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Kevin Durant back as Nets welcome Pelicans to Brooklyn

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New Orleans Pelicans v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Adam Hagy/NBAE via Getty Images

Kyrie Irving put on a show and the Nets sent the Knicks back to Manhattan in a close one, 114-112, the third time Brooklyn beat New York this season ... and evened the all-time series at 106-106. Unfortunately, the Nets suffered a loss when James Harden subbed out in the first quarter with hamstring tightness. He’s out for at least 10 days.

The opponent tonight will be the New Orleans Pelicans, who are 5-5 in their last 10, losing Tuesday night to the Hawks. The Pelicans are now 22-28 but still within range of the 10th seed and the NBA’s play-in tournament. So winning is still a priority. Tuesday was also the debut of Isaiah Thomas, the former Celtics star who’s injury history has deprived him of all but 44 outings over last four years.

Oh yeah, Kevin Durant is back and so is Zion Williamson.

Where to follow the game

The game will be televised on the YES2 Network as well as ESPN with the contest set to tip at 7:30 PM ET. For radio listeners, the game will be available on WFAN 101.9 FM radio.

We’ll be on Clubhouse post-game as we are after every game now. More details here.

Injuries

Good news, bad news. The good news is that Kevin Durant will suit up for the first time in 23 games, the Nets announced Wednesday morning but that came after they had reported James Harden is out and will be out for at least another 10 days (five games), Tyler Johnson and Landry Shamet, are also out.

Brandon Ingram (toe) didn’t play vs. the Hawks Tuesday. He is not alone. Josh Hart, Nickiell Alexander-Walker, John Collins, Kris Dunn, DeAndre Hunter and Cam Reddish are all out. Rookie guard Kira Lewis (calf) is day-to-day.

The game

The Pelicans flew Tuesday night from Atlanta to Brooklyn Tuesday night after getting blown out by the Hawks, 123-107, in Georgia. Zion Williamson had another monster game, scoring 34 points on 12-of-18 shooting and grabbing five rebounds. After missing three games with a strained right thumb, Williamson returned with a light wrap and looked good. Also putting up positive numbers was Lonzo Ball, who came within a rebound of a triple double.

The problem for the Pelicans, other than their myriad injuries, is their defense. Before Tuesday, they ranked 28th, three places below the Nets. Perimeter defense, they’re even worse, 29th. Indeed, vs. the Hawks, they gave up 20 3-pointers on 31 attempts, Atlanta sank each of their 11 3-point attempts in the third quarter. Even with TJ and Shamet out, expect the Nets fire away from deep.

Offensively, the Pelicans rank eighth, not bad considering their health issues.

For the Nets, KD will be joining a frontcourt that has been remade since he last played in mid-February. When he went down with is own hamstring injury, the Nets hadn’t yet signed buyouts Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge and Nic Claxton was still hurt. It’ll be more than interesting to see how that all meshes ... and how much time he’ll spend on the court.

Player to watch

Isaiah Thomas is the most unlikely star. He was drafted out of Washington at No. 60 and then at 5’9” became an All-Star and All-NBA, winning hearts in Boston and across the NBA when he dominated the first round of the 2017 post-season despite the death of his sister in a car accident.

From that point on, the legend of IT slowly fell apart due to injuries. He was traded to the Cavaliers in the Kyrie Irving deal and his physical exam showed unresolved issues related to a previous hip injuries. There was also issues with a loss of cartilage and some arthritis and he bounced around, going from Cleveland to the Lakers to Washington to Denver. Nothing worked. He looked done.

With so many injuries, the Pelicans took a chance on him this week, signing him to a 10-day deal. He had been trying to convince teams that off-season surgery had made him whole again, diminished the pain that had in turn diminished his abiilities.

“I.T. is not going to be scared,” Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy said Monday after the signing. “He’s not going to back down. He’s one of the great competitors we’ve had in the game in my years of coaching. He’s going to go out and compete.”

“I’m 102%, so I’m more than good,” Thomas said before Tuesday’s game. “This is the best I ever felt since before I got injured. It’s not even a question no more.”

In his debut vs. Atlanta, a 23-minute affair, Thomas played well, had eight points following one practice with the team. He shot 4-of-13 overall, 2-of-6, grabbed two rebounds and handing out two assists. How much will he play vs. Brooklyn? We’ll know Wednesday but there will be a lot of people rooting for him.

From the Vault

It’s hard to find more joy in a front office, particularly a small market team, than when a team learns they’ve won the draft lottery. In 2019, Zion Williamson was the overall No. 1 pick, no if’s, and’s and but’s and seen as a transformative player. So, the tension was high among the Pelican staff, then dissipated as deputy commissioner Mark Tatum pulled the card...

More reading: The Bird Writes