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Red-hot Nets forge forward without Durant

Report: MCL sprain sidelines superstar for at least a month

January 10, 2023 John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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The Brooklyn Nets went 5-16 during Kevin Durant’s five-week absence last January.

They’re hoping to do a lot better without their injured superstar this year.

Especially since he’s leaving just after they established themselves as the NBA’s hottest and fastest-rising team.

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“The strength of our team is us picking each other up and just being ready for whatever’s thrown at us,” Brooklyn guard Kyrie Irving said in the wake of learning that Durant would be out at least a month with an isolated sprain of his right medial collateral ligament, according to an ESPN report.

Durant exited Sunday’s 102-101 victory in Miami with just over half a minute remaining in the third quarter after colliding with Heat star Jimmy Buter. The Most Valuable Player candidate clutched at the joint and did not return.

“Those plays are scary, because when someone’s not looking what’s going on, anything can happen in those moments,” Irving noted.

“So I’m grateful for all that time he’s put in the weight room putting his body in a great position, and his body was able to save him from something worse.”

Brooklyn head coach Jacque Vaughn will lead his team against Boston at Barclays Center Thursday without Kevin Durant. AP Photo by Wilfredo Lee

Lost in all the drama surrounding their most important player was the Nets’ 18th victory in the last 20 games.

They had their Brooklyn-best 12-game winning streak snapped last week in Chicago before rebounding against the Heat.

Last season, the Nets foundered without Durant following a left MCL sprain, settling for the No. 7 seed in the East and a four-game, first-round exit against eventual Eastern Conference champion Boston.

The Nets (27-13) are currently 1 1/2 games behind the Celtics for the best record in the league, but will be without Durant for Thursday night’s showdown with Boston (29-12) at Downtown’s Barclays Center.

Buoyed by Irving’s 29 points Sunday, the Nets beat the Heat on Royce O’Neale’s last-second putback. They’ll need similar heroics from the supporting cast around Irving until Durant’s status is re-evaluated in a couple of weeks.

“You never want to see him go down like that,” Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn said of Durant. “Any player, for that matter. Pretty hard collision, but you’ve got to give our group credit for staying with it.”

Durant spent the summer asking to be traded out of Brooklyn after the team refused to give Irving a long-term contract.

He also told team owner Joe Tsai that he would remain here if general manager Sean Marks and head coach Steve Nash were replaced.

Kyrie Irving and the Nets will have to wait at least two weeks just to learn Kevin Durant’s potential return status. AP Photo by Wilfredo Lee

Tsai held firm on both fronts and Marks couldn’t find a suitable deal to send Durant elsewhere.

Instead, Nash was fired following a 2-5 start, Vaughn has flourished in the head-coaching role and Durant was having a dream season, averaging nearly 30 points per contest, before Sunday night’s injury.

It’s up to the rest of the Nets from now until his return to decide if Durant’s absence will be a blip on the radar or a derailment of what was shaping up as a potential dream season on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush.

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