The Brooklyn Nets are 5-15 without Kevin Durant after he suffered a sprained MCL knee injury in mid-January, but the All-Star is expected to return to the hardwood sometime this week. Meanwhile, Ben Simmons suffered a minor setback and his debut with the Nets has been postponed to an unknown date.
Simmons has a sore back and has yet to suit up for Nets since they acquired him from the Philadelphia 76ers in a trade for James Harden shortly before the trade deadline nearly three weeks ago.
To complicate matters, Brooklyn head coach Steve Nash tested positive for COVID-19 and he entered health and safety protocols.
Anxiously Awaiting KD, Simmons
The Nets are 1-2 since returning from the All-Star Break, but they won the only game that Kyrie Irving played. With Irving at the helm on the road, the Nets defeated the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks by three points over the weekend. Irving dazzled with 38 points, five rebounds, five assists, and two steals.
The Nets expect Durant to return to action on Thursday against the Miami Heat. The Heat are the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference and they opened up a two-game edge over the Chicago Bulls in the #2 seed.
“Every day getting closer,” said Nash over the weekend. “We’ll see. But it could be quick, it could be the whole week barring setbacks.”
If Durant delays his return this week, he could target Sunday’s game against the Boston Celtics in Beantown.
Durant missed the last 20 games and the Nets went 5-15 without him. It’s crazy to think that the Nets were 25-17 and eight games above .500 when Durant initially went down with a knee injury against the New Orleans Pelicans on Jan. 15.
Before his trade to the Nets, a disgruntled Simmons sat out the entire season with the 76ers. He needed to get back into game shape and began practicing with the Nets. However, he tweaked his back, so the Nets decided to not rush him.
“It’s not a long-term thing,” Nash said about Simmons. “That’s just part of his process in returning to play. As you ramp up, you’re a little bit susceptible to certain things, as you would be with muscle soreness or tightness. He’s having a little tightness with his back.”
As a result of a sore back, the Nets indicated that Simmons could miss next week’s matchup against his old team on March 10.
On Deck: Heat, Celtics, Hornets, 76ers
The Nets play four out of their next five games on the road, so that means the unvaccinated Irving will be in action. On Tuesday, the Nets head north of the border to play the Toronto Raptors (33-27). On Thursday, the Nets return to Brooklyn to host the top-seeded Miami Heat (41-21).
The Nets begin a quick three-game road trip on Sunday that includes games against the Boston Celtics (36-27), Charlotte Hornets (30-32), and Philadelphia 76ers (37-23). All three opponents currently are in the thick of the playoff hunt, especially the Hornets, who hold down the #9 seed and trail the Nets by two games.
The Nets are 32-30 but sit in the #8 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff standings. With 20 games remaining in the regular schedule, the Nets are nine games out of first place, yet just two games ahead of the Charlotte Hornets and the Atlanta Hawks on the Eastern Conference bubble.
The Nets slipped to third on the NBA futures board at +475 odds to win the 2022 NBA championship. They were the consensus favorite to win the title from the start of the season through late January. However, the Nets went on an 11-game skid after Durant went down with an injury, so the Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors jumped ahead of them on the betting board.