane Casey said before facing the Celtics. “It could affect Brooklyn. ... It’s interesting for the league and it just lets you know that anything can happen.”
Griffin said he was a little surprised the deal came together so quickly.
“I think Dallas has been wanting to get him for a little bit. Now probably feel like the West is kind of open right now and (the Mavericks are) trying to go for it," he said. "It’s good for both sides. Kyrie wanted out and didn’t want to be there and you know, hopefully both sides are happy.”
As for why Brooklyn's star-studded team — which at one point included Durant, Irving and Harden — didn't reach its potential, there are a number of explanations.
“Health is one of them," Griffin said. "Those guys played like 16 games together or something. And, don’t think the pieces were utilized the right way.”
The Celtics recovered from a recent three-game losing streak and have won three of four. They're trying to hold off Milwaukee atop the East. The Bucks are a game back.
“We’re very confident," Milwaukee big man Brook Lopez said. "We’re just trying to play together and keep getting better."
The Bucks and Celtics have made deep runs into the postseason the past two years. Philadelphia hasn't reached the Finals since 2001.
The 76ers showed they might have that potential this season when Joel Embiid scored 47 points in a win over Denver late last month. Coach Doc Rivers understands it's important to go into the postseason rested and ready.
“The March schedule is tough, more because of the travel and the back-to-backs than the opponent," he said. "The opponents are all tough, we don’t care about that. That’s going to be an interesting month for us on what we’re going to do as far as playing guys, resting guys.”
The Celtics, Bucks and 76ers might make some moves of their own before Thursday’s trade deadline, but they’re unlikely to shake up their rosters the way Brooklyn did. The Nets had a dissatisfied star and decided to part with him. Boston, Milwaukee and Philadelphia, on the other hand, can deal from positions of strength.
“You know there’s a lot going on in the NBA. It’s exciting, fun for everyone to watch and listen and all that stuff,” Lopez said. "But obviously we’re really good at just staying focused, keeping our head grounded and focusing on what’s next.”
Follow Noah Trister at https://twitter.com/noahtrister
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AP Sports Writers Larry Lage in Detroit and Anne M. Peterson in Portland, Oregon, contributed to this report.