PORTLAND, Ore. — It appears likely that Thursday night’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers will be the last game of Kyrie Irving’s suspension.
Nets coach Jacque Vaughn all but confirmed in his pregame news conference that the Nets guard would be rejoining the team for their game against the Memphis Grizzlies at Barclays Center on Sunday.
“I think there’s been some positive synergy and progress towards him returning,” Vaughn said. “It could be as soon as the Memphis game.”
Vaughn said he has not talked to the team yet about Irving’s return but said he would once the news was firmed up.
“There’s probably a piece that Ky has to address himself, but at the same time, as a coach, there is a piece I have to address to the group.”
Earlier, in the day, there was an air of cautious optimism at the Nets’ morning shootaround as the team reacted to reports that Irving be back soon. Thursday was the Nets’ eighth straight without him.
The Nets were slated to close out their four-game West Coast trip Thursday night against a Portland team with the best record in the Western Conference. The Nets, who had a 6-9 record heading into the game, opened the trip with an impressive win over the Clippers before suffering two worrisome losses to the Lakers and Sacramento.
The Nets officially have not confirmed or denied ESPN’s report that Irving will return Sunday, but the general feeling among players is that they are close to getting their No. 2 scorer back.
“Just really excited,” Royce O’Neal said. “Just to get everybody back and keep building on what we have going on . . . I mean, just look at the type of player he is. An All-Star-caliber player.”
The Nets suspended Irving for a minimum of five games without pay on Nov. 4 after he linked to an antisemitic film on his Instagram and Twitter accounts on Oct. 27. Between the posting and the suspension, Irving held two news conferences during which he declined to apologize or say whether he was antisemitic. Hours after the Nets announced his suspension, Irving issued an apology on social media.
As part of the suspension, the Nets also laid out a multi-step plan that Irving needed to complete before returning to the team. Those steps reportedly include apologizing, making a $500,000 donation to anti-hate causes, attending sensitivity training, attending antisemitic training, meeting with local Jewish leaders and meeting with team owner Joe Tsai.
Tsai and NBA commissioner Adam Silver have met with Irving and issued statements via Twitter that they don’t believe he is antisemitic.
Meanwhile, Durant clearly has been frustrated by the lack of a supporting cast during Irving’s absence. With Ben Simmons coming off the bench after a long layoff and the rest of the surrounding cast in and out of the lineup with injuries, Durant finds himself carrying almost an impossible load.
That’s not to say that he hasn’t tried. Durant entered Thursday’s game having scored 26 or more points in every game. Should he score 25 or more against Portland, Durant would tie the mark Michael Jordan set in 1988-89 when he opened the season with 16 straight games of 25 or more.