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Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving’s return to Nets looks imminent

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After playing shorthanded the last week, the Nets could get both of their superstars back Sunday against the Thunder.

Kevin Durant, who has missed the past three games due to NBA health and safety protocols, has cleared quarantine and is now probable to face the Thunder. Kyrie Irving — who sat out the past two games for personal reasons — has been upgraded to questionable.

“[If] everything stays as is, it appears he’ll be ready to go Sunday night,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “Can’t wait for Sunday to come.”

Neither can the Nets (5-5), who are inching closer to full strength.

“We’re going to battle,” forward Jeff Green said. “Outside of our juggernauts, we still have a good team that’s going to go out and play together and play well, and I think we showcased that the last [few] nights. We just have to keep it going.

“We have to keep this momentum going when they get back. We’ve got to continue to believe in ourselves and continue to help those guys out. That’s going to make the whole process a lot easier.”

Nets
Kevin Durant talks with Kyrie Irving.
Getty Images

Durant has repeatedly tested negative for COVID-19 and cleared an NBA-mandated quarantine after he had into contact with somebody who had coronavirus. Meanwhile, Irving missed the past two games for personal reasons, believed to be related to Wednesday’s riot at the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Trump.

During that span, the Nets drilled the Jazz by 36, cruised past the Eastern Conference-leading 76ers and dropped a heartbreaker the next night at Memphis.

The Nets played the game against the Jazz — the tail end of a back-to-back — without not only Durant and Irving, but also Spencer Dinwiddie, Tyler Johnson and Nic Claxton. All in all, it has buoyed their confidence for their stars’ return.

“Everybody is battling their own issues over the course of this season, and 2-out-of-3 in this league is pretty solid,” Joe Harris said. “To be an elite team where we want to go, we need to be a little better and have a little better win ratio. But for right now, in terms of small victories, it’s a good step in the right direction.

“We’ve been playing — at least these last couple games — more competitively I think, just bringing out good energy. … I think we’re going to carry this momentum, and obviously it’s going to help a lot when we get Ky back and Kevin back.”

“We went 2-1. I would say that’s what we accomplished in the three games, and we played pretty good basketball in stretches,” Caris LeVert said.

“It’ll be important for all of us to keep this momentum going when those two get back, because obviously they’re a huge part of our team and we need them to play well in order to do what we want to do. So, I think for us it was good to kind of get our confidence, get our looks and things like that, because we’re going to need that going forward for sure.”

Now they’re back, buoying a group that still led the league in net rating (13.3) and defensive rating (101.3) over the past three games while shorthanded.

The Nets averaged 80.8 points with Durant and Irving sharing 30.9 minutes together on the floor, the highest total in the league. Their plus-12 on the court together was fourth-best of any duo with at least five games.

Likely adding Durant — and possibly even Irving — will change the lineup, but also rotations and roles as well. It will also mean readjusting not just who is playing — and when, and how much — but also how they play.

“Yeah, the roles are definitely different when those guys are playing,” LeVert admitted. “But there’s other things to take from it. Like I said, for us to be a great team, a team that we know we can be, everyone has to be playing at full strength, everyone has to be confident, everyone has to be ready.

“So, if anything these three games proved that, 1-through-15, we’re a strong team and we’re going to need that going forward.”

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