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Kevin Durant’s health is key to Nets’ championship hopes

Kevin Durant chose to come off the bench.

Durant said Nets head coach Steve Nash asked him whether he wanted to start in his first game back from injury or come off the bench like he’d done in the past.

“I felt like it would be a bigger challenge for me to focus in and lock in if I came off the bench, so I just wanted to see how that worked,” the All-Star forward said. “If I shot bad, I probably would have been pissed that I came off the bench, but I was able to knock down some shots. But it was a solid exercise for me to ease back into the swing of things.”

Kevin Durant is back on the court with Kyrie Irving and the Nets, whose championship aspirations may depend on Durant's ability to stay healthy.

Sunday’s game against the Phoenix Suns was Durant’s first since a thigh contusion sent him to the locker room early on April 18. That matchup against the Heat was only his fifth since missing 23 games with a strained hamstring sustained on Feb. 13 in Oakland.

And that matchup against the Warriors was only Game No. 19 as a Net, after he missed all of last season rehabbing from a ruptured Achilles.

It’s been a rocky season for Durant, whose injury absences were compounded by a pair of NBA health and safety protocol infractions earlier this season.

“One of my favorite things about him is how much he just loves to play basketball,” Blake Griffin said of Durant. “You know when he’s sitting out it’s just killing him. Just to see that joy of being able to play basketball again is fun for us and fun for me.”

Since signing his contract in Brooklyn two summers ago, Durant has been off the floor more than he’s been on it. It’s why the Barclays Center crowd of 1,773 gave him a standing ovation as he waited at the scorer’s table to check into the game.

And it’s why they cheered him even harder as he walked off the floor after guiding the Nets to a win over the West’s second-seeded Suns on Sunday. Durant didn’t miss a beat, in spite of roadblock after roadblock that have attempted to throw him off his path.

“I think Kevin’s shown that his scoring doesn’t seem to get affected by a long layoff whether it was coming off the Achilles or coming off the hamstring,” Nash said “Seems to come right back in his rhythm and timing are excellent. It’s very impressive, for sure.”

Nash called Durant’s number at the eight-minute mark in the second quarter. At the time, the Nets were down by five. They went on to lead by as many as 16 and won, 128-119.

Durant powered that turnaround. He outpaced himself, scoring 33 points in 28 minutes. He shot over defenders, barreled through them and spliced a number of them on his way to the rim.

“It’s like riding a bike. You get your footing right, you get your rhythm, and I think my teammates did a great job of looking for me all game,” Durant said. “I just wanted to resort back to that work that I put in. The shots that I take in practice and shootaround, try to get to those as much as possible to gain my rhythm, and I started to get a little bit more creative as the game progressed. It was a good start. Hopefully I build on this game and keep going.”

The question now remains whether or not Durant can stay steady on that bike. The Nets are on the verge of an all-time offense. They hung 128 points on the Suns, leaving Phoenix’s head coach Monty Williams dejected postgame.

The Nets played Durant’s minutes efficiently: They rested him the entire first quarter and gave him rope to play 20 of the 24 second-half minutes. If he can stay healthy, the biggest “if” he’s faced in this portion of his prime, the Nets will remain a favorite to win it all.

“We’ll see. I think we monitor it, and we’ll see if we start him next game or not. But that’s the type of thing that we want to just continue to have the flexibility to decide game-to-game what’s the best output for him, and what’s the best order of the output,” Nash said. “And tonight, we just made sure that – although he’d load up in the second half of minutes – he would have plenty of breaks. He’d come out of the game with a break, you’d have the quarter break and have timeouts. So he came out twice and had a quarter break in between. So we just tried to manage it that way.”

Source (Ny Daily news)

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