Kyrie Irving’s return couldn’t come sooner for slumping Nets

cJan 3, 2022; Brooklyn, New York, USA; Memphis Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr. (13) and Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant (7) fall to the floor chasing a loose ball in the third quarter at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

When the Nets decided to welcome Kyrie Irving back into the fold they were in the midst of a COVID outbreak, but they had managed to hold their own. Now that the time is almost here, the Nets could use Irving more than they did back then.

Head coach Steve Nash’s message after their latest loss on Monday — a 118-104 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies — was not to overreact, but he admitted it was “embarrassing tonight and we got our butts kicked.”

It was the third consecutive loss for Brooklyn, which managed to defeat both Los Angeles basketball teams with only James Harden on the court.

The Nets could use a spark in their game and Irving could be just that when he is expected to take the court in his first game this season in Indiana. Nash didn’t confirm the reports that Irving would play, but the Barclays Center scoreboard conspicuously featured a promo for the YES Network broadcast at the end of Monday’s game that featured Irving in it.

“That’s always good to have new energy, but more than anything he’s an efficient player that can put pressure on the defense and a good defender as well,” Kevin Durant said. “We’re just looking forward to what he brings as a player. As far as the energy, you have to bring your own energy as an individual and bring that to the collective. We’ll see what happens.”

Irving’s return will help relieve some of the pressure that Durant and Harden have had to endure on the offensive side of the ball. The two have had to carry the Nets’ attack at times with limited scorers on the court.

Monday’s loss was the perfect example of that when Nash went with a more defensive-minded lineup that allowed the Grizzlies to spotlight Brooklyn’s two stars. Patty Mills, whose shooting beyond the arc has led to a career year, went cold as well in the latest loss.

The Nets’ problems have been limited to just the offensive side of their game, and they’re well aware Irving’s return won’t change everything overnight.

Brooklyn turned the ball over nine times in the first half leading to 14 points for the Grizzlies and during their current three-game skid, their defensive rating has taken a hit. The Nets sit at 24th in the league in that stat through their previous three contests.

[READ: Nash, Nets face lineup decisions with Kyrie Irving’s return coming soon]

“Obviously we love to have Kyrie back,” Harden said. “He’s a special talent, but there’s things that we need to correct internally and individually that can help us. And then adding Kyrie back is going to be more special, but we have to control. We have to do the things that are necessary to win games possession by possession individually.”

Irving’s return has created a whirlwind of controversy amongst Nets fans, basketball fans, and even among those outside the sport. For all that’s come with the decision, the Nets will surely be happy to see Irving suit up for them on Wednesday as they’ve hit one of the most challenging times of their season.

And regardless of the outside noise, Durant, Harden, and the rest of the roster are ready to be there for their teammate.

“He loves to play. He loves being out there with his teammates, so can’t wait to see him out there,” Durant said. “This our livelihoods. This is something we dream about every day. To go through this situation and then to get an opportunity to play right now, I know there’s a lot of emotions going through his head and as teammates, we have to be there to support him from the beginning of it.

“He’ll start to get his rhythm and start to figure out how he wants to play and we’ll go from there.”

Perhaps that’s just what the doctor ordered for the slumping Nets right now.

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