Kevin Durant Credit: Bill Moore photo

Things were good for the Brooklyn Nets. There was a 12-game win streak. They had ascended from the muck of the Eastern Conference to the top. Off-court issues that had plagued them had subsided. There was a successful coaching change and they were overcoming their injuries.

Then on Sunday night in Miami, Heat forward Jimmy Butler fell backward onto Kevin Durant’s right leg after Nets forward Ben Simmons blocked a drive to the basket with 1:08 left in the third quarter, forcing Durant to leave the game roughly a half minute afterward. The Nets went on to take a thrilling 102-101 victory to improve to 27-13 before hosting the Boston Celtics at the Barclays Center tonight in Brooklyn.

An MRI taken on Monday revealed no major structural damage to Durant’s knee. He was diagnosed with an isolated MCL sprain and will be re-evaluated in two weeks. Durant is expected to miss a month.

“You never want to see him go down like that. Any player for that matter,” said Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn via the YES Network.

Vaughn will now have to find a way to keep his team close to the Eastern Conference’s best squads without his top player and the NBA’s sixth-leading scorer (29.7 points per game), who has been named conference Player of the Week twice this season.

Kyrie Irving, who has been dazzling this season, averaging 26 points per game and ranking 14th among all players, will have an increased burden to carry the Nets’ offense. Simmons, a career 15.1 points career scorer but just 7.7 points per game this season, must increase his production and become more aggressive on the offensive end of the floor.

It’s also an opportunity for forward TJ Warren, who returned to action this season after missing two years with foot injuries and surgery, to put up the numbers he did from the 2017–18 season through the 2019–20 season when he averaged 19.6, 18 and 19.8 points per game respectively.

The Nets have won 18 of their last 20 games and are the No. 2 seed in the East, with the second-best record in the league behind the Celtics, which were 29-12 before facing the New Orleans Pelicans at home last night. The Nets will meet the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday at the Barclays and then head to San Antonio to play the Spurs next Tuesday. 

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