Kevin Durant makes return as Nets host Miami Heat in Brooklyn: Gameday

Nets Miami Heat
Kevin Durant drives to the basket against Miami Heat forward P.J. Tucker during the second quarter at Barclays Center.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Miami Heat (41-22) vs. Brooklyn Nets (32-31)
Thursday, March 3 @ Barclays Center

How to Watch/Listen:

7:30 ET on YES Network and WFAN 101.9 FM / 660 AM.

Matchup:

The return of Kevin Durant has finally arrived and it couldn’t come at a more crucial time for the Nets with under 20 games to play in the regular season. Durant has been sidelined with an MCL sprain since Jan. 15 and the Nets’ began a downward descent in the standings shortly thereafter.

Brooklyn is hoping for a major boost from the return of their cornerstone player, who had been having an MVP caliber season prior to the injury. Durant had been averaging 29.3 points per game had 11 double-doubles this season.

“We all know who we have coming back and we all know what we have to do to help,” James Johnson said on Tuesday. “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.”

Durant’s return is the highlight of the night for Brooklyn, but they could see Andre Drummond back on the court as well. He sat out on Tuesday with Soreness in his knee after appearing to injure himself the night prior.

And it would mark the first time that Durant plays alongside Drummond and fellow new additions Seth Curry and Goran Dragic. Drummond and Curry have taken important roles with the Nets since arriving in Brooklyn after the trade deadline and Dragic has been on the floor for important minutes in three games with Brooklyn.

The Nets will face one of the best teams in the Association with Miami in town on Thursday, and a squad that they have fallen twice to already this season. Brooklyn lost the series opener back in  October 106-93 and then was defeated by the Heat again in February, 115-111.

Durant, Drummond and Curry were not on the floor for that February matchup. There was a chance that Drummond and Curry were going to make their Nets debuts, but James Harden did not arrive in Philadelphia in time to complete his physical to allow the two to play in that Feb. 12 game.

The Nets have dropped their last two games as well entering Thursday’s now much anticipated meeting with the Heat. They lost both games of a home-and-home with the Toronto Raptors, getting blown out at home and then losing a heartbreaker north of the border.

The Heat have won four of their last five games, but fell most recently to the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night. The Eastern Conference-leading Heat have a 1.5 game lead over the Chicago Bulls for the top spot.

Miami is also third in opponent’s turnover rate and leads the league in three-point shooting at 37.6% from beyond the arc.

Why it Matters:

Brooklyn is 3.0 games back of the Toronto Raptors for the seventh seed in the East and 5.5 games back of the Boston Celtics for the sixth spot, which would take them out of the play-in round. The Nets have 18 games remaining after Thursday and have a tough stretch that will take them to Boston, Charlotte and Philadelphia.

Nets Notables

Durant’s points per game (29.3) are his third-highest in a season in his career, trailing 2013-14 (32.0 ppg with OKC) and 2009-10 (30.1 ppg with OKC). … Patty Mills is fourth in made three-pointers this season with 189. He trails only Stephen Curry (261), Fred VanVleet (208) and Buddy Hield (206). … The Nets are shooting a league-best .477 FG % from midrange this season, ranking second in midrange FGM/game (7.4) and third in midrange FGA/game (15.6).

Injury Report

Nets: Andre Drummond (left knee soreness) is probable. Joe Harris (left ankle surgery), Kyrie Irving (ineligible to play) and Ben Simmons (return to competition reconditioning) are out.

Heat: Not Submitted Yet

Heat vs. Nets Odds, Lines, More

Miami is listed as -2.5 for tonight’s game by Fanduel, while the Nets are a +2.5. Kevin Durant is listed as +300 to score the game’s first basket.

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