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It’s official: Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving will start Sunday

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Brooklyn Nets

The excitement level inside the walls of the HSS Training Facility is high as players and coaches look forward to Sunday’s preseason opener down the road at Barclays Center.

There’s a lot of reasons ... all of them legitimate. Kevin Durant will return to competitive basketball following a 552-day layoff, and the long-held promise of he and Kyrie Irving playing together will finally be fulfilled. Steve Nash will make his coaching debut and for everyone on the roster and on the staff, the wait is over. The Nets are entering the most anticipated season in their franchise’s history. It’s all there.

“We will start Kyrie, Spencer, Joe, Kevin, and DJ. We will try to get as many guys as much looks as possible to get them that rhythm, cohesion, and keep building but at the same time, we have to build accordingly. We are trying to give everyone a look, evaluate everyone, evaluate combinations like I said, and give as many people as chance as possible to get out there and feel the floor and the rhythm of an actual game.”

Nash told the media Saturday that Caris LeVert will not play in Sunday’s preseason opener against the Washington Wizards due to a patella contusion, essentially a knee bone bruise. He labeled LeVert’s absence more precaution than anything else. After all, it is the preseason.

“Tomorrow, Caris [Levert] is going to be out,” Nash said. “Caris has a little contusion on his patella so he is day-to-day but we are just going to be really cautious since it is preseason.”

And you expect to see a significant number of minutes for the rotational players. Nash is eyeing the 20-to-25-minute marks for his “high minute” guys but wants to spread out the court time throughout his 18 players minus LeVert. He wants his players —many of whom haven’t played since March or even earlier — to get comfortable and acclimated to real basketball. Of the starters, Durant hasn’t played since June 10, 2019, Irving since February 1, Jordan and Dinwiddie since March 10. Of the five starters vs. Washington, only Harris played in the “bubble” and he had to leave early for family reasons.

“I do not think we will keep it tight,” Nash said about preseason rotations. “I think we will try to get a lot of guy’s looks. I think it is important to get the high minute guys some good minutes but not a typical regular-season game type.

“So, maybe on the high end, have some guys play 20-25 minutes but we will try to spread it around, give everyone some looks, get people a chance to get comfortable and acclimated to real basketball again, and we will go from there.”

Nash also suggested that he doesn’t see the rust wearing off in two preseason games.

“As I said, this preseason is important to us and we will still be ‘in preseason’ four of five games into the season. I feel like we used to play eight preseason games. Just to get back playing at that level, ready to compete, and whatever it is like 10 days.

“In the meantime, we will just keep building and wherever we are at, it will be a process throughout the year to continue to get better every day. This will sort of being like taking it as an opportunity to rehearse, to go through the process, to get some data, some insight into how well we have done preparing, what we need to improve on and try to get a lot of people looks as well.”

Rehearsal or not, what Nash wants to see from the Nets’ two exhibition games is defense, defense, defense ... but with a mix of “everything.”

“A bit of everything really,” Nash said about preseason takeaways. “The guys need to continually adapt to the demands. That is still very important with a short camp, two exhibition games, and then into a condensed regular season. That is pivotal for our long term health and safety. They need to play and adapt to the riggers. They need cohesion.

“The priority for us is always going to be how we defend,” Nash told reporters. “If we are continuing to build, give effort, buy-in, and connectivity on the defensive end. That’s first and foremost but a little bit of everything. We want to see how it goes, how it feels, how it looks, what combinations work well together, what rotations are possible, and things like that.

“There is something in almost all categories we want to get out of the game but not necessarily other than defense. Super emphasis on any of them. We want to continue to build in everything we do but the defense will be the priority.”

Then comes the excitement. Nash is excited for the opportunity for his guys to break down some barriers and accomplish those little steps to fill the big picture. Not to mention his own right of passage from Hall of Fame point guard to rookie head coach.

“I’m excited,” Nash said. “It’s a great opportunity after this process to get out there and have a dress rehearsal sort of speak to kind of break the ice and get us one step close to things. Great opportunity for us to kind of feel it, run through it, and hopefully get something out of the game. It is paramount that we have this rehearsal, get the players into a rhythm of not just to play but also of getting back into the game days and what those entail.

“A lot of our guys haven’t played in a long time so it’s great. We are just knocking off these little barriers and little steps while getting us closer to the real thing.”

The 46-year-old claimed doesn’t have nerves heading into the game. He said he’s proud of the work his players put in during training camp.

“I am excited,’ Nash said once again. “Another barrier to knock down. It is a great experience for me to kind of get my feet wet and understand the rhythm of coaching. It is going to be a process for me obviously to be totally comfortable over there so it is great to get one out of the way tomorrow but I am excited and feel very proud of the guys about the way they approached camp and the energy and effort have been outstanding. Guys are buying in so those are the non-negotiables that have been great so far.”

The same goes for Taurean Prince and Jarrett Allen. Both expressed their own level of excitement for Sunday’s game but more importantly, both said they’re thrilled to have Durant and Irving back and ready to “do big things.”

“There is a lot of excitement going on in the building,” Prince said. “We have been putting in a lot of work, especially seeing those guys come back from certain injuries, seeing them in the gym putting in a lot of work, and so we have been working hard not only for ourselves but be there for our teammates that we know have big debuts coming up. That is the importance of having your brothers back, being there for those guys, and being with us through this journey to allow us to get better.”

“The vibe I am getting from practice says that everybody is ready,” Allen added. “We had ‘7’ and ‘11’ sitting out for a lot of the games last year and finally to have them back, we are ready to do big things with them so we are all excited.”

The game starts at 6:00 p.m. The excitement’s already begun.