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Kevin Durant returns to Golden State as Nets take on Warriors in primetime

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Golden State Warriors v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Groovy. After embarrassing themselves in Detroit the night before, the Brooklyn Nets came back home with something to prove against the Indiana Pacers. Brooklyn put together one of their most dominant performances of the season and came away with a not as close as the final score indicates victory on Wednesday night. That was the last home game for the Nets in a while as they’ll be on the West Coast for a nice little bit.

The opponent tonight will be the Golden State Warriors. While they’re not on top of the world like they once were, they’re still a fun watch and are a good bet to get back into the playoffs. They’ve on a two game winning streak after beating the Orlando Magic on Thursday night.

Where to follow the game

It's a primetime affair as ABC will be broadcasting this one on TV. WFAN 101.9 FM takes it on radio. Party gets started after 8:30. Of the five games on the Nets’ West Coast trip, four are on national tv!

Injuries

Iman Shumpert, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Nicolas Claxton are out with injuries. DeAndre Jordan is out for personal reasons. He may join the team on the trip.

James Wiseman is out with a wrist injury. Marquese Chriss is out. Kevon Looney is out. And Klay Thompson is out as well.

The game

Brooklyn won the first meeting on Opening Night. It was a new era that night, so now it’s a newer era? It makes sense, trust me.

We didn’t see Draymond Green in the first meeting, but he’s here now and he’s been doing his usual thing. He doesn’t score at all and is an absolute non-factor from 3-point range, but he still does an amazing job of initiating the offense, guiding his teammates on where they need to be, and playing rock-solid defense. Green is one of those “the numbers don’t tell the whole story” type of players, and when he’s fully engaged, is still a huge difference maker. Although...

It would’ve been helpful if Steve Kerr told everyone beforehand the Spurs don’t foul in that situation. Gotta save your man from catching unnecessary L’s.

Sometimes, I have to remind myself that as a fan, as much as I want to see a player turn all the way up, teams have to be mindful of the workload they’re carrying. So while I initially wanted to pull my hair out when I saw this Steve Kerr, honestly, he’s right:

“I’m into the long game. We’re counting on having Steph here a long time, many years ahead. And I’m not interested in grinding through this season, which is already a difficult season given the COVID regulations, just the nature of the games themselves, these eerie, empty stadiums.

“For me, for our organization, we’re not throwing Steph out there for 40 minutes to chase wins. We got another game [Tuesday]. We want Steph to be playing at a high level for many years, so we’re going to stay very disciplined and try to keep him at that 34-, 35-minute mark.”

Now that that’s out the way, let’s get to stanning Steph Curry! After a slow start, the former two time MVP is back raising hell in the ways he knows best. He’s averaging a smooth 30 points a night on a .490/.435/.930 shooting split. His range is unlimited and creativity endless, which makes him an impossible opponent to defend. It sometimes doesn’t feel like it, but he’s been in the NBA 12 seasons now.

He'll be going up against a familiar foe in Kyrie Irving. Irving was amazing against the Pacers Wednesday night and as Warriors fans know all too well, Irving is someone that can takeover and hit crucial shots late when it's a close game.

With the exception of LeBron James (and okay, Kyrie Irving), James Harden was probably the biggest thorn in the Warriors side during their dynastic run. As a Rocket, Harden would have his big moments and was part of the only Western Conference team to push the Hamptons Five (god that nickname sucked) Warriors to seven games in 2018. Harden has been more of a distributor than scorer, which will be a change up for the Warriors to an extent. When the Nets are locked in, they're an impossible equation to solve for opposing defenses to solve.

The Warriors are going small due to injuries, which might be helpful for the Nets considering their big man rotation. DeAndre Jordan had his best game of the season on Wednesday against Indiana as he was engaged, active, and energetic on both sides of the ball. Brooklyn tends to play up to their competition and with this being a marquee matchup, look for Steve Nash and friends to put on a show tonight.

Player to watch: Kevin Durant

Welcome back, KD. When we last saw Durant, the league was making a mockery out of their own protocols by forcing him to the bench against the Raptors and then removing him from the game after a Nets employee’s COVID test came back positive. He’s been out for the past week and will be back tonight. The league is getting on my nerves, which I discussed further here.

COVID aside, this is a momentous evening for KD. When he joined the Warriors in the summer of 2016, he took a historically great team and turned them into world-destroying juggernauts. His time there was very, very complicated and KD became a villain and the never-ending subject of debates about legacy, the ethics of super teams, and all other types of shit. Some writers even made it to the top of the New York Times best seller list off of him. All in all, his time there was historic and deserves to be appreciated by everyone. The Warriors will air a one-minute tribute this evening to honor what he did for the franchise. Then, next season, with fans in the stands, they’ll do it again, this time retiring No. 35 in an appropriate ceremony.

He’s been playing at an MVP level this year, which spells trouble for Andrew Wiggins. Wiggins is having his best shooting season of his career, which we can attribute to Curry and the gravity he creates (see, the gravity is a thing!). The Warriors second unit tends to struggle, so it may be best long term for the Warriors to have him run that unit so he can get his shots and give them a capable scoring option when Steph gets his rest.

Also, expect to see more discussion of how Durant has recovered from an injury that used to end stars’ careers, but now with a lot of work and a lot of patience can be conquered. KD’s recovery from his Achilles rupture in Game 5 of the 2019 Finals cost him 18 months but now, incredibly, you are argue he’s better than ever ... and THAT is saying something.

From the Vault

Fun times were had by all (hi, Rihanna!)

And since it’s Valentine’s Day weekend, grab your person and relax to this one

More reading: Golden State of Mind