Top Takeaways from Kevin Durant, Nets' Win vs. Knicks with Julius Randle Out

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistApril 7, 2022

Top Takeaways from Kevin Durant, Nets' Win vs. Knicks with Julius Randle Out

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    The New York Knicks had their rival Brooklyn Nets right where they wanted them Wednesday night—until they didn't.

    Despite building a lead that stretched as high as 21 points, the 'Bockers couldn't maintain their momentum and ran out of gas in what became a 110-98 triumph for the visiting Nets. Brooklyn outscored New York 60-31 in the second half and 38-16 in the fourth quarter alone.

    The win moved the Nets within a game of the free-falling Cleveland Cavaliers for the No. 7 seed. Brooklyn hosts Cleveland on Friday and faces the Indiana Pacers on Sunday. Win out, and the seventh seed belongs to the Nets.

    The Knicks, of course, were already eliminated from playoff contention.

The Nets Always Have a Puncher's Chance with Their Potent Offense

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    Buying Brooklyn as more than a pesky first-round matchup isn't easy because this roster is flawed. Defense and depth are constant worries, and there's no real reason to believe Ben Simmons will come back and help scratch those itches.

    Saying that, the number of potential playoff opponents who would like to see the Nets can probably be counted on one hand—without raising a finger.

    Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving rank favorably among the Association's most dynamic duos, and they're the biggest reason this club can never be counted out. Neither was perfect Wednesday—Irving shot 9-of-26 from the field, while Durant misfired on eight of his 10 three-point attempts—and yet they still combined for 56 points and 18 assists.

    Few teams have a defender who can hang with Irving on the basketball, and there's no such thing as a Durant stopper. When these two get it going, the scoreboard can spin too fast for opponents to keep up.

    What makes the Nets even more threatening, though, is that their list of ignitable offensive players extends well beyond their stars. Seth Curry and Patty Mills lead Brooklyn's cast of support scorers, and the pair flashed their potency on Wednesday by combining for 30 points and 8-of-14 shooting from three.

Obi Toppin Needs a Chance to Spread His Wings

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    Obi Toppin was the eighth overall pick of the 2020 draft. He since ranks 22nd in that class in total minutes.

    That would qualify as a troubling trend for any prospect, but it's especially frustrating for one who counted NBA-readiness as one of his top selling points. His 24th birthday is behind him. His teammate RJ Barrett, the No. 3 pick from the 2019 draft, hasn't even turned 22 yet.

    The clock is ticking for Toppin, but New York has largely ignored it. Whether that's because of anything related to his game or things he can't control (Julius Randle's presence, Tom Thibodeau's lack of trust in young players) isn't clear, and frankly, isn't all that important. The lack of significant floor time is a head-scratcher from any angle.

    When Toppin has received an extended opportunity, he has typically taken advantage. Wednesday night was no different. Freed to clear 40 minutes for only the second time this season (and just his fifth outing of 30-plus), he stuffed the stat sheet with 19 points (on 7-of-13 shooting), five rebounds, three assists (and no turnovers), three blocks and a steal.

    It's just one game, though, right? Well, maybe not. Toppin's per-36-minutes averages this season include 17.9 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.3 three-pointers. For context, only 10 players are hitting those marks, and virtually all of them are household names. Maybe Toppin could be the same, but the Knicks will never know until they give him a legitimate chance to succeed.