NBA

Durant envisions 'hard to duplicate' Irving being part of Nets this season

By Sports Desk October 06, 2021

Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant envisions Kyrie Irving being part of the NBA championship contenders this season but admitted if he misses games his quality will be hard to "duplicate".

Irving has not trained with the Nets in New York this week as part of the city's COVID-19 protocols that only allows players with at least one vaccination shot to practice and play.

Nets star Irving faces missing all of Brooklyn's home matches in the 2021-22 season, which gets underway against reigning champions the Milwaukee Bucks on October 19, if his vaccination status does not change.

The drawn-out situation has created a major distraction for title favourites the Nets, who bowed out to eventual champions the Bucks in the Eastern Conference semi-finals last season.

"I'm envisioning Kyrie being a part of our team," Durant told reporters after Wednesday's practice. "Maybe I'm just naive, but that is just how I feel.

"But I think everybody here has that confidence in themselves, in our group, that if we keep building, we can do something special."

Irving averaged 26.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game in the 2020-21 season where he played 54 times.

The Nets struggled to find continuity with their big three, Irving, Durant and James Harden, who joined from the Houston Rockets in January, on the court due to injuries but that seemed set to change after injury-free pre-seasons ahead of the new campaign.

"I mean he's a special player so it is going to be hard to duplicate what he brings," former MVP Durant said.

"But professional sports are about the next man up mentality so we are looking forward to guys stepping up and filling in that role as best as they can."

Durant and the Nets have tried to insist the Irving situation is not a distraction, although the 33-year-old forward said he would not get involved in his team-mate's decision-making.

The Golden State Warriors faced a similar situation last week with Andrew Wiggins under the San Francisco city laws, although he opted to get his first vaccination ending the discussion.

"He is dealing with something personal right now and while he is dealing with that, we are going to focus on us here in the gym and keep working," Durant said. "When they are ready to figure that out, he'll figure it out."

Durant added: "I want him a part of this group. He's a special player. We want him a part of this group. But a lot of stuff is out of our control and we will let him figure that out for himself.

"It doesn't mean that I will say that I don't want him on the team. He's a huge part of what we do but guys got to step up in his absence and be who they are and move forward.

"I'm not really trying to get too involved in it. It's far bigger than myself and each one of us individually. This is one man's personal decision on his wellbeing."

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    Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said the Eastern Conference Finals will be an old-school defensive slugfest, and that he feels the best two teams made it.

    The Heat needed six games to triumph over the Philadelphia 76ers, while the Boston Celtics came back from 3-2 down against the Milwaukee Bucks to get the job done in Game 7.

    As a reward for getting their series out of the way early, the Heat will have five days of rest before Tuesday's Game 1, while the Celtics have just one proper rest day between series.

    Speaking to the media after Monday's practice, Spoelstra said it is shaping up as a series that will warm the heart of Heat president Pat Riley.

    "Pat's [Riley] probably is going to enjoy this," he said. "This is like a throwback series. 

    "If both teams are really on top of their games, this should be a series where neither team is scoring 130 points. Both teams hang their hats on rock-solid team defense, and making multiple efforts and being disciplined to schemes. 

    "So it will be a lot of plays and things in the margins… really, we were the two best teams in the East most of the season and it's fitting that we're moving into the conference finals.

    "Boston has played as well as anyone in the entire league once they got to 2022. It's not by accident. They're playing very strong basketball. They do it on both ends."

    Heat star Jimmy Butler was asked about his potential matchup against Jayson Tatum, and he had nothing but praise for the Celtics' best player.

    "He's one of the best in the game right now," he said. "As much attention as he draws on the offensive end – and then I think what's really impressive is the way that he's picked up his defensive intensity. 

    "You got to tip your hat to that and respect him, I think those are the guys that you want to go up against."

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