Here comes the cavalry: Kevin Durant to make Nets return Thursday against Miami

Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant warms up before action against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center.
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The bad news is that the Nets are still three games back of the Toronto Raptors for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. The good news is that they will finally be getting Kevin Durant back on Thursday when the Miami Heat come to Brooklyn.

Tuesday’s loss to the Raptors was another tough blow to their playoff push, but the organization is hoping that it will be the last game they have to play without Durant on the floor. The Nets’ cornerstone player has been sidelined since Jan. 15 when he suffered an MCL sprain against the Memphis Grizzlies.

The expectation had been that Durant would return this week either on Thursday against the Heat or on Sunday when the Nets face the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. When the Nets did not list Durant on their status report on Wednesday afternoon it became clear that Thursday would be the day.

A social media post by the Nets on Wednesday afternoon also indicated that Durant’s return would come against the Heat.

Acting head coach  Jacque Vaughn had been asked on Tuesday if there had been any update on Durant’s status. He told reporters that the timeline hadn’t changed from when Steve Nash addressed reporters the previous day.

“Yeah, the Steve update that he gave you guys, he did not tell me anything differently,” Vaughn said. “And so the last update he gave the group, we’re going to continue to abide by that.”

The Nets team that Durant returns to will be a lot different than the one he left back in January. Brooklyn has had some major overhaul since then, dealing James Harden and Paul Millsap to the Philadelphia 76ers, adding Seth Curry and Andre Drummond, as well as Goran Dragic.

Drummond was hurt during Monday’s loss to the Raptors and missed Tuesday’s game, but the team didn’t consider the injury to be anything major.

“Yeah nothing serious, just precautionary on our part and especially with a back-to-back so just being safe, precautionary for the long haul,” Vaughn said. “I’ll leave that to our performance staff. I think overall, we took the approach tonight just be precautionary. And so hopefully as we can get back home he responds well to treatment.”

The Nets have floundered since the injury to Durant, going 5-16 since he was injured. Brooklyn had been 27-16 and second in the Eastern Conference before Durant went down.

Brookly has been counting on its health to get it out of the play-in-round, which as of now would take them through Toronto. The Nets would like to avoid having to do that just to make the playoffs, but they’re aware in order to complement Durant there are things the role players will need to do.

“We all know who we have coming back and we all know what we have to do to help,” James Johnson said. “I feel like this (experience) shined a huge light on the rest of us that felt like no chance or getting different chances and different minutes, and things like that. We see how hard it is to do what KD and Kyrie (Irving) do every night and I feel like we’re just getting closer as that core group to helping out in the playoffs.”

The question remains though, will the Nets need to go through the play-in just to make the playoffs and who will be available to them?

The return of Ben Simmons, who they acquired in a blockbuster trade with Philadelphia, is up in the air as to when he will finally take the court. He has been dealing with back soreness that has hampered his reconditioning.

And New York City’s private-sector vaccine mandates continue to keep Irving from playing home games. Restrictions for crossing the border with Canada also prevent him from playing in Toronto.

All of that is on top of the Nets’ need to reacclimate the returning players to a team that has changed quite a bit over the last month.

“It’s going to take everything. It’s going to take maximizing every day for us,” LaMarcus Aldridge said. “Getting better. Trying to get Xs and Os down. Trying to build some team chemistry, comradery. All of those things. We just have to maximize every day together and try to learn. Just try to get better every day basically.”