The Brooklyn Nets announced that star forward Kevin Durant is expected to return to the floor Thursday night against the Miami Heat. Durant started doing more on-court work recently as he recovers from the sprained MCL he suffered in his left knee in January, and it sounds as though the Nets feel he's in a good enough spot to return. Last week, Nets head coach Steve Nash spoke about how important Durant is to Brooklyn on both ends of the floor, which will be helpful as the Nets continue to fight for playoff positioning.
"I think with Kevin he's been a great healer throughout his career," Nash said Saturday. "So the No. 1 thing is to get him back healthy and feeling secure in his health and his body so he can move and be free. When he's back, obviously he adds a ton to our team on both ends of the floor ... one of the greatest scorers of all time. And we also know he helps us defensively; he gives us more size and length. So he's a big miss for us, and whenever he gets back, he'll impact our team."
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Durant has missed Brooklyn's last 21 games, and the team has plummeted in the standings as a result. The Nets have lost 16 of the 21 games Durant has missed and currently find themselves sitting eighth in the Eastern Conference standings. That means if the playoffs started today, the Nets would be forced to participate in the play-in tournament in order to secure a spot in the postseason.
Durant suffered the injury in a game against the New Orleans Pelicans on Jan. 15. While trying to guard Pelicans guard Herb Jones, Nets forward Bruce Brown fell backward into Durant's left knee, and Durant immediately reached for the knee in obvious discomfort. He ultimately limped off of the floor and back to the locker room to get checked out, and he was ruled out of the game by Brooklyn shortly thereafter. Before exiting the contest, Durant had 12 points, three rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block in 12 minutes of action in the Nets' 120-105 win.
Brooklyn's roster looks a whole lot different than it did the last time Durant suited up, as the team traded star guard James Harden -- along with veteran forward Paul Millsap -- to the Philadelphia 76ers for Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and a pair of picks prior to the NBA's trade deadline. Goran Dragic followed soon after as a buyout market addition. While it will likely take the new-look Nets a bit to develop some solid chemistry, Durant is excited about the team's potential.
"I'm excited for our team," Durant said of the blockbuster trade. "Looking forward to finishing the season out with this new group and these new players. Playoffs are right around the corner so we got to fast-track it to get used to each other, but I'm excited. I think everybody got what they wanted."
Ultimately, the Nets will go as far as Durant can take them, so the fact that he's expected to return on Thursday is obviously good news for the franchise. The sooner Durant can get back out on the floor, the better.