The Brooklyn Nets are not the only sports team to have some major challenges during the ongoing pandemic, now impacting its third NBA season. While fans of all sports get inundated with hourly updates about their favorite athletes, many of them double-vaccinated, entering health and safety protocols following positive COVID tests, these are truly unprecedented times for the NBA.
NEWS: 60 NBA players have entered H&S protocols this season, including 43 in the past two weeks and 13 Tuesday, a new single-day high. Amid the uptick, the NBA and NBPA are in talks to increase COVID-19 testing. Story: https://t.co/Cpmc2Dwoif
— Baxter Holmes (@Baxter) December 16, 2021
Before the 20-8 first place Nets took on the 15-14 7th seeded Philadelphia 76ers, coach Steve Nash had a few moments to reflect on just how much Kevin Durant has stepped up this season.
Of course, Kyrie Irving is not in the fold, still unavailable to play because of vaccination status. But then there is also Joe Harris who has an ankle injury. That was before the team announced seven active players returned positive COVID tests.
Playing with just eight players last game, a thrilling 131-129 win over the Toronto Raptors, Kevin Durant had 34 points and a triple-double, leading a shorthanded Nets skeleton crew.
“Kevin, he’s just incredible,” said coach Nash. “…The nights he had to close games down the stretch, to defend at the rate he’s defended at, you put it all together and it’s been just an incredible start to the season.”
Still, the NBA leader in points per game (29.6 ppg) is also third overall in minutes with 36.9. Before the game against the Sixers, Nash admitted Brooklyn might be pushing the 33-year-old too hard.
“It’s a really important topic,” admitted Nash, regarding the minutes and scoring Burden KD has undertaken. “I don’t know we can continue to lean on him the way we have. It doesn’t feel right.”
James Harden, Bruce Bowen, LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre Bembry, Jevon Carter, James Johnson, and Paul Millsap are all in COVID protocol.
The Nets barely reached the threshold of eight active players to ensure the last game could go on.
Brooklyn has listed Durant as available for tonight.
They have 8 players available vs. Toronto:
K. Edwards https://t.co/fN4EK3rkdo
— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) December 14, 2021
They’ll have the same eight available plus Langston Galloway (hardship exception) for the next one. But how does the team balance this wild juggling act?
“I think it’s about how many players do we have,” explained Nash. “How many able bodies are we able to roll out there. Those are discussions that will be ongoing. A lot of it is a front office question, but we will definitely discuss it and try to figure this period out as we go through this stretch.”
It’s pretty clear the team is learning on the fly and prepared to audible at each and every step. Now they’ll try to figure out how to stop Joel Embiid and the Sixers.
“We know Jo is a perennial MVP candidate these days,” said Nash. “He’s a matchup nightmare. He’s able to shoot from the perimeter but also he’s a great post player. They have shooters around him, they have versatility, they have some continuity so they’re a difficult team and we’re gonna have to really be switched on tonight to be able to take away some of the easy ones that they’re able to get.”
The Nets are (reasonably) wondering if it might not be better to even play this game and how much to deploy their top star. So they’re trying to pull it together and learn on the fly. Durant is willing to carry them, but they seem to be wrestling with just how much of a burden they feel comfy asking him to take on.