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No Durant, no excuses for red-hot Nets

Brooklyn determined to carry on without injured superstar

January 12, 2023 John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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The hottest team in the NBA refuses to cool off.

Even with their best player sidelined for at least a month.

Kevin Durant’s absence is not going to derail an ever-blossoming season in Downtown Brooklyn for the Nets, who went back to work Wednesday at the HSS Training Center in Sunset Park ahead of Thursday night’s showdown with NBA-leading Boston at the Barclays Center.

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“I’m not giving this group a chance to make excuses,” Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn insisted after practice. “Here to play. Here to win. Here to compete. It doesn’t change.”

Brooklyn (27-13) has won 18 of its last 20 games, a run that includes a season-high 12-game winning streak.

The Nets bounced back from their first loss in a month with last Friday’s win in New Orleans and Sunday’s one-point victory in Miami, a contest that saw Durant leave in the third quarter with a sprain of his right MCL.

He will be reevaluated in two weeks, and should take another two weeks to rejoin his teammates on the hardwood.

Nic Claxton hopes the Nets can soar rather than plummet without Kevin Durant out of the mix until at least February. AP Photo by Wilfredo Lee

The two-time NBA Finals Most Valuable Player was averaging nearly 30 points per contets and climbing up the all-time scoring list nightly before the injury.

He missed five weeks last season with a left MCL sprain and the Nets plummeted, losing 18 of 23 games to slip from Eastern Conference leaders to the eventual No. 7 seed.

Durant that precipitous fall, the Nets saw James Harden ask out of Brooklyn and waited for New York City’s COVID-19 restrictions to ease before Kyrie Irving could play in our borough.

This time around, the Nets believe they can persevere without their best player and perhaps even thrive.

Their first test will come against the team just ahead of them in the standings as the Celtics (30-12) will arrive on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush on a four-game winning streak of their own.

“I think this group has shown they have resolve, they have the ability to fight, and a belief,” Vaughn said.

“I think they’re looking forward to playing and trying to win and figuring it out together. So hopefully this group is in a better place mentally and physically to handle this challenge.”

The Nets’ 103-92 loss to the Celtics here on Dec. 4 was their final defeat of 2022. They had their Brooklyn-best winning streak snapped in Chicago on Jan. 4 before posting back-to-back wins against New Orleans and the Heat.

Though Vaughn stated the obvious by indicating that the Nets would be a “better team” when Durant returns, the team with the NBA’s third-best record is eager to prove it can function at a high level without him.

“You never want to see anybody get injured,” said center Nic Claxton. “The best player in the world, he’s out, but guys got to step up. We’ve been in this position before. Not this year, but in previous years, so guys got to step up and take on a bigger role.”

Irving scored 29 points against Miami Sunday and putting up 26 per game this year. He was the first to point out not only how crushing it was to see his fellow superstar go down, but how important it will be to continue thriving without him.

“The strength of our team is us picking each other up and just being ready for whatever’s thrown at us,” he said.

Kyrie Irving will take the lead role with Kevin Durant out with an injury when the Nets host Boston at Downtown’s Barclays Center Thursday. AP Photo by Paul Beaty

The Nets, who have played six of their previous seven games on the road, will remain in Brooklyn to host Oklahoma City on Sunday before embarking on a four-game trip.

If all goes well with Durant’s recovery, he can return some time in early February.

The Nets would like to welcome him back as contenders for a high seed in the East and ready to take a shot at the franchise’s first-ever NBA title.

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