Durant to face Golden State in his Brooklyn debut
Kevin Durant departed the Golden State Warriors as a free agent after the 2018-19 season to join forces with Kyrie Irving on the Brooklyn Nets, but due to injuries, the partnership never unfolded in a unique season.
On Tuesday the Nets will see the tandem in a meaningful game for the first time as Durant makes his Nets’ debut against the Warriors, who visit Brooklyn with Stephen Curry fully healthy.
Durant is playing his first regular-season game since rupturing his Achilles in Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals against the Toronto Raptors. He spent all of last season recovering, was among the Nets to contract coronavirus when the pandemic shut down the season for four months in March, and played well in two preseason games.
“I feel like each game is important to me,” Durant said after practice Monday. “It’s no more of importance because I’m playing against my old teammates. I just feel like the game of basketball is going to have me on that level anyway and it’s going to be good to see some of my old teammates, good to play against them, good to see some of the people I worked with in Golden State.”
Irving was spectacular in limited action in the 2019-20 season for the Nets, who saw him produce two 50-point games and average a career-high 27.4 points on 47.8 percent shooting. Irving’s strong showings only occurred in 20 games due to shoulder injuries and he is playing a meaningful game for the first time since Feb. 1, when he injured his shoulder in a collision with Washington’s Bradley Beal.
Without their stars, the Nets finished the regular season at 35-37 and were swept in the playoffs by Toronto. The Nets were without Spencer Dinwiddie and DeAndre Jordan in the bubble but got a spectacular performance from Caris LeVert, who averaged 25 points in the resumption and also scored 51 points shortly before the league went on pause.
Besides incorporating Durant and Irving, the Nets are unveiling new coach Steve Nash, who worked with Durant in Golden State. Nash is Brooklyn’s third coach in the past nine months, taking over for Jacque Vaughn, who replaced Kenny Atkinson on March 7 — four days before the season was paused.
“It’s like the first day of school, everyone’s excited and ready to go,” Nash said. “There’s obviously some extra interest because of all of these firsts.”
Golden State struggled in the 2019-20 season and finished with a league-worst 15-50 record. Curry was limited to five games due to a broken left hand, and Klay Thompson missed the season with a torn left ACL suffered in the NBA Finals in June 2019. In November, he tore his right Achilles tendon and will sit out this season, as well.
In the five games Curry played, he averaged 20.8 points and he scored 29 points apiece in his final two exhibition games this season.
“He’s one of the all-time greats and we have to pay a lot of attention to him especially this season I think with Klay being out,” Nash said. “He’s going to shoot from everywhere, early and often and that’s the way it should be because he is the greatest shooter of all-time.”
Besides getting Curry back, the Warriors are also incorporating Andrew Wiggins, Kelly Oubre Jr. and rookie James Wiseman into the mix.
Wiggins averaged 19.4 points on 45.7 percent shooting in 12 games after being acquired from Minnesota, while Oubre averaged a career-high 18.7 points in 56 games for Phoenix last season. Wiseman was the second overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft after averaging 19.7 points over three games at Memphis; he’s expected to be Golden State’s starting center.
“For what we have right now I love where we’re at,” Curry said during training camp. “I love the fact that we have enough pieces, enough talent, enough experience to surprise a lot of people this year and try to compete at the top of the West.”
While the Warriors are anticipating how three significant new pieces will fare along with a healthy Curry, they will be without Draymond Green, who is expected to miss the game with a strained muscle in his right foot.