Decimated Nets fall to Magic as 10 players sit for COVID

Orlando Magic center Robin Lopez controls the ball against Brooklyn’s Kessler Edwards, Patty Mills, David Duke Jr., and Cam Thomas during the fourth quarter at Barclays Center.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The decimated Brooklyn Nets lost a surprisingly close 100-93 game against the Orlando Magic on Saturday night, which came as the team was missing 10 players to COVID-related absences. 

The team from Barclays Center had a rough few days leading up to the contest, as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 raged across the city, and forced most of the team to quarantine via the NBA’s “health and safety protocols” — including Kevin Durant, James Harden, LaMarcus Aldridge, Bruce Brown, DeAndre Bembry, Jevon Carter, Paul Millsap, James Johnson, and Day’Ron Sharpe. 

Those absences forced the Nets to play a hodgepodge of lesser known players for their home game, including four players who the team signed to contracts within the past 10 days — Langston Galloway, James Ennis, Shaquille Harrison, and Wenyen Gabriel. 

Meanwhile, forward Blake Griffin and guard Patty Mills were the only active Nets players on Saturday that had not previously played in the NBA’s G-League (the league’s minor league affiliate).

Adding to the chaotic lead-up to the game, the team had agreed to activate All-Star guard Kyrie Irving for road games, as his unvaccinated status continues to prevent him from playing indoors within the Five Boroughs. That Friday afternoon announcement was quickly overshadowed, though, when Irving himself entered the NBA’s COVID-19 protocols on Saturday morning, along with Durant. 

Despite that series of unfortunate events, the shorthanded Nets managed to keep the game close, led by four players who recorded double digit point totals. 

Mills posted an impressive stat line of 23 points, six rebounds, and five assists, while Griffin added another 17 points, seven rebounds, and six assists.

“I was very proud of the effort,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash after the game. “We had a bunch of guys out there who are with us for the first time, and a bunch of guys who were playing extended minutes for the first time.” 

Another “bright spot” for the unvictorious Nets was 22-year-old rookie David Duke Jr., who scored 18 points and grabbed 14 rebounds — and made several crowd-pleasing plays down the stretch, including a three-pointer with 2:33 left in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 93.

“He was great,” Nash said of the young guard. “He was obviously a bright spot.”

Unfortunately, Duke Jr.’s shot would be the Nets last bucket of the game, as the team went cold in the final minutes, and allowed the Magic to pull away. 

Journeyman center Robin Lopez led the Magic’s on-court efforts, recording 20 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists. 

The loss brings the Nets to a 21-9 record, which remains the best win-loss ratio in the NBA’s Eastern Conference — edging out the second-pace Milwalkee Bucks by 2.5 games. Meanwhile, the Magic improved to 6-25 on the year, which is good for second-to-last in the conference. 

The Nets will play another home game on Sunday night against the Denver Nuggets, and they figure to be without several players again for that game. 

The NBA’s health and safety protocols stipulate that a player must either return two negative COVID-19 tests on consecutive days, or spend 10 days consecutively testing, before they can return to action. 

Durant, who is vaccinated, and previously tested positive for the virus in March 2020, entered the protocols on Saturday, and will therefore be ineligible to return by Sunday. Meanwhile, the team is continuing to test Durant’s also-absent teammates, and the franchise hopes that at least some of them can return to the court to keep the Nets’ first-place positioning in tact.