Nets have hope despite blowout loss
Kevin Durant could be back this week for Brooklyn
Nets head coach Steve Nash, who is in COVID-19 protocol, believes injured superstar Kevin Durant could be back by later this week.
He’s also optimistic that Kyrie Irving, banned from playing in Brooklyn due to New York City’s vaccination mandates, will take the hardwood at Barclays Center before the season is through.
Ben Simmons, acquired in the trade-deadline deal that sent James Harden to Houston last month, is ramping up but not yet cleared to make his Nets debut.
All that pending good news came before the struggling and undermanned Nets suffered their 14th loss in 17 games and second in a row since returning from the All-Star break, a 133-97 drubbing at the hands of the Toronto Raptors in front of 17,112 fans on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush.
“Hopefully our guys are ready for that and looking forward to going to Toronto and addressing the fact that we could have played better tonight and we will play better (Tuesday night),” fill-in head coach Jacques Vaughn noted before his team got ready for the second half of the back-to-back in Canada.
Brooklyn (32-30) fell two games behind seventh-place Toronto (33-27) in the race for potential play-in positioning should the Nets wind up anywhere between the seventh and 10th spots in the Eastern Conference standings.
Currently eighth, the Nets are five weeks removed from boasting the best record in the East on Jan. 22.
Since then, Durant has gone down with a knee sprain, Irving has remained eligible for road games only, Harden was jettisoned to Philly and Simmons is still getting over some back issues and waiting to get cleared after sitting out the past nine months due to mental health concerns.
The Nets have not managed well without the three superstars they once boasted, but Durant’s return could energize a roster that has relied too heavily on reserve role players like LaMarcus Aldridge, Bruce Brown, Andre Drummond and Patty Mills.
Aldridge scored a team-high 15 points against the Raptors and Brown and rookie Cam Thomas added 14 apiece for Brooklyn, which trailed 42-27 after one quarter and never seriously challenged thereafter.
Toronto rookie Scottie Barned poured in a game-high 28 points, nailing each of his first 11 shots, and grabbed 16 rebounds for the Raptors, who had lost four of their previous five contests and their first two meetings with the Nets.
“We were just really locked in and really focused,” Barnes said. “Really just wanted to bounce back after those first two games. Just really had to bring it tonight.”
The Nets had better do the same Tuesday night in Toronto.
Nash indicated before Saturday’s win in Milwaukee that Durant could be back by Thursday or this weekend.
“Every day closer,” Nash said. “We’ll see. I expect in the next week he’ll be back for sure. It could be quick; it could be the whole week barring any setbacks.”
The Irving situation might be resolved later this month if New York City Mayor Eric Adams pulls back on the vaccination mandates, which require all players, staff and other personnel at Barclays to be vaxxed.
“Listen, I want Kyrie on the court. I would do anything to get that ring. So badly, I want it. But there’s so much at stake here. And I spoke with the owner of the team. We want to find a way to get Kyrie on the court, but this is a bigger issue,” Adams said on CNBC.
“I can’t have my city closed down again,” added Adams. “It would send the wrong message just to have an exception for one player when we’re telling countless number of New York City employees, ‘If you don’t follow the rules, you won’t be able to be employed.'”
Simmons should be ready at some point in March to begin taking the point and helping Irving and Durant get into their offensive rhythm, but he has not yet been cleared to practice.
“He’s just doing some light shooting and just physical therapy,” Nash said of Simmons. “Just making sure that he gets that back 100%, just that little flare-up (in his back), and while he does shooting and his reconditioning stuff that he’s able to do while that thing settles down.”
For now, the Nets will show up north of the border hoping for a better result, or at least a more competitive game, before their roster returns to some level of normalcy.
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