Nets look for boost vs Pacers with Kyrie Irving’s return
Kyrie Irving’s teammates are excited about his impending season debut as a part-time player and the Brooklyn Nets would be elated if it coincided with them correcting some recent performance issues.
Irving is expected to make his season debut Wednesday and the Nets hope to halt a season-worst three-game losing streak when they visit the Indiana Pacers.
Irving is eligible to appear in only road games due to being unvaccinated against COVID-19 and New York City’s vaccine mandate. He may appear in road games that are not against the New York Knicks, Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors because of local vaccine mandates.
Originally, the Nets rejected the concept of Irving appearing in road games but changed their position on Dec. 17. When Brooklyn relented, it was in the middle of a COVID-19 outbreak that caused three postponements and left the team in need of players.
The Nets then signed four players on 10-day contracts via hardship exemptions.
Less than a day after he was reinstated as a player, Irving then landed in the health and safety protocols, along with stars Kevin Durant and James Harden, who are averaging about 37 minutes per game.
“I know there’s a lot of emotions going through his head. As teammates, we have to be there to support him from the beginning of it,” Durant said.
Irving is appearing in his 75th regular season game since joining the Nets along with Durant in 2019. He averaged 26.9 points in 54 games last season when he became the fourth player in NBA history to average at least 25 points, shoot at least 50 percent from the floor, 40 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the free-throw line.
Irving then averaged 22.7 points in nine postseason games before suffering an ankle injury in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Irving cleared the protocols on Dec. 28, two days before the Nets began their longest skid with a 110-102 home loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. They followed that up with another collapse in the fourth quarter in a 120-116 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday and never led in a 118-104 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday.
“He’s a special talent, but there’s things that we need to correct internally and individually that can help us,” Harden said after the Nets gave up 23 offensive boards, 29 second-chance points and trailed by as many as 28. “Adding Kyrie back is gonna be more special.”
Indiana is looking to halt a season five-game skid after a 104-94 loss to the Knicks on Tuesday when it scored 39 points in the second half. The Pacers also are 2-8 in their past 10 games.
During the skid, the Pacers have not lost by more than 10 points and are playing with eight players in the protocols, including leading scorer Malcolm Brogdon, rookie Chris Duarte, Jeremy Lamb and former Net Caris LeVert, who averages 17.8 points.
Those absences forced the Pacers to add players such as Keifer Sykes and Duane Washington Jr. on 10-day contracts. Sykes and Washington Jr. were bright spots by scoring 22 and 17 respectively on Tuesday when the Pacers shot 42.1 percent and missed 29 of 38 3-point attempts.
“There’s so much to like in terms of the effort, how hard we played,” Indiana coach Rick Carlisle said. “The level of physicality, fight and stuff like that was really good. We made some mistakes. Defensively we never could really get a grasp.”