Nets forward Kevin Durant looks on in the first half...

Nets forward Kevin Durant looks on in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Pelicans at Barclays Center on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

It wasn’t the worst news the Nets could have gotten about Kevin Durant’s left knee, but for a team that’s battled injuries and COVID-19-related absences, it was far from ideal.

Durant, who had to leave Saturday night’s game in the second quarter, has a sprained MCL, the team announced Sunday. The injury, which he suffered when teammate Bruce Brown was bumped by a driving Herbert Jones and fell backward into Durant, is less serious than an ACL sprain or tear but nonetheless will require some sort of downtime.

The Nets released no timeline, but they did say he’s expected to make a full recovery after a period of rehabilitation. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said there is hope within the team that Durant can return in four to six weeks, meaning he should be more than ready for the playoffs. The Nets, though, no doubt will be cautious with the league’s leading scorer and MVP candidate.

"Guys got to step up," James Harden said Saturday about the prospect of losing Durant for any length of time. "Obviously, we know how great of a player KD is and what he brings to the table each and every night consistently. Some guys have got to step up and fill that role and just continue to compete our butts off."

The Big 3 of Durant, Harden and Kyrie Irving have played only two games together this season, largely because Irving is unvaccinated. Because of New York City mandates, he is not permitted to play home games.

Earlier in the season, the Nets said they wouldn’t allow him to be a part-time player. A significant COVID-19 outbreak in late December, however, forced them to reevaluate their stance, and Irving, who also missed time in the health and safety protocol, now is being allowed to play on the road. He’s been in three games this season.

Sunday marked the one-year anniversary of Harden joining the Nets and, in that time, the Big 3 have played only 16 games together.

The result has been that, despite their success, the Nets have had to work on trying to build chemistry and cohesion with a group in constant flux. Harden and Durant were getting heavy minutes before Durant’s injury, and Steve Nash has had to rely on a revolving cast of characters.

In Saturday’s trouncing of the Pelicans, that included strong performances by three of their four rookies, two of whom started. They’re also playing without Joe Harris, who underwent ankle surgery in late November and was expected to miss four to six weeks. In his stead, Patty Mills has stepped up as the Nets’ shooter of the moment.

"They’ve been great," Nash said of his rookies. "That’s why they’ve gotten an opportunity. We liked them in the preseason, but we felt like there was a process to them getting, to earning and to developing into an opportunity, and it came. It came during COVID.

"They kind of proved to us what we thought, that they could handle it, and then every time they’ve gotten an opportunity, they’ve handled it. And some performances have been outstanding along the way, so really proud of those guys and the energy and the attentiveness they’re applying to their development, their growth and our game plans."

Cam Thomas, Kessler Edwards and Day’Ron Sharpe all scored in double digits Saturday, marking the first time three Nets rookies have done it in the same game since 2013, and Sharpe’s double-double made him the fourth-youngest rookie in franchise history to accomplish the feat. David Duke Jr., who played limited minutes Saturday, also has contributed greatly since being thrust into a bigger role.

"It’s just been a really fun, long journey, full of surprises," Edwards said Saturday. "Don’t really know what to expect. I’m finally starting to get into a rhythm, knowing what to do, what’s going to happen . . . [The rookies] feel like we’re stuck together since summer league — we’ve been on Long Island, been everywhere together. I’m just proud of all of us and it’s good to see all of us being successful, having an impact on this team."

Turns out, they might have to do it a little longer.

The Nets, who bring a 27-15 record into Monday’s game at Cleveland, are 3-3 this season in games Kevin Durant has missed because of injury or rest. The results:

11/19/21: Nets 115, Orlando 113

12/8/21: Houston 114, Nets 104

12/18/21: Orlando 100, Nets 93

12/25/21: Nets 122, L.A. Lakers 115

12/27/21: Nets 124, L.A. Clippers 108

1/13/22: Oklahoma City 130, Nets 109

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