Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant, left, drives toward the basket...

Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant, left, drives toward the basket as Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) tries to defend on Sunday, March 6, 2022, in Boston.  Credit: AP/Steven Senne

There weren’t too many smiles from the Nets contingent at TD Garden in Boston after Sunday’s 126-120 loss to the Celtics.

The Nets had just dropped their fourth in a row and 17th in 20. They enter Tuesday’s game in Charlotte tied with the Hornets at 32-33. The winner of that game will jump ahead in the tepid battle for the final three spots in the Eastern Conference play-in tournament standings.

The Hornets are seeded eighth, the Nets ninth and the 31-33 Hawks 10th based on tiebreakers. Teams 7-10 will participate in the play-in tournament. Team 11 will not, and the 11th-place Wizards are only two games behind the Hornets and Nets.

There was one subject that elicited smiles — and tributes — in the tiny visiting news conference room after Sunday’s Nets defeat: Kevin Durant.

Specifically, how Durant, 33, became the 23rd NBA player (and seventh-fastest) to reach 25,000 points as part of his 37-point afternoon.

"Kevin’s incredible," coach Steve Nash said. "I could sit here for an hour talking about Kevin Durant. The ability, the sacrifices, the resilience, the passion for the game. That’s what you see out there: obviously someone that has gifts, but someone who has worked to master and refine those gifts endlessly. He’s come back from some big injuries and continued to play at an equally high level every single time. He’s well into his 30s here. That’s an impressive, impressive résumé, and it’s because of all the work on top of the gifts he has."

Durant’s masterpiece performance came in his second game back after a knee injury. It was the first game since Jan. 12 in which he was paired with Kyrie Irving.

When asked about Durant’s feat, Irving put down the microphone he was holding and clapped his hands for about 10 seconds.

"I told him in the locker room, ‘25,000 points, you’re a savant,’ " Irving said. "You are an artist. You have clipped history and will forever be remembered as a legend in our game. He’s been doing it since he was 19, and there’s a level of admiration I have for my best friend right there, and he just does it in ways that make it look easy.

"Even when he takes six weeks off, it looks like he hasn’t missed any time. And that level of work ethic that he puts in, it shows why he’s as great as he is. And for me, it motivates me to continue to get my game up, and hopefully when I’m done with my career, I could be sitting next to him and having 25,000 as well, and look back and we just crack jokes on a few championships that we won together. So that’s the goal at hand."

It’s a goal that seems impossible right now as the Nets struggle to make the play-in tournament. The unvaccinated Irving will be allowed to play in three of their next four games and then only three of the final 13 unless there is an unexpected change in New York City’s COVID-19 rules.

Notes & quotes: LaMarcus Aldridge will miss Tuesday’s game with a right hip impingement. Cam Thomas is questionable with a back contusion.

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