NEW YORK – Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving sent expectations soaring when they decided to come to Brooklyn.
The Nets can at last try to live up to them.
After waiting a year and a half since the free agency haul that transformed their franchise, the Nets finally got their superstar duo on the court in their preseason opener and needed just one quarter to show why hopes are so high.
Durant is healthy, Irving is healthy and together they look explosive, the biggest reason the Nets are considered one of the Eastern Conference favorites even with a rookie coach in Steve Nash.
“It’s a different show, it’s a different stage and it's a new beginning in terms of what we’re building and moving forward with the pieces we have here. And that includes 7-11, so get to know us,” Irving said, referring to their uniform numbers.
The good friends decided to team up in Brooklyn as free agents in 2019, but by then Durant was recovering from surgery to repair an Achilles tendon he had ruptured weeks earlier in the NBA Finals with Golden State. He sat out all last season, while Irving ended up limited to only 20 games because of a shoulder injury.
So it wasn't until the first game of this preseason when they got on the court together. In just 9 1/2 minutes, Durant and Irving outscored the Washington Wizards by themselves, combining for 23 points on 8-of-9 shooting. The Nets went 13 of 17 (76.5%) in the quarter in their debut under new Nash.
It won't always be so easy, but there will be nights when the Nets could look unstoppable.
“It’s still early in the season and there was COVID and guys have been separated all summer and doing their own thing, so it’s going to take some time for us to figure out the best way for us to approach this thing,” Durant said earlier in training camp. “But we’re looking forward to that challenge.”
Some things to know about the Nets:
The Nets play the NBA's season opener at home against Golden State on Dec. 22, followed by a trip to Boston on Christmas Day. That puts Durant first and then Irving against their former teams.
NASH AND STAFF
Nash, the Hall of Fame point guard, has no coaching experience. But his staff has plenty, led by two-time Coach of the Year Mike D'Antoni, Nash's former coach in Phoenix who signed on as an assistant. Jacque Vaughn stayed on after leading the Nets to the playoffs following Kenny Atkinson's departure, and Amare Stoudemire, Nash's pick-and-roll partner with the Suns, is also on the bench.
Nash hasn't decided on the other guard next to Irving. Spencer Dinwiddie has played well as a sixth man before taking over for the injured Irving last season, but Nash indicated he may use Caris LeVert in that role. LeVert starred for the Nets when the season resumed at Walt Disney World, but Nash said he might use him as the leader of the offense on the second unit in a role similar to what Manu Ginobili had for San Antonio.
Even with the hype surrounding the current roster, there has been plenty of talk in the preseason about whether the Nets will change it. They are mentioned as a possible destination for James Harden if Houston does deal the NBA's leading scorer, Durant's friend and former teammate in Oklahoma City. Durant, Irving and Nash have all downplayed the talk.
Durant is a four-time NBA scoring champion who has averaged 27 points for his career. He's trying to come back from a serious injury at 32 and has said he doesn't know what to expect, but people who have been playing with him believe that he will be great again.
“MVP form coming soon,” Dinwiddie said.
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports