Kevin Durant was a man on a mission.
Durant scored a season-high 45 points — including 19 in the third quarter — to lead the Nets to a 109-102 win over the Orlando Magic on Monday night at Barclays Center.
Durant, whose previous season high was 37 points in games against Dallas and Memphis, joked in his on-court interview that he knew when he woke up Monday morning that he was going to have a big game.
“Actually, I really don’t know,” Durant said with a laugh in his postgame news conference. “I’ve had games where I shot incredible in warm-ups and had the worst shooting night. Mainly, if my mind is in the right place coming into the game as far as following the game plan, I felt that’s when I’m going to have a solid game.”
The Nets (11-11) have a .500 record for the first time since the second game of the season, and getting there definitely was on Durant’s mind.
“We’ve been through a lot so far,” he said. “Getting to .500 was a goal for us in the last couple of weeks. We’ve been right on the cusp.”
Durant shot 19-for-24 overall and was 8-for-9 in the third quarter, including 2-for-2 from three-point range.
“He just keeps doing it,” coach Jacque Vaughn said. “What he did to lead us to a win is huge. I think it shows what he feels about the game. He approaches it like we have to win this game.”
Kyrie Irving added 20 points for the Nets. Nic Claxton had 17 and Joe Harris, who had been struggling, came off the bench to score 17.
The one piece of bad news was that Ben Simmons left the game with about nine minutes left in the second quarter, complaining of knee soreness. Vaughn said Simmons is day-to-day and will get treatment Tuesday.
Bol Bol and rookie Paolo Banchero each scored 24 points for Orlando (5-16).
On paper, the Nets should have had no trouble dominating the Magic. Orlando entered the game having lost four straight and six of its previous seven. What’s more, the worst of those losses had come just a day earlier. On Sunday, the Magic allowed the 76ers to shoot .649 from the floor — matching the highest percentage ever allowed by the franchise — as it dropped a 133-103 decision.
The Nets also were playing in the second game of a back-to-back after defeating Portland, 111-97, on Sunday night at Barclays Center.
Both teams seemed sluggish in the first half as they missed multiple open shots. Neither team led by more than 10 points and there were eight lead changes.
The win means the Nets are 2-0 in a key nine-game stretch in which some important decisions likely will be made.
Just a few weeks ago, it seemed like a done deal that the Nets were going to blow up the team before the trade deadline. Irving was suspended, Simmons was struggling, Steve Nash had been shown the door, the defense was nonexistent and the Nets’ outside shooters were unproductive.
Durant still was great, which had the rest of the league salivating as they anticipated that he would renew his trade demands if things continued to go downhill. But since Vaughn took over, the Nets have managed to regain their footing, going 9-6 and even winning some games with their defense.
The Nets were built to win championships. They have to decide whether this roster still can be a contender or whether it is time to rebuild. That’s why the next seven games are so important. Approximately a third of NBA players are ineligible to be traded before Dec. 15. That’s the first day players who signed new contracts during the offseason are eligible to be dealt.
That means the Nets’ front office has a couple of weeks to take a good look at their team and decide whether they want to make one final run with this group.