When the Nets get back home, they’ll be getting back whole.
Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kyrie Irving all cleared NBA health and safety protocols on Tuesday. With the Nets having Tuesday off — flying cross-country off a strong two-game sweep in Los Angeles — all three veterans are expected to be available for Wednesday’s practice.
Brooklyn (23-9) is atop the Eastern Conference and coming off a sweep of the Lakers and Clippers. And with James Harden looking dominant in his two games since coming out of protocols, now the Nets are expecting to add Durant and possibly Aldridge right back into the mix of a red-hot unit.
“Confidence is through the roof,” said Harden, who averaged 37.5 points, 12.5 assists and nine boards since returning. “Now just you add KD, and Kai, and LaMarcus and Joe Harris, and that’s four of our best players, four of our top players that are out.
“Our confidence level for our bench and guys that are in the game is high. They can come in the game and impact the game in different ways, and we can find different ways to win basketball games, and that’s what it’s about. It’s not always going to be pretty, we’re not always going to make shots; but defensively we can get after it and lock teams down. Guys stepped up big on this road trip.”
Now the Nets are getting healthy just in time to return home. They host the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday.
Durant, who went into protocols on Dec. 18, is leading the league in scoring at 29.7 points. And even while Irving — who hasn’t played all season or practiced since camp — will need a week or two to ramp up for his debut, the Nets are getting close to being at full strength.
“I think that’s something that we definitely think about. When we get everybody out there, it’s gonna be a lot of trouble for a lot of teams. I don’t think that anybody will be able to really guard us when we have everybody here,” Nic Claxton said. “It’s gonna be a lot of fun just having everybody back, having a full group. So we definitely look forward to that.”
Claxton has been starting at center, and the position will get a boost from Aldridge. The veteran went into protocols on Dec. 14, so it bears watching whether he’ll need a brief ramp-up before playing. But when he returns, he could eat into the minutes of Paul Millsap and possibly Blake Griffin.
“We said to them after the (Clippers) game we’ve managed this COVID situation very well, now we’ve got to keep building,” coach Steve Nash said. “We’ll reincorporate some new guys out of protocols when we get home and it’s important for us to continue to adapt and build and grow and get better.
“We want to win, we love to win, but really it’s about the improvements. As we get through this transitional period of getting bodies back and trying to find that cohesion, they’ve done a great job, but we’re going to have to continue to really find it because every game from now on is going to look a little different because we’re going to have new players.”
The Nets have seven of their next nine at home, where Irving is ineligible to play due to his refusal to adhere to New York’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. The All-Star can only play on road games.
Brooklyn’s next road game is Jan. 5 in Indiana, but that seems a longshot. They play a week later in Chicago, with their next extended trip being to Cleveland (Jan. 17), Washington (Jan. 19), San Antonio (Jan. 21) and Minnesota (Jan. 23).