Schedule gives Kyrie Irving shot to help Nets fill Kevin Durant void

WASHINGTON — There’s no good time to lose Kevin Durant for a month, which is just what the Nets are facing. There are only bad times and worse times.

But at least now is merely a bad time.

The Nets are embarking on their longest concentration of road games this season. Normally that would be a bad time to be without their star, but there’s been nothing normal about this season or Kyrie Irving’s situation.

Irving is ineligible to play at home because he’s unvaccinated, and he made it painstakingly clear he has no intention of changing his mind and getting vaccinated. But with the Nets just one game into a stretch of 11 of 14 on the road, Irving will be largely available over the next month to help ease James Harden’s burden.

The Nets were 16-4 last season with that dynamic duo and no Durant. Can Brooklyn repeat that success, starting Wednesday in Washington?

“Yeah, it’s helpful for sure that we have a lot of road games, helpful the All-Star break is in this stretch too,” Steve Nash said, before adding he doesn’t want to heap too much on Irving’s shoulders. “I want Kyrie to have the space to regain his rhythm, and not overburden it with, ‘Now that Kevin’s out, you have to take over and lead league in scoring.’

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Kyrie Irving
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“I want him to find his legs without feeling an extra burden. … He hasn’t played for six months; and coming back into the NBA game with little cadence and difficult practice opportunities, we have to give him space to find his rhythm without feeling overburdened or too much pressure to do things too quickly.”

But time is of the essence, because the Nets can’t waste Irving’s presence on this four-game trip followed by a back-to-back at home before embarking on a five-game trek.

Irving admits he’s still finding his rhythm, and that he can’t replicate Durant, because no one can.

“We just have to be ready to make adjustments on the fly and do whatever is needed for guys to fill in that role. You can’t ever replace Kevin. It’s impossible. So we face that reality right this second and moving forward on this road trip,” Irving said. “We know that on a given night, me and James can go for 30 apiece.

“But we’re really looking forward to seeing a lot of guys chipping in on the offensive end. Then defensively, our communication has to be really crisp because we don’t have somebody that can clean up some of the mistakes on the back side like Kevin. … Now we just have to collectively teach one another. I’m still finding my bearings with the team, so I’m just taking it one game at a time.”

Once this stretch ends on Feb. 12 in Miami, they’ll play three straight sans Irving — two home games sandwiched around a trip to the Garden, where he’s also ineligible. Then they’ll head into the All-Star break with at least some reasonable hope of getting Durant back after that.

Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant (7) grabs his knee after a collision against the New Orleans Pelicans during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022 in New York.
Kevin Durant is expected to be sidelined 4-6 weeks with an MCL sprain.
Jason Szenes

But that three-game stretch will put even more burden on Harden, who hasn’t looked like his MVP self. He’s a minus-21 in his last 10 games, and admitted after a minus-18 performance against the Cavs that he has to raise his game.

“I know individually myself I’ve got to be a lot better, both ends of the ball. You know, just a lot of mishaps or whatever you want to call it, to where I’ve got to be better,” said Harden, who’ll play Wednesday despite taking a knock Monday, and is fully aware of the importance of cashing in on the road.

“We’ve got a huge opportunity — a huge opportunity, that’s what we look at it as to be on the road. After this road trip we’ve got two home games and then we’re back on the road, so huge opportunity for us [as a] group, to come together and run off some wins.”

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