Kyrie Irving’s return could lift slumping Nets
Unvaxxed superstar hopes to return Wednesday at Indiana
Kyrie Irving could be coming back when the Brooklyn Nets need him most.
Mired in a season-high three-game losing streak, the Nets hope to have the previously exiled Irving back on the hardwood Wednesday night in Indiana.
“How he feels and whether we determine it is safe for him to come back,” Brooklyn head coach Steve Nash said of the factors that will clear the way for Irving to play his first game since June 13, when he left Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals with an ankle injury.
Of course, Irving was all set to rejoin his teammates at the beginning of this season, but as the lone unvaccinated player on the roster, he was not cleared to play games at Downtown’s Barclays Center due to former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s New York City vaccination mandates.
The Nets (23-12) could have used Irving as a part-time player on the road, but opted instead to field a team consisting strictly of fully vaccinated players.
That firm stance stood until last month’s COVID-19 outbreak, which affected 10 players on the team and forced Nets general manager Sean Marks and owner Joe Tsai to reconsider Irving’s case.
Though Nash indicated last week that Irving might take a week or two to ramp up, the team is optimistic that the mercurial point guard can make his season debut Wednesday vs. the Pacers.
“(We’re) hopeful,” Nash said. “But no determinations have been made yet.”
If Irving can’t suit up Wednesday, Brooklyn’s next two road games are scheduled for Jan. 10 in Portland and Jan. 12 in Chicago.
The Nets could certainly use him back soon after their first significant losing streak of the season, which includes Monday night’s 118-104 loss to Memphis in front of 17,089 fans on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush.
Kevin Durant scored a team-high 26 points and James Harden added 19, but both of Brooklyn’s other superstars struggled mightily from the field, going a combined 13-for-38, including a dismal 4-of-14 from 3-point range.
Nic Claxton put up 11 points and Blake Griffin and Bruce Brown had 10 apiece for the Nets, who haven’t lost four in a row since April 30-May 6, 2021.
“It’s about coming into the games with a sense of urgency on both ends of the floor,” said Durant of the Nets’ recent struggles. “Making the correct play on both ends of the floor.”
Brooklyn was also without starting center LaMarcus Aldridge due to a sore right foot.
Ja Morant scored a game-high 36 points to lead five Grizzlies (24-14) in double figures as Memphis won its fifth straight game, pulling away for good by outscoring the Nets, 40-26, in the third quarter.
Brooklyn had to some reshuffling with its schedule Monday as the league announced new dates for the three postponements they had in the week leading up to Christmas.
The Nets’ Jan. 9 home game vs. San Antonio, originally scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. tip-off, has been moved up to noon.
Brooklyn’s postponed Dec. 23 contest in Portland will be played there Jan. 10 and the Nets will host Denver here at Barclays on Jan. 27 after having that game pushed back due to COVID-19 protocols.
The Nets were supposed to visit Washington D.C., on Dec. 21, but will now head to our nation’s capitol on Feb. 17.
Brooklyn’s Jan. 27 game in Toronto has been moved to Feb. 28.
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