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In Atlanta, Nets All-Stars are excited for game, grateful for recognition

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Miami Heat v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

When the NBA announced that it was going to play the All-Star game after all, there were rumblings among players —including some who were eventually selected for the teams. There were concerns about the risk of COVID-19 infections and also how the game would add to the already heavy 2020-2021 schedule.

Now, with the game set for 8 p.m. Sunday on TNT, there’s a new recognition of what an honor it is to be selected —and play— in the mid-season classic. For the three Nets selected— Kevin Durant to his 11th game, James Harden to his ninth and Kyrie Irving to his seventh— the game will not be taken for granted.

Durant will not play because of lingering hamstring issues but he liked the team he put together as captain and highest vote getter in the East.

Team Durant will include Irving, Joel Embiid, Kawhi Leonard, Bradley Beal, and Jayson Tatum in the starting lineup, and Harden, Mike Conley Jr, Zion Williamson, Zach LaVine, Julius Randle, Nikola Vucevic, and Donovan Mitchell as reserves.

“For the All-Star Game, that’s always a blessing,” said Harden who has now been selected to the East and West All-Stars. “That means you’re doing something right. That means you’re playing extremely well up to that point. You never want to take opportunities like that for granted. So I’m blessed. I’m fortunate to be a part of my ninth All-Star Game.”

Indeed, Harden’s string of consecutive All-Star appearances is now at nine, second only to LeBron James’ 17 straight. He started six times overall. Neither KD nor Irving were selected last season because of injuries but since 2012-13, all three have been selected every year they weren’t hurt. And the trio’s combined number of appearances —27— far exceeds any other team. It’s also the first time the Nets have had three All-Stars.

Irving a the lone Net in the starting lineup spoke of the honor.

“Well, first off, I’m really grateful that I have the support not only from the community that I come from but communities all over to be able to vote my teammates in,” Irving said. “We just want to always put on a great performance after we take the hours to go home and work on our craft, and then we get selected of the best of the best in the world. So that honor doesn’t just go over my head.”

The 28-year-old also touched on other aspects of the selection, including just how much fun it is. Irving was MVP of the game in 2014.

“Like I said in the beginning of the season, I know how much I care about being validated culturally, just my culture in terms of the hooping culture,” Irving said. “That’s where I came from, the NBA culture in terms of the fanatic and all the awards and accolades, they mean a lot, too.

“But I do it for the love, so anytime I get a chance to do it on a bigger stage in front of millions of people, I’m going to take full advantage of that. All glory to God for the talent that he’s given me. And then, we have fun just building camaraderie as a brotherhood in the NBA and the All-Star Game. So it’s fun.”

While the All-Star Game itself will air at 8 pm on TNT, preceded by the Skills Challenge and 3-Point Contest at 6:30 pm with the Slam Dunk contest to be held at halftime of the All-Star Game. Joe Harris, the NBA’s leading 3-point shooter this year, and the 2019 winner, declined an invitation this year.

As part of the league’s commitment of more than $3 million in support of Historically Black Colleges and Universities in conjunction with the All-Star Game, Team Durant will play for the United Negro College Fund, with an initial contribution of $500,000, and further funding to come based on end of quarter scores throughout the game.