With Durant on top of his game, Nets could be on top of NBA


NEW YORK (AP) — Kevin Durant was a superstar on his own — Kyrie Irving was out and James Harden probably should have been — and he was almost enough for the Brooklyn Nets.

Durant couldn’t get the injury-weakened Nets past the Milwaukee Bucks in last season’s playoffs. But the way he played in the second-round series — 49 points and a triple-double in Game 5, 48 points in Game 7 — and then in Tokyo while leading the U.S. to the Olympic gold medal, he showed he isn’t just back from a serious injury.

He’s back on top of his game.

Now he wants to lead the Nets to the top of the NBA.

Even with questions about Irving’s availability looming over them in preseason, the Nets believe they are deeper than last season and will have to be healthier. If so, they will be a title favorite.

“What we have on paper is cool,” Durant said, “but we’ve still got to get out in between the lines and play.”

They couldn’t do that often enough last season, with both Durant and Harden sidelined by lengthy hamstring injuries. Brooklyn finally got its best group together for the postseason but it didn’t last, with first Harden and then Irving getting hurt in the second-round matchup against the Bucks.

“Now we get a full year of togetherness and you can’t beat that,” Harden said. “But we showed glimpses last year without being healthy and being full. This year it’s going to be a different story.”

That could depend on Irving, whose status was unclear for games in New York, where professional athletes are required to be vaccinated. The Nets have decided he won’t play until he is fully available, ending the notion of him playing in road games.

But there’s no question about Durant, who missed the 2019-20 season recovering from surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon. He averaged 26.9 points last season and was even more impressive in the postseason and Olympics.

Durant received the most votes in the NBA.com GM survey as the likely winner of this season’s MVP award and has been voted the best player in the league by multiple outlets.

“Just last year people were questioning if I could actually play again and now this year people are calling me the best,” Durant said. “Like, those opinions really don’t matter, just everybody’s fickle when it comes to that stuff. So I know what I bring to the table, my teammates and coaches know what I bring and the true fans that love the game — that genuinely love the game — understand what I’ve carved out in the league. So that’s cool enough for me.”

And it might be enough to finally bring the Nets their first NBA title. When Harden arrived from Houston last January, he predicted that the Nets’ Big 3 was going to produce “scary hours.”


“It’s even scarier,” he said.

Things to know about the Nets:


The Nets signed Patty Mills, Paul Millsap and James Johnson, veterans who should strengthen their second unit and easily fill in when one of the stars is unavailable.


LaMarcus Aldridge is back for a second stint after retiring after just five games with the team last season because of an irregular heartbeat. The 36-year-old power forward passed all the necessary tests to be fully cleared and chase the 49 points he needs to reach 20,000 for his career.


Durant agreed to a four-year contract extension over the summer and general manager Sean Marks had hoped to lock in both Harden and Irving long term before this season. Neither has happened yet, though both have said they want to be in Brooklyn.


Coach Steve Nash has tried to downplay expectations for first-round pick Cam Thomas, noting the difficulty of a rookie cracking a veteran rotation like Brooklyn’s. But Thomas looks capable of putting up points when he does get his chance, leading all freshmen in scoring last season at LSU with 23 points per game and then averaging 27 as the top scorer in the NBA Summer League.


Nash had to make a couple changes to his staff after his first season as coach. Ime Udoka left to become coach of the Boston Celtics and two-time Coach of the Year Mike D’Antoni stepped down and is a coaching consultant for New Orleans. David Vanterpool and Brian Keefe, two veteran NBA assistant coaches, were hired.

Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant, left, and guard James Harden stand near the bench during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

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