Durant can’t miss in winning return
Hits all five shots in first game since Feb. 13 as Nets roll
Kevin Durant didn’t look the least bit rusty Wednesday night in Downtown Brooklyn.
He looked otherworldly.
Playing for the first time since Feb. 13 due to a nagging hamstring strain, Durant came off the bench and enjoyed a perfect night in front of 1,773 fans at Barclays Center, helping the Eastern Conference-leading Nets to a 139-111 rout of the visiting New Orleans Pelicans.
“I expected to come out here and play the way I played,” Durant said after going a perfect 5-for-5 from the field, including a pair of 3-pointers. “I wasn’t trying to ease into the game.”
The Pelicans probably wished the former two-time NBA Finals MVP had taken a bit easy on them.
After missing the previous 23 games, Durant looked and played flawlessly after entering the game just under five minutes into the second quarter.
He produced instant offense for Brooklyn, fueling a 43-point period and season-best 79-point half as the Nets (36-16) maintained a half-game lead over Philadelphia for the top record in the East.
Durant also knocked down all five of his free throws, grabbed seven rebounds, handed out five assists and blocked a shot in 19 scintillating minutes.
“He played great,” Nets head coach Steve Nash said of Durant, who did stumble a bit by committing six turnovers.
“You know, he’s been on the court a ton; he just hasn’t been able to go up and down until more recently. … So, amazing. First game back, I thought the overall team performance was really strong, attention to detail defensively was there and proud of the guys for the effort.”
Kyrie Irving led the way for Brooklyn, which has won nine straight at Barclays, with 24 points and LaMarcus Aldridge added 22.
Joe Harris scored 14 points, Chris Chiozza finished with 12 and Jeff Green added 11 for the Nets, who have won 22 of their last 26 games, with most of those victories coming in Durant’s absence.
With reigning two-time Eastern Conference Player of the Month James Harden sidelined for the next two weeks with a hamstring strain of his own, Durant’s return couldn’t have been timed any better for a Nets team that has proven it doesn’t necessarily need three superstars to stay ahead of the pack.
“We got veterans that know how to play the game of basketball. We have a coaching staff that most of the guys played and know how to explain the game in simple terms,” Durant said of the Nets’ resilience in the face of ongoing injury concerns.
“I think that will help us going forward especially with guys being out. As far as late in the season we want everybody and need everybody on the court to actually see how this stuff works.”
Thus far it’s been the stuff that dreams are made of for Brooklyn fans clamoring for the borough’s first major pro sports championship since 1955 and for Nets fans who have never seen their team raise the Larry O’Brien trophy.
“It’s a good step to getting there. I don’t know that my sentiment is that ‘it’s all gonna work out.’ We have work to do,” said Blake Griffin after contributing 10 points to Wednesday’s win.
“We have to focus and put the time in and make sure that we’ve cleaned up the areas we need to clean up. You’ve seen a lot of talent lose on teams before.”
That’s why the Nets aren’t taking their talent and/or this opportunity for granted.
NOTHING BUT NET: With LeBron James and Anthony Davis battling injuries, Saturday’s much-anticipated Lakers-Nets game at Barclays Center might not be what many were expecting when they purchased their tickets to the potential NBA Finals preview. … After hosting Los Angeles, Brooklyn will head out on the road for a two-game trip, visiting Minnesota on Monday and Philadelphia Wednesday in a game that could go a long way toward deciding seeding in next month’s playoffs. … Durant came off the bench Wednesday for just the second time in his career.
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