Kevin Durant didn’t mince words when asked about the Nets’ fortunes — or, rather, misfortunes — after practice yesterday. “To be honest, I feel like our season was derailed by my injury,” he said in relation to the need for the black and white to go through the play-in tournament as opposed to living up to preseason expectations as title favorites. “So I’m not looking at it like we’re just not a good basketball team. It’s like there wasn’t a lot of continuity with me and Kyrie [Irving] out of the lineup. That’s just what it is. When we’re all on the floor together, I like what we got.”
Durant’s right, of course. There’s a reason he’s a National Basketball Association Most Valuable Player awardee, and it’s why the Nets went a heady 27 and 15 before he injured his left medial collateral ligament in a mid-January match against the Pelicans. That said, his absence over the next 22 outings wasn’t the only cause of their five and 17 swoon. There was Irving’s inability to suit up in games at the Barclays Center because of city protocols. There was likewise the problem of James Harden being James Harden, pouting and then heading out the door.
If there’s any consolation, Durant’s fit anew, and Irving’s unvaccinated status has become immaterial in the face of looser safety guidelines. And for as long as they’re both in uniform, the Nets cannot but be deemed a threat. How and when they will be at their best remains to be seen, however. Projected Big Three stalwart Ben Simmons remains sidelined and a big question mark for the rest of their 2021-22 campaign, while starter Seth Curry has been compelled to play with an ailing left ankle. Chemistry and conditioning issues have also cropped up, what with erstwhile rotation regulars going in and out of the roster.
The Nets still have four regular season matches to negotiate beginning with today’s homestand against the Rockets. Should they run the table, they may yet overtake the Hawks for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference. They would need no small measure of luck, though, and with Irving still trying to get his sea legs after having been a part-time player for four-fifths of the season, they may find the going tough. Then again, they have Durant, and as head coach Steve Nash noted, “we have the belief and we’ll give it a shot.” And then the real work begins.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.