Last January, the Brooklyn Nets looked like they were finally getting into their stride in a tumultuous 2021-22 season. Then, Kevin Durant went down with a knee injury that took him out sidelined him in March. In his absence, the Nets went 5-15, including a painful 11-game losing streak. Their record went from 27-15 to 32-31 in that span, and they lost his first game back to end up at 32-32.
Everyone remembers how that season ended. James Harden forced his way out of town, and the Nets found themselves in the play-ins before getting swept 4-0 by the eventual Eastern Conference Champions in the Boston Celtics.
Now, we’re looking at an eerily similar situation. The Nets are currently holding a 27-13 record in the Eastern Conference, good for second place, and now must survive without their MVP candidate. In 39 games so far this season, Durant is averaging 29.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.5 blocks with shooting splits of 55.9% / 37.6 % / 93.4%. He’s been an unstoppable force on offense and it’s going to be hard to replace his production.
Durant will be re-evaluated in two weeks, and there’s optimism that he might be able to come back by February. There’s no guarantee of this, of course, as MCL injuries, especially for a player that’s entering the later stages of his career, can be unpredictable. It also wouldn’t make sense for him to try to force himself to play in the All-Star game if the goal is to take a shot at winning the ring this year.
Now we’ll have to see how Kyrie Irving responds, because he’ll now be tasked to shoulder an even bigger load on offense. Irving’s averaging 26 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game, but their next closest scorer is Nic Claxton, who scores 11.9 points per game. The Nets’ success has been predicated on their offense and shotmaking, as they’re the second-worst rebounding team in the league.
Brooklyn will also have to put a lot more faith in their supporting cast who, to be fair, are starting to fill their roles well. We’ll have to see how the fill the scoring hole, and players like Yuta Watanabe and Seth Curry are going to have to get used to taking more shots in the next few weeks.