The Brooklyn Nets are riding the high of glorious victory after they defeated the Portland Trail Blazers off a game-winning tip-in from unsung hero Royce O'Neale to bail out Kevin Durant from what was a brutal crunch-time stretch that included a missed free-throw and allowing an and-one conversion.
More than the win, another cause of euphoria for the Nets is Ben Simmons' most recent performance, as he snapped out of his funk in a big way, dropping 15 points, 13 rebounds, and seven assists on perfect shooting from the field (6/6), all the while he was guarding Damian Lillard. And, perhaps, it's only bound to get better for the Nets after their disastrous first few weeks of the season.
Earlier reports stated that polarizing guard Kyrie Irving, who was indefinitely suspended by the Nets two weeks ago after the controversy surrounding his apparent endorsement of an anti-Semitic film on Twitter, is set to make his return to action on Sunday night against the Memphis Grizzlies. And Kevin Durant said that the Nets, indeed, are anticipating his return.
“We're all looking forward to it. We're playing a different brand of basketball than we were when he left. I know Coach is looking forward to adding just another weapon,” Durant told reporters after the Blazers game, per HoopsHype.
Kevin Durant on Kyrie Irving returning: "We're all looking forward to it. We're playing a different brand of basketball than we were when he left. I know Coach is looking forward to adding just another weapon." pic.twitter.com/lAVPiBwl8P
— HoopsHype (@hoopshype) November 18, 2022
Durant is right in that the Nets have adapted to the absence of their All-Star point guard. And no one can say that it hasn't worked even if there's a lot of room for improvement left as the team aims to make its way back to contention. The Nets have gone 5-3 without Irving and with Ben Simmons mostly relegated to a backup center role, thanks in large part to Kevin Durant's consistent scoring efforts, and the stats back up the Nets' improved level of play.
In those games without Irving, the Nets have mustered 112.8 points per 100 possessions while only allowing 107.3 – an elite mark. In fact, if that defensive rating holds, it would rank third in the entire association, only behind the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Clippers.
Indeed, there will be an adjustment period for the Nets, especially defensively, as they integrate Kyrie Irving, but with Kevin Durant still at the helm of the team's offense, and Ben Simmons looking more like his former All-Star self, things might be looking up for the embattled franchise.