Brooklyn Nets coach Steve Nash stated he’s concerned about the amount of minutes superstar forward Kevin Durant is playing this season, and that the team is going to have to monitor him closely as it navigates the next several matches with a short-handed roster ravaged by COVID-19.
“It’s a really important topic,” Nash said before Brooklyn beat the Philadelphia 76ers 114-105 at Barclays Center Thursday night for another short-handed victory.
“I don’t know we can continue to lean on him the way we have. It doesn’t feel right.
“I know he’s enjoying it. I know he’s enjoying playing
at the rate he’s playing at and trying to bring his teammates along with him
and all the responsibility that he’s accepted and crushed, basically. It’s just
been incredible. But, at the same time, it’s not safe or sustainable to lean on
him like that. There’s gonna be a lot of consideration and we’ll have to figure
out ways to give him breaks.”
Durant is averaging 36.9 minutes per game this season — fourth-most in the NBA, behind Raptors guard Fred VanVleet, his teammate OG Anunoby and Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James.
That is the most minutes per game Durant has averaged in eight years, since he averaged 38.5 minutes per night during the 2013-14 season, when he scored 32 points per game and claimed his lone Most Valuable Player award.
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The 33-year-old played a season-high 48 minutes in Tuesday
night’s overtime victory versus the Raptors here at Barclays Center, finishing
with a 34-point triple-double in a 131-129 Brooklyn win — the fifth time in 26
games this season that he’s eclipsed the 40-minute mark. He did so after being
listed as questionable to play in Tuesday’s game earlier in the day with right
ankle soreness. He followed that up by playing 39 minutes in Thursday night’s
game, scoring 34 points.
“I just try to do what’s required, man,” said Durant,
when asked about his minutes load after Tuesday’s win. “I mean, I want to
be out there. I want to play. I want to win. So, it starts there.
“Whatever I got to do to accomplish those three things,
I’m going to do.”
For the Nets, though, the challenge is not just winning
today — it’s winning several months from now, when Brooklyn hopes to be making
a deep playoff run as it challenges for its first NBA championship.
That will require getting Durant through the season healthy
in the wake of missing the entire 2019-20 season due to an Achilles tear
suffered in Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals, and playing just 35 regular-season
games last season because of recurring hamstring issues.
Durant has only missed two games so far this season.
But with Brooklyn down seven players due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols for a minimum of another week — plus remaining without Joe Harris, who is recovering from ankle surgery, and Kyrie Irving, who has not played yet this season after failing to fulfill New York City’s COVID-19 vaccine requirements, Nash said he needs to balance keeping the Nets afloat during the period they are short-handed without putting too much strain on Durant’s body.
While Nash said veteran guard Langston Galloway, whom the
Nets signed with a hardship waiver Wednesday, was available for Thursday’s game
— giving Brooklyn nine available players — Nash admitted that having just
enough players available to keep playing is a double-edged sword.
“The question is we’re above the threshold, so to
speak, which is positive,” Nash said, referring to the NBA’s minimum
requirement of having eight healthy players available to play in a game.
“At the same time, we’re barely above the threshold. So what toll does
that take on our players?
“Is it better to be over the threshold and to not be playing until you have a healthy roster or is it better to have enough to play but to be short-handed and the burden and the toll that takes on these guys and knowing that you’re going to have guys coming back who haven’t been able to practice or play basketball? So it is definitely tricky to navigate.”
As for Brooklyn’s opponent Thursday, 76ers coach Doc Rivers stated Georges Niang — who tested positive for COVID-19 Wednesday — said no one else had tested positive yet. But after going through their own outbreak earlier this season, one that cost them both superstar center Joel Embiid and second-leading scorer Tobias Harris, Rivers said the team held a call Wednesday to try to tighten up their own protocols amid COVID-19 spikes across the country — let alone in professional sports.
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