Kyrie Irving is set to make his season debut tonight against the Pacers in Indiana ... as a starter. The Nets tweeted out the lineup just after 7 p.m.
Prior to Wednesday night’s game, Steve Nash said the magic number is 30 minutes of play for Irving in his first game back with the team, but there are factors that will play into his load.
“I think he’s able to play a good chunk of minutes but we’re not going to push him into the high 30s,” said Nash. “I think the sweet spot is probably somewhere around 30 but who knows. We’ll see how he feels, how he looks, how the game goes and so many factors. He’s capable and had the requisite high-intensity workouts, so he’s ready to go.”
The main goal tonight, Nash said, is getting their superstar guard acclimated with his teammates again and adjusting to being back in an NBA game.
“I don’t know if there’s any huge decisions to be made here,” said Nash on working Irving back into game-play. “We want to get him out there, get his feet underneath him, get him feeling acclimated to playing NBA basketball: real games, referees, crowds. It’s been a while so we really just want to see him get some runway and reacclimate.”
When asked about what he expects of Irving production-wise, the Nets head coach said he doesn’t want to put any pressure on the guard to make an immediate impact and help the team snap their season-long three-game losing streak. It’s all about getting Irving’s feet underneath him.
“That would be great but it can go the other way too. He can feel very uncomfortable with this being his first game, so I want to give him some space to be able to play well, be mediocre or play poorly,” Nash said. “It’s not fair to expect him to come back and not carry all of our ills.
“If he does feel good and has a good outing, it would be a lift for sure but I don’t want to put all that on him. The three-game losing streak is not his fault and not any of his doing so I don’t want him to have to feel tonight he’s got to carry all of those things.”
Nash also said Irving’s return will minimize minutes in the backcourt for other guards, most specifically Patty Mills.
“Maybe I’m taking it for granted but the game isn’t overly complicated for him. I have a feeling he’ll find his space, his timing and his cracks in our offense whether he has the ball or the ball finds him,” said Nash on working Irving back into the fold. “I think it’s more about him just getting back to playing the game: contact, the cadence of the NBA game, the feeling of being out there with his teammates more so than the technical ability to fit in. I have confidence that’ll come quickly. His adaptation to all those things you can’t replicate.”
There’s no question returning to the NBA hardwood in a Nets uniform is special for Irving. Kevin Durant explained that he knew there were lots of emotions going through the guard’s head leading up to his return. Nash said he hasn’t spoken to Irving about how much this return means to him but the Nets head coach knows there’s been plenty of visible excitement from him leading up to Wednesday night.
“I haven’t necessarily asked him about tonight but just in general, his return has been something he’s been excited about and happy to be back playing basketball, doing what he does and being a part of this group,” Nash said. “You can see the smile on his face, the energy and what it means to him to be back. It’s exciting for all of us to have him back in the fold.”