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Nets romp over Pelicans in Kevin Durant's return from 23-game absence

Nets forward Kevin Durant and teammates react against

Nets forward Kevin Durant and teammates react against the New Orleans Pelicans during the first half of an NBA basketball game at Barclays Center on Wednesday, April 7, 2021. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Apparently if you miss 23 straight games like Kevin Durant, it’s no big deal to miss another quarter.

Despite not playing for the first 16 minutes of the Nets’ 139-111 win over New Orleans, Durant did not miss a single shot of his much-anticipated return and finished with 17 points in 19 minutes of play.

With his mother in the Barclays Center stands cheering behind a sparkly face mask, Durant was 5-for-5 overall, 2-for-2 from three-point range and 5-for-5 from the free-throw line. He also grabbed seven rebounds, added five assists and turned the ball over six times. Not bad for someone who had been out for nearly two months with a hamstring injury.

"I expected to come out here and play the way I played," Durant said after the game.

 

Durant had been slated to start, but was replaced by Bruce Brown just before tipoff.

"Not much to it really," coach Steve Nash said after the game, explaining that he didn’t want to give Durant too many minutes and wanted him available at the end of the game, if needed.

The Nets didn’t’ need Durant or any of their big guns in the final quarter as Nets led by as many as many as 38 points.

The win moved the Nets (36-16) into first place in the Eastern Conference, putting them a half-game ahead of the idle Philadelphia 76ers.

Kyrie Irving, who did not play the fourth quarter, led all Nets scorers with 24 points and LaMarcus Aldridge added 22. New Orleans (22-29) was led by Eric Bledsoe’s 26 points.

The game marked the first time since Durant signed with the team 22 months ago that he played a game in front of a live crowd at Barclays Center. Durant missed all of last season while rehabbing an Achilles injury, and his games earlier this year were played before the league allowed fans to be in attendance.

While Durant was a big addition to the Nets lineup, they also had a huge subtraction as James Harden was out of the lineup with a hamstring injury of his own. Harden, who left Monday night’s game in the first quarter, will be re-evaluated in 10 days. The Nets play five games in that span, and there is no guarantee that he will be ready to return at that point.

Nobody thought Durant would be out for nearly two months when he was injured against Golden State on Feb. 13.

Prior to that injury, Durant was putting up MVP-like numbers, averaging 29 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.4 blocks in 19 games.

Durant’s teammates were blown away by how he seemed to pick up right where he left off as far as knocking down shots.

"After missing two months and coming back and looking that comfortable? It’s crazy," Blake Griffin said. "As soon as he checks into the game, defense shifts their attention. He did great."

While Durant was out, the Nets went 19-4, the best record in the league during that period.

A big reason that the Nets were able to win so many games without Durant is the high level of play they got from the other two-thirds of their Big 3. Harden has averaged 25.4 points, 11 assists and 8.7 rebounds since he was traded from Houston to Brooklyn. Irving has made a surprisingly smooth adjustment to playing off the ball and entered Wednesday night’s game averaging 28 points and doing just about everything they need to help the Nets win big games.

New York Sports