On Saturday night, the sports world held its collective breath when Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant suffered an apparent knee injury. Durant, who leads the NBA in points per game and has been very much in the running for his second regular-season MVP, went down midway through the second quarter of a win vs. the New Orleans Pelicans.
Teammate Bruce Brown fell backwards, and his weight moved Durant’s knee the wrong way a little bit. Durant limped to the locker room on his own, but he was quickly ruled out for the rest of the game with a left knee sprain:
ICYMI: Here’s the video of Kevin Durant’s knee injury. Hopefully it’s nothing serious.
(Via Bleacher Report) pic.twitter.com/aIDZcZEZX8
— Chris Milholen (@CMilholenSB) January 16, 2022
The Nets were hopeful that it would be a short-term injury, but understood that there were numerous scenarios on the table heading into an MRI scheduled for Sunday morning that would have monumental implications for the rest of the Nets’ season.
All things considered, they got some pretty great news. Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the two-time NBA Finals MVP suffered an MCL sprain and there’s optimism within the Nets organization that KD could return after the February All-Star break with a recovery window of 4-6 weeks. You’re free to breathe a sigh of relief that it’s not something that requires season-ending surgery:
The Nets come out of the All-Star break on February 24 and that’s a realistic benchmark for a Durant return, but clearly the organization will err on caution when it comes to a timeline with him. With 11 of next 14 on road, a lot of Kyrie Irving and James Harden together.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) January 16, 2022
Nash referred to some “bad luck” that has kept his star trio off the floor together since acquiring Harden last winter. And that was before Durant was injured prior to the Pelicans game.
“It’s been obviously an incredible coup for us to have James [Harden] in our program. There’s a lot of bad luck so to speak, last year, just the amount of games that we were able to play whole was … a dozen or less, even if you include those games that James played on one leg,” Nash said before the newest injury.
Nash didn’t mention being one of a couple cities that requires its players be vaccinated, but he could have pointed to some “bad luck” that allows unvaccinated players in other cities to play while his cannot.
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What the Kevin Durant injury means for Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Nets
Upcoming schedule with Kyrie Irving just a part-time player
The Nets now have 17 games on the slate before that Feb. 20th All-Star break, which KD may be (tentatively) targeting for return. Irving will be eligible to appear in 11 of those games. Normally a slew of road games would be a daunting prospect for a team missing their best player. But because of the bizarre nature of having a part-time, road-only superstar on the roster, it’s actually a good thing there are relatively few home games during Durant’s recovery window.
The Nets were a better road team than home team even before Irving’s season debut in Indiana recently. They’re now 12-11 at home and 15-4 on the road. Rival teams (even average ones) might salivate at the idea of coming to play at Barclays Center with just Harden available from their Big Three.
Less load management for Kyrie Irving, James Harden
Of course, the bad news here is that this likely places a much bigger minutes and scoring burden on Irving and even more so on James Harden.
One benefit to having Irving back was going to be the chance to reduce the workload on both KD and The Beard. But now that may not be in the cards.
Harden was carrying the load a year ago when he first pulled a hamstring. He never fully shook that issue, and it came back to limit him in the playoffs and required a full offseason to deal with. Right now, Harden is second in the entire league in minutes per game with 36.8. The team was probably looking forward to reducing that number substantially with Irving’s return. Now they may opt to keep pushing the 32 year-old, though that idea feels like a mistake.
And they also may now push Irving in games he’s eligible to play in, even though they don’t want to do that.
“We would love for it to be gradual and a strategic allocation of minutes not just like, ‘Alright, great, we got a new Ferrari and we’re gonna wrack up miles,’” the Nets coach explained about his plan for Irving’s return.
“The No. 1 thing for us right now with Kyrie even ahead of that cohesion is adaptation physically,” said Nash, prior to the Durant injury. “It’s the different rhythm for him not just having a kind of long offseason so to speak, until the last week and a half, but you can’t replicate NBA games. So it’s a process that we have to also be aware of.”
At least that’s what he said before the Durant news. Who knows if that has changed with the latest update. Clearly, the team was already very hesitant to just throw Kyrie into the fire after a long layoff. But their best-laid plans may continue to be toast here.
When they decided to reintegrate Irving back in December, they mentioned their continuity plan went out the window. Continuity is still a lost cause. We’ll see how much they decide to lean on their available stars. Unless, of course, they decide they’d rather be a No. 6 seed to increase the odds they’ll have their Big Three in a playoff series.