Kevin Durant was back on the floor, but his Nets could not get back in the win column.
Durant played a magnificent game but missed two jumpers in the final minute as the Miami Heat defeated the Nets, 113-107, on Thursday night at Barclays Center.
The Nets (32-32) lost for the 16th time in the last 19 games and fell to .500 for the first time since the first month of the season. They remain in eighth place in the Eastern Conference but are five games behind sixth-place Cleveland, which occupies the last non-play-in spot. They also are only 2 1⁄2 games ahead of 11th-place Washington.
Playing his first game in a month and a half, Durant finished with a very healthy 31 points in 35:16.
Durant, one of the best pure scorers in the history of the league, was incredibly smooth for a guy who hadn’t played since suffering an MCL sprain in his left knee on Jan. 15. He not only got to his favorite spots and knocked down shots, especially in the first half, but created plenty of looks for his teammates.
"I felt great," Durant said. "I’m only going to get more and more comfortable and take over more of the load out there."
Though the Nets controlled the first half of the game, they struggled when the Heat switched to a zone defense in the second half.
Bam Adebayo had 30 points, 11 rebounds and six assists to lead the Heat (42-22). Tyler Herro had 27 points and eight assists, Caleb Martin scored 22 points and Max Strus had 21.
Bruce Brown scored 21 points and Patty Mills had 14, all in the first half, for the Nets.
The Nets should have caught a big break in that this was the second game of a tough back-to-back for Miami, which played without three of its starters. Superstar Jimmy Butler, who had a terrible shooting night against the Bucks on Wednesday night, apparently is suffering from a sore left toe. P.J. Tucker sat out with a sore knee and point guard Kyle Lowry missed his second straight game for personal reasons.
Durant’s play was encouraging for Nets fans who are hoping he can save their season. In the 21 games he missed with the MCL sprain, the Nets went 5-16. Only two NBA teams — the Knicks and the Rockets — had a worse record during that time period. Neither of those teams is considered a championship contender.
"I don’t look at myself as that — as a savior," Durant said at the team’s shootaround Thursday morning. "But I know what I can do and how much I can help this team and what we’re missing as a group. But I’m not trying to go out there and win the game by myself tonight or make it all about me. I just try to go out there and help and be a good teammate and do what I do.
"I know what I bring to the table and try to do it to the best of my ability."
Durant’s absence made it painfully clear what he brings to the table, but that hasn’t been the only challenge his team has faced while plummeting from first to eighth place in the Eastern Conference in the past month and a half.
The Nets also have had to weather a fair amount of change and team drama with the trade of James Harden to the 76ers and the continuing unavailability of Kyrie Irving for home games because of his unvaccinated status.
The Nets also got some additional bad news Thursday when it was revealed that sharpshooter Joe Harris will have to undergo a second surgery on his ankle and will not return until next season.
Durant said Thursday morning that it hasn’t been fun watching from the bench as his team struggled.
"We know what the standings are,’’ he said. "We know everybody’s telling us every day how far we’re dropping and where we may end up, constantly telling us the situation we’re in. But we understand that and know that each day is important, so we’re focused on tonight and just keep plugging away."
Durant believes the team can get back on track.
"I mean, we are cutting it close," he said. "There’s under 20 games left in the season. But that’s the situation we are in, that’s the circumstances we are in. We have to go out there and figure it out."