Nets guard Kyrie Irving and forward Kevin Durant wait to...

Nets guard Kyrie Irving and forward Kevin Durant wait to go in in the fourth quarter of a game against the Clippers on Tuesday at Barclays Center. Credit: Corey Sipkin

For the second time in barely a month, Nets superstar Kevin Durant was exposed to an associate who tested positive for COVID-19 and must quarantine for seven days under NBA health and safety protocols.

Durant was ruled out of Saturday night’s game in Philadelphia and also has been ruled out of games against the Pistons on Tuesday in Detroit and against the Pacers on Wednesday at Barclays Center.

The All-Star forward is expected to return to practice on Friday and accompany the team on a five-game West Coast trip that begins Saturday at Golden State, the team for which Durant played before signing as a free agent with the Nets in 2019.

"We found out recently that he can rejoin the team Friday," coach Steve Nash said before the 76ers game. "I’m assuming that’s the seven-day contact tracing protocol and we’ll see him Friday and I’ll be really excited to have him back."

Asked if Durant must test negative for seven straight days, Nash said, "Don’t quote me on that, but everyone has been negative, Kevin has been negative, everyone in our group is negative. Hopefully that continues and he just has to go through the contact tracing seven days and we’ll welcome him back on Friday.’’

Durant contracted the virus last March and has tested negative ever since. But he was exposed to a close associate who tested positive in early January and was forced to sit out seven days and miss three games.

Nash said Durant’s most recent contact with a person who tested positive was different from the first person to whom he was exposed.

A source told Newsday that Durant was exposed to a team employee who drove him on three car trips on Friday and later tested positive. The employee drove Durant to the practice facility for testing, home from testing and then to the arena for the game. Durant and the employee seemingly were not wearing face masks.

Although Durant continues to test negative, he is a close contact and will quarantine for seven days under NBA medical guidelines. All other Nets players and staff continued to test negative, including postgame tests Friday night.

Several Nets questioned why they were allowed to play the Raptors and travel to Philadelphia after Durant was not allowed to start on Friday night, then was inserted late in the first quarter before being pulled in the third quarter. Under the NBA protocols in place, the fact that Durant tested negative meant that no one else on the Nets or Raptors had come in contact with someone who tested positive.

The league pulls out only players who have been unmasked and within six feet for 15 minutes of someone who tested positive. The situation involving Durant and the team employee who drove him met that criteria.

"I trust in the players," Nash said. "I think they’re trying to do the right things all the time. We’re human, and maybe there is the odd mistake . . . To be fair, Kevin doesn’t have it. It’s just the precaution of the protocols."

After the Nets’ loss to the Raptors on Friday, James Harden expressed concern about what Durant’s absence might mean in the larger playoff picture.

"These games are going to add up, especially if we are talking about playoff seeding," Harden said. "We’re talking about positioning ourselves, home-court advantage and catching a rhythm and all that."

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