The Brooklyn Nets will be getting some much-needed reinforcements as Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and LaMarcus Aldridge have been cleared from the league's health and safety protocols, the team announced Tuesday. Durant has missed Brooklyn's last three games, including their matchup with the Clippers in L.A. on Monday night, after being placed in protocols on Dec. 18. The Nets host the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday night and the Clippers on Saturday night.
This announcement follows remarks from Nets head coach Steve Nash, who said there was a good chance of Durant being available for Thursday night's game against the Sixers. While Durant -- and Aldridge -- will likely return immediately to the Nets rotation, Irving's season debut could be a little further off. For starters, he's only allowed to play in road games as he's still unvaccinated and barred from playing in New York City. So that puts his earliest possible return date as Jan. 8 on the road against the Indiana Pacers. That's also assuming that he's in a good enough spot to play by then.
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Prior to Irving being cleared from protocols, Nash said Irving's return hasn't been nailed down yet as the point guard has been sidelined as Brooklyn decided at the start of the season that they didn't want him to be a part-time player. The Nets recently changed their minds in that decision, allowing him to suit up for just road games. But almost immediately after that decision was made, Irving landed in COVID-19 protocols.
"It's hard to say but I would say probably somewhere between a week and two weeks," Nash said of Irving's return timeline. "He's isolating, so that kinda puts another layer to the ramp-up. It's not like he's been working out. I'd imagine it's going to be closer to two weeks once he comes out of protocols. We'll see how it goes though because we have to evaluate him from a physical and performance standpoint, and then a basketball standpoint as well."
Even without Durant and Irving in the lineup, the Nets were able to pull out an impressive 122-115 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Christmas Day, and they currently sit at the top of the Eastern Conference standings. While Irving is yet to play, Durant has been having a stellar season for Brooklyn, as he's averaging a league-leading 29.7 points per night to go along with 7.9 rebounds and 5.9 assists. His return will obviously be a big boost for the Nets. Irving, depending on his condition, will also be another significant boost for a Nets team that has been missing an additional playmaker as Harden has struggled to consistently find his shot.
Though the sample size was small last year -- eight games to be exact -- Durant, Harden and Irving averaged 64 points when the trio shared the floor together, the most of any three-man lineup for the Nets. The team also went 6-2 during that span, showing that this group of All-Stars that features two former league MVPs can be successful together.
However, the issue has always been having all three available at the same time, something that hasn't happened for a large portion of the time since Harden was traded to the Nets last season. Even with Irving's return, he'll only be available for road games, which will be another obstacle Brooklyn will have to figure out how to navigate. But knowing that Durant will be back and Irving will be suiting up is great news for the Nets, who look to continue their dominance over the rest of the Eastern Conference.