Coming back from a horrific ruptured Achilles, Kevin Durant was supposed to be the star the Nets were coddling. But Kyrie Irving’s indefinite absence for personal reasons is putting even more burden on his 32-year-old teammate.
After logging a season-high 37:40 in Sunday’s loss to Oklahoma City, Durant poured in 34 points with 13 assists and nine rebounds in 36 minutes of Tuesday’s 122-116 comeback win over the Nuggets. Now he says he plans to play the tail end of a back-to-back Wednesday against the Knicks.
“I plan on it,” said Durant, who hasn’t played in a back-to-back yet this season.
Coming into the season Steve Nash had said building up to playing consecutive games was the goal for Durant, and with his Nets clearly struggling, he could use the four-time scoring champ Wednesday in the Garden.
“I really hope Kevin plays,” Nash said with a wan grimace. “But we’ll see. We have to judge these things day-to-day and moment-to-moment. I can come in here with a template, but who knows what happens [Tuesday]? We have to be really fluid and adaptable like I continually say and see how [Tuesday] goes and then address [Wednesday] when it comes.”
Robbed of Irving’s scoring, the Nets are going to have to find ways to concoct both added scoring punch and also tighter defense. Nash is still experimenting, juggling with the lineups trying to find both.
Tuesday Nash tweaked the lineup, returning Caris LeVert to the sixth-man role, where he scored 20 points, and inserted defensive-minded Bruce Brown to deal with Jamal Murray. Brown ended up with 16 points including huge plays in the game-deciding 10-0 fourth-quarter run.
“Bruce Brown was incredible tonight, geez. Floaters looked timely, playing in the pick-and-roll, picking up full court. I’m just so proud of that dude,” Durant said. “He’s a true pro. Man hasn’t played at all, comes in the starting lineup and makes an impact.”
The move had the added bonus of protecting LeVert’s minutes, with Nash acknowledging the young wing’s injury history.
“Bruce was great. Unbelievable. Played his butt off, played hard, made some tough shots and timely baskets and guarded his man,” Nash said. “The second unit needs Caris as a ball-handler, creator. I also need to protect Caris. When he starts, he ends up playing 30-plus minutes almost without a doubt. Five games in seven nights, let alone 17 games in 31 days, Caris is a guy you have to protect with his injury history.”