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Masked man Kyrie Irving excited to practice with Nets

Nets guard Kyrie Irving speaks to the press

Nets guard Kyrie Irving speaks to the press during training camp on Tuesday. Photo Credit: Corey Sipkin

After missing his first three training-camp practices because of facial injuries suffered from receiving an inadvertent elbow in a pickup scrimmage a week earlier, Kyrie Irving went through his first official practice with the Nets on Tuesday since signing a four-year deal worth $141 million in free agency.

“It was good, I enjoyed it,” Irving said. “Obviously still hate the mask, but it’s part of it.”

There is no outward evidence of an injury to the left side of Irving’s face, but he must wear a protective mask just as he did after suffering facial injuries in 2012 with the Cavaliers and again in 2017 with the Celtics. Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said, “He played really well,” and he added Irving did not wear a no-contact jersey like a football quarterback.

As much as he disdains wearing a mask, Irving understands the need for prudence. “I’ve gotten hit in my face a few times,” Irving said. “When I took that shot in practice, it really rang an alarm in my head. I knew it was something different.”

Pointing to the cheek area under his left eye and the left side of the bridge of his nose, Irving added, “I have three fractures under here and one fracture by my nose. I know it doesn’t look it, but my face is still broken. So, for me, it’s just being safe, making sure I have my mask on. If I don’t wear it, it’s obviously putting me at a higher chance of getting hit and having further damage. So, I don’t want that to occur.”

Irving said he doesn’t expect to play the Nets’ preseason opener against Franca Basquetebol, a Brazilian team that visits Barclays Center Friday night, and he’s hoping he can put away the mask in time for the regular-season opener against the Timberwolves Oct. 23 at Barclays Center. At the same time, Irving is aware of the excitement among his fans on social media for the return of the “Masked Man.”

When he suffered a facial injury early in 2017, it was noted that in his previous 25 games wearing a mask, Irving averaged 24.2 points, 5.5 assists, and shot 46.4 percent overall and 38.1 percent from three-point range. Starting with a 25-point game in a win over the Nets on Nov. 14, 2017, Irving averaged 26.4 points, 4.5 assists and shot 53.6 percent overall and 45.4 percent from three-point range while leading the Celtics to a 9-2 record over the next 11 games wearing a mask.

“Obviously, there’s this thing going on in terms of what I do with my mask versus when I’m not wearing it, the averages versus both,” Irving said with a smile. “That’s just a telltale sign I’ve gotten hit in my face a little too much. Like I said, if it carries over into the season as a safety precaution, I’m willing to accept that.”
Because he practiced religiously with his new teammates shortly after choosing the Nets in free agency in July, Irving already has a comfort level with them. He especially was excited to rejoin former Cavaliers teammate Joe Harris.

“That’s my dude,” Irvin said. “I’ve loved Joe since our Cleveland days.” But he also mentioned the chance to play with Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan and Rodions Kurucs.

In short, it just felt good to join an official practice and let everyone feel his energy. “Oh, hell, yeah,” Irving said. “It’s a different energy. You get the wheels going a little bit. Obviously, they had three great days of practice, but I’ve been kind of chomping at the bit. It’s just an identity thing right now for us, developing that, getting the continuity, the newness out and then just playing basketball and having fun.”

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