Burce Brown Credit: Bill Moore photo

Even with seven-time All-Star guard Kyrie Irving maintaining his stance to be unvaccinated over one week into the start of the NBA regular season, Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant, an 11-time All-Star, says his team is still equipped to be a formidable presence as they play without one of basketball’s most dynamic forces in their lineup. 

“While we’re playing in a game, I’m not going to sit there and say ‘Oh, when we get down or it’s a tight game, like, damn, we don’t have enough.’ We’re not going to be thinking about [Irving] during the game,” said Durant on Sunday after the Nets’ 111-95 loss to the Charlotte Hornets at the Barclays Center, their first game of this regular season at home. 

“We definitely want Kyrie Irving out here on the floor, and he’s a huge part of what we do. But it’s not happening right now. So we’ve got to figure it out. 

“But no one is going to lose confidence while we’re playing and hope Kyrie comes to save us during the game. No, we’ve got to play.”

There was a group of people against vaccine mandates demonstrating outside Barclays on Sunday loudly demanding “Let Kyrie play! Let Kyrie play!” and displaying signs that read “Stand with Kyrie.” Irving is prohibited from playing home games as New York City public health mandates require those seeking entry into large public venues to have been administered at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Two weeks ago, Nets general manager Sean Marks announced that he and team owner Joe Tsai decided they would not allow the 29-year-old superstar to engage in team activities, including practices, until he is able to fully participate.

In his absence, the Nets have not resembled the dominant team most pundits predicted. They did bounce back from the loss to the Hornets the next night by defeating the Washington Wizards by 104-90 in the second game of a six-game homestand to even their record at 2-2. 

They were paced by Durant’s 25 points. Heading into last night’s (Wednesday) game versus the Miami Heat, Durant had topped the Nets in scoring in each of their first four games while three-time NBA scoring champion James Harden was still trying to find his rhythm. Durant was averaging 31 points per game prior to playing the Heat in contrast to Harden’s 17.3. 

Nets head coach Steve Nash attributed Harden’s relatively slow start to rules changes that no longer reward players with trips to the line for initiating contact against defenders on non-basketball moves, which Harden had mastered. He shot just one foul shot versus the Hornets and only three facing the Wizards.  

“I feel like he’s unfairly become the poster boy of not calling these fouls,” said Nash on Sunday. “Some of them could definitely be fouls still, but they’re so alert and aware and he’s the poster child of these new decisions.”

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