2:35 PM ET
NEW YORK — Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant believes his team’s season got “derailed” when he injured the MCL in his left knee in mid January.
“To be honest, I feel like our season was derailed by my injury,” Durant said after Monday’s practice. “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 out of the lineup, that’s just what it is. When we’re all on the floor together I like what we got.”
Durant injured the MCL in his left knee during a Jan. 15 win over the New Orleans Pelicans and had to miss over a month and a half while rehabbing the injury. During that month and a half, the Nets, who were 27-15 at the time and still playing with Kyrie Irving on a part-time basis because of the New York City vaccination mandate, went on an 11-game losing streak and were 5-17 in Durant’s absence.
In the midst of that absence, the Nets also traded James Harden and Paul Millsap to the Philadelphia 76ers just before the trade deadline in February in exchange for Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two future first-round picks. Even after getting Durant back on March 3 and getting Irving back fulltime on March 27 after New York City mayor Eric Adams pulled back the city’s vaccination requirement for professional athletes and performers, the Nets have struggled to find a consistent rhythm.
Despite that, both Durant and Nets coach Steve Nash remain optimistic that the group still holds the belief that it can play its best basketball in the near future.
“I mean who knows if we do it or we don’t but we have the belief and we’ll give it a shot,” Nash said. “I don’t know that many teams other than maybe ours last year have been in this position before where we’ve played a handful or more of games together going into a playoff, but it’s not like there’s a blueprint. But we can’t diminish our belief, our attitude, we fight every day to get a little bit better …
“If we get negative or think this is too much or the world’s stacked against us this is not going to be productive. And I think all of us are kind of enjoying the challenge.”
Durant, who noted that this wasn’t the most up and down year he’s had in his career after starting his second NBA season 3-29 with the Oklahoma City Thunder, isn’t concerned about whichever team or teams the Nets may face in next week’s play-in tournament. The Nets currently sit in 10th place in the Eastern Conference with four regular-season games left to play — which would mean they would have to win two games in order to make the playoffs — if the current standings hold.
“Who cares?” Durant said, when asked if he’s looked at the standings. “Whoever we play, we play. I don’t care who we play. I don’t care that we’re in the play-in. Just tip the ball up, see what happens. That’s all you can control. It’s too stressful thinking about we’re trying to dodge a team, lining up, just play the game. We’ll see what happens.”
Durant is already on record as saying he doesn’t believe that Irving, who is not vaccinated against COVID-19, deserves more blame for this season, no matter how it may shake out in the coming weeks. But the reality is that the Nets would likely have a much different record if Irving had been a fulltime player from the start of the season. The Nets originally did not want Irving as just a part-time player, but reversed course after a COVID-outbreak in December. Irving made his season debut in a Jan. 5 win over the Indiana Pacers.
“The reason why we’re so confident is we’ve been in so many different scenarios on different teams,” Irving said after Saturday’s loss to the Atlanta Hawks, while discussing why he and Durant remain steadfast in the belief that the Nets can still hit their stride. “And we’ve been able to learn how to get the best out of people, and how people get the best out of us.
“And the way that we respond in situations like this is we just go home and get ready for the next game — but the mental focus is on a different level and in order for us to be a great team everybody has to have that same mental focus.”
Durant echoed a similar sentiment after Monday’s practice, in saying that he is confident his beleaguered team can still get things on track.
“You can talk about expectations and what you see this team on paper — I always said this, but every day matters,” Durant said. “You want to be a champion every second that you step on the floor, not just when we play a good team or the playoffs coming up. I think being a champion is in the habits and the work ethic, the care that you have for the game. It’s a lot of champions out here that never won a ring, but they approach their work that way.
“So that’s how I felt our team needed to approach this season, and guys have, but some stuff that’s out of individual’s control is the reason why we’re in certain positions. So that doesn’t stop you from having the championship mentality every day as an individual.”
Source: ESPN NBA