Kevin Durant is the foundation of the Nets success.
Anyone who doubted that or if there were still some unconvinced skeptics, the past two weeks should end all uncertainty. Durant, the NBA’s sixth leading scorer at 29.7 points per game, suffered an MCL sprain of the right knee on January 8 in a 102-101 Nets win over the Miami Heat. He is expected to be out at least three more weeks.
Brooklyn is 27-16 and were the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference when the NBA’s schedule began last night (Wednesday). But since Durant’s injury, they are 0-3, including a 106-98 road loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday. The Spurs, at 14-31, have the second worst record in the Western Conference and the fourth least wins in the entire league. Even without Kyrie Irving, who is No. 14 in scoring at 25.6 points per game, it was a game the Nets could have come out on top.
Irving was unable to go dealing with right calf soreness but the Spurs came into the game having lost five straight. An incident between Nets veteran forward Markieff Morris and Spurs rookie forward Jeremy Sochan encapsulated the differing energy with which the teams played.
At 5:20 of the second quarter Sochan knocked down a 3-pointer to give the Spurs a 39-34 lead then held three fingers too close to Morris’ face for his liking. Morris let Sochan know his invasion of personal space with a gesture was disrespectful; then, on the following possession gave the 19-year-old No. 9 pick out of Baylor in the 2022 draft a hard shoulder to his chest. Morris was assessed an offensive foul and technical. Sochan was given a Flagrant 1 foul for pulling Morris down onto the court.
“It’s a different era, man,” said Morris via the Associated Press. “You seen the play before that he makes a 3 and he’s pointing in my face. ‘You made a shot. What is that about?’ So, I mean, I set a hard screen and then he grabbed me. He actually did like a wrestling move on me. I said that’s impressive, I told him. It was impressive because he used a lot of force and he kind of flipped me. He got me.”
Who really got the Nets was Spurs forward Keldon Johnson, who dropped a career high 36 points. Brooklyn was led by forward T.J. Warren’s 19 points. Point-forward Ben Simmons had a triple-double scoring 10 points with 11 assists and 10 assists. It was his 33rd career triple-double, tying him for 12th all-time with New York City and Boston Celtics legendary point guard Bob Cousy. Simmons also had four steals and two blocked shots.
The Nets begin a four-game road trip tonight in Phoenix against the Suns. They will play the Utah Jazz tomorrow, the Golden State Warriors on Sunday and the Philadelphia 76ers next Wednesday.