The Brooklyn Nets announced on Sunday, Jan. 16, that the league’s leading scorer and MVP front-runner Kevin Durant suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament of the left knee against the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday night. Following a period of rehab, Durant is expected to return to full strength.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports that there is “optimism” within the Nets that this will be a four- to six-week timeline. The questions, of course, are what does this mean for the Nets’ playoff seeding and the league MVP race?
There’s optimism within Nets that will be a four-to-six week rehab and return for Kevin Durant, sources tell ESPN. https://t.co/xKYtu0l4VL
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) January 16, 2022
Let’s get the easy one out of the way first.
Six weeks from the announcement of the injury is Feb. 27. Durant will miss 19 games if he returns in exactly six weeks. That’s a significant stretch of time as relates to the MVP race, and this injury will likely cost him a shot at winning his second award. If he had a sizable lead he could potentially weather it. But it’s pretty bunched at the top between him, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic and Stephen Curry.
Now if the Nets struggle in his absence and he returns and lights the league on fire and carries the Nets back to the top of the East (should they fall), that’s a very compelling narrative in his favor.
As it currently stands the Nets are 27-15 and a half game behind the Chicago Bulls for the top spot in the East. Thirteen of those 19 games Durant will likely miss are on the road. Why does that matter?
Because part-time non-vaccinated guard Kyrie Irving will be eligible for 12 of the 13 games. There is a “road” game against the New York Knicks. NYC’s vaccine mandate would prohibit Irving from playing in that game.
Still, having Irving and James Harden should be enough to weather the storm of a heavy road schedule. Irving has only played in three games this season, so he is fresh enough to carry a good portion of the team’s offensive load.
After a slow start to the season, Harden has performed better. In his past five games he’s averaging 26 points, seven rebounds, and 13 assists per game on 45/41/93 shooting splits. His eFG% and TS% are 54 and 63 over the same period.
That play and Irving’s elite play are necessary if the Nets are to play good basketball while Durant is out.
This isn’t new for head coach Steve Nash, who has been dealing with an incomplete roster since day one in Brooklyn. Of the 101 regular-season games the Nets have played since acquiring Harden, Brooklyn has had all three stars for just 10 of those games.
Despite that the Nets managed to finish second in the East last season and were up 2-0 on the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks in the conference semis before losing Harden and Irving to injuries.
The Nets should be able to hang around the top three in the East while Durant rehabs, though seeding is likely not the main priority for this team. Their title hopes rest on the health and availability of Durant, Harden, and Irving.
In lineups that feature Durant, Harden, and Irving the Nets put up a historic 119.6 points per 100 possessions. It’s hard to beat a team with those three guys four times out of seven. They are that good.
For now they’ll be without Durant. But this is why you get three stars. When you have injuries, there are still two remaining.
About those two remaining stars…
This latest Durant injury could be the internal pressure needed to make sure Irving takes the vaccination and is eligible for all remaining games. The opportunity to win a title is no guarantee, and another sign of its fragility could be a powerful motivator.
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