Credit: Bill Moore photo

With Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the Nets’ lineup to start this season after recovering from injuries last season, expectations are they will be an NBA Finals contender. Their path to that goal has been rocky in the opening weeks of the league’s schedule.

The Nets were an unforeseen 5-6 when they faced the Denver Nuggets at the Barclays Center Tuesday, Jan. 12. They were at Madison Square Garden last night (Wednesday) to play against the Knicks in the second game of a back-to-back, the third time the Nets have played games on consecutive days.

Durant’s and Irving’s absences have been the primary reason Brooklyn was under .500 after 11 games. Durant missed three straight games due to the NBA’s COVID-19 protocols before returning to score 36 points in a 129-116 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Barclays on Sunday.

Durant was placed in the protocols as a result of possible COVID-19 exposure. The 32-year-old forward previously had COVID-19 last summer. As of Tuesday, Irving had not played since Jan. 5, scoring 29 points against the Utah Jazz before leaving the team for undisclosed reasons. Irving was unavailable in the Nets’ subsequent games versus the Philadelphia 76ers, Memphis Grizzlies and Thunder.

In the lead-up to the Nets starting this season, the mercurial 28-year-old guard said, “Appreciate the art. We move different over here.” Irving has proven his statement to be accurate as it pertains to him. Rookie head coach Steve Nash, whose job it is to navigate how the Nets are moving, has undergone baptism by fire.

“We’re going to have a target on our back, and we’ve gotta have to rise to the occasion,” he said early this season. Irving was averaging 27.1, points, 6.1 assists, and 5.3 rebounds in the Nets’ first seven games prior to his departure. Nash said the team has been in communication with Irving but referred to the issue as “a private matter.”

Several reports stated Irving would likely miss all of the Nets’ games this week, which in addition to matchups with the Nuggets and Knicks, includes Saturday’s meeting with the Orlando Magic at home. The league is looking into a video widely circulated on social media showing a maskless Irving at what has been called a family party in multiple media stories. The inference is Irving left the team for matters deemed not serious and also violated NBA COVID-19 protocols.

The Nets are adjusting to the season-ending injury of 27-year-old guard Spencer Dinwiddie. After a breakthrough campaign in which he averaged career highs of 20.6 points and 6.8 assists for the Nets last season, the seven-year veteran suffered a partially torn ACL in his right knee Dec. 27 against the Charlotte Hornets in the Nets’ third game of the season.