Kevin Durant is back. The words you always like to read in the first sentence of an article.
After missing the last seven days of NBA basketball –– a week of pronounced highs and disturbing lows –– because of a run-in with the COVID-19 health and safety protocols (due to contact a Nets team staffer who later tested positive), Durant is set to make his debut on Saturday night... fittingly against the team where he earned his championship hardware. If this sounds like deja vu, it should; Durant and the Nets kicked off the season vs. Golden State and Brooklyn and now he’s making his return.
Durant shared his feelings on being pulled from the game against Toronto beginning his required quarantine.
“It’s just an unfortunate situation. I was looking forward to the game that night,” said Durant after Thursday’s practice. “Being told right before tip-off that I had to wait a second for the test, you know, it just threw off the rhythm a bit because I wanted to go out there and play. I’m back out there now, it is what it is. I was a little upset after the game, but I’m cool now.”
Durant concluded with, “I’m excited to be out there with the guys.”
As for Saturday’s game itself –– the second meetup this season with Durant’s former employer –– Kevin expects things to go differently this time around. For those needing a refresher, Brooklyn absolutely blitzed the Warriors, 125-99, in the season-opener with a torrential downpour of scoring, while giving Nets fans (false?) hope about the group’s defensive intensity.
Since the rough 0-2 start to the season, in which Golden State lost by a combined 65 total points, the Warriors have played with a revived sense of excellence, going 14-10 in its last 24 games. Durant has been watching Golden State’s return to form from afar, admiring the MVP-caliber performance from Warriors’ star Stephen Curry.
“They’re playing fast-paced,” said Durant of Golden State. “They’re going to move the basketball at a high clip. Steph is shooting the basketball just as well as he’s ever shot it, probably. Feels like the basket is wide open for him. He’s giving a lot of players confidence with his shot making, giving Steve (Kerr) confidence as a coach when he’s making shots like that. So it should be a different game than it was the first game. Obviously, we incorporated James (Harden) into our lineup. So we’ll see how it goes, and I’m looking forward to the competition.”
And fear not, compete he will! According to Steve Nash, there’s no plan to limit Durant’s minutes during the 8:30PM EST Saturday national TV headliner on ABC.
“Even if I wanted to limit him, I don’t think he’d allow me to,” Nash said jokingly about a minutes limitation with KD. “So I think he’s a full go. We’ll expect he’s done some prep at home, a practice today, and here we go.”
Unfortunately, as things seem to go with the Nets this season... when one starter returns, another takes a seat. According to Nash, DeAndre Jordan will be missing Saturday’s game because of “personal reasons,” but he should join the group at some point during the West Coast road trip. Nash didn’t go much further behind the reasoning of Jordan’s absence but did say, “DJ’s fine... he just has a family matter.”
Put two-and-two together, and you’ll realize that Jordan’s absence portends a good deal of small-ball for the time being. Expect lots of Jeff Green at the 5. Perhaps a scoop of Durant-at-center lineups. Maybe even a smidgen of Bruce Brown as the non-traditional screen-and-roller? All of these things could be in play, and Nash feels pretty good about his prospects of playing small against a Golden State opponent that, like the Nets, is short on size (no pun intended) at this point in time.
Golden State is currently without rookie center James Wiseman, high-flying big man Marquese Chriss, and veteran center Kevon Looney.
“Let’s hope this isn’t the kiss of death, but actually the Warriors game is a team is playing pretty small right now with all of their true centers out.” Nash continued, “I don’t want to say it’s fortuitous because they’re such a difficult team to defend anyways, but it might’ve been a tough matchup for our traditional center (Jordan) anyway.”
Nash didn’t delve into specifics about who he expected to see the floor against the Golden State miniDubs, but there’s a chance some of Brooklyn’s newer faces get an opportunity with Jordan out. Nash was not questioned directly about Noah Vonleh, who we analyzed in a scouting report with the help of X’s and O’s maven, Joe Hulbert. But Nash WAS asked about Norvel Pelle, who signed to the team on Jan 28.
“We’ll see,” said Nash about Pelle’s chances of playing against Golden State. “Like I said, they play small. We’ll see if it’s a night for a center or if it’s not. We have Norvel. We have Noah. If we need depth at that position, they could get a look. But I couldn’t say one way or the other if that’s going to happen or not.”
As a reminder, the Nets have until February 24 to decide on picking up Vonleh and Pelle’s non-guaranteed deals, as well as Iman Shumpert, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, and Chris Chiozza’s guarantees. Otherwise, they will be waived at no cost. The next ten days represent a crucial time for all of the players mentioned to prove themselves on the big stage against opponents like Golden State, the rising Phoenix Suns, the quietly .500 Sacramento Kings, and the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers and their co-tenant Clippers. Talk about high-stakes!
Nash was also asked his other big man on the roster, Nicolas Claxton, the oft-forgotten prospect that wowed so many within the Nets community just a season ago. Claxton has yet to see the floor this season, as he’s been rehabilitating from a right knee injury that originally occurred in early December. Though he didn’t necessarily provide the Claxton believers (trust me, there are many!) with a specific timeline for the sophomore's return, it sure sounds like things have been promising as far as recovery goes.
“He’s traveling with us. He’s going to get in there with the ‘Stay Ready Group’ at some point and continue to evolve. I think he’s doing really well and progressing, but we don’t have a timeline on when he’s actually going to appear active.” Nash concluded with, “it’s coming, and we’re excited about his continued development.”