Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash said the NBA title hopefuls are waiting to discover the severity of Kevin Durant's latest injury after the superstar was ruled out early in the loss to the Miami Heat.

The Nets endured a forgettable trip to Miami, suffering a buzzer-beating 109-107 defeat against the Heat, having seen Durant exit in the opening quarter due to a left thigh contusion on Sunday.

Durant missed 23 games because of a hamstring injury before returning this month and the Nets – eyeing their maiden championship – are hoping they are not without the former MVP for another sustained period.

"He's sore but we don't know how severe," first-year coach Nash told reporters post-game.

"We'll see tomorrow how he wakes up and go from there but right now nothing’s been determined."

Durant was hurt during the first quarter, appearing to tangle legs with Trevor Ariza on a drive to the basket during the first quarter.

The 11-time All-Star had played for just four minutes, going three-for-three shooting – including two successful attempts from beyond the arc – to finish with eight points.

Durant was out for nearly two months of the season due to a hamstring injury, making his return against the New Orleans Pelicans on April 7 with 17 points in just under 19 minutes.

The two-time NBA champion did not dress for the defeat to the Philadelphia 76ers (39-17) on Thursday, a result that means they hold the tie-breaker over the Nets (38-19) in the Eastern Conference, but was back in action on Saturday, scoring 25 in the victory over the Charlotte Hornets.

"The timing of everything this year has just been a tell-tale sign of what life is right now in terms of the uncertainty of a lot going on," said Nets star Kyrie Irving, who posted 20 points in the continued absence of superstar James Harden (hamstring).

"Anything could happen at any moment, so we don't want to take anything for granted. But anytime one of our team-mates goes down, anytime something like that happens, it's definitely going to take a hit for us. And he's just gotten back. We just pray that it's not too serious and he's able to recover, but it definitely has a hit on our continuity at times. But we're not making any excuses for each other.

"We're all professionals, the guys that are getting minutes right now, we need them. So it's going to turn eventually, but we've just got to find that continuity, that connectivity from the start of the game to the end."

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash said securing the Eastern Conference's number one seed would be "valuable" but not at the expense of losing players to injury as his short-handed team lost the top spot to rivals the Philadelphia 76ers.

The star-studded Nets (37-18) were without Kevin Durant, James Harden, LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin for Wednesday's 123-117 defeat away to fellow NBA championship hopefuls the 76ers (38-17).

After posting 31 points in 27 minutes against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday – just his third appearance since a 23-game injury absence – the Nets opted to sit former MVP Durant and avoid back-to-back outings.

Despite missing most of their stars, though Kyrie Irving (37 points) returned, the Nets almost upstaged the 76ers in the highly anticipated showdown, rallying from 22 points down to close within 118-115 with just over one minute remaining.

"It'd be great to have the number one seed. I think it means a lot, it's valuable," Nash said afterwards. "But not at the expense of losing players or prolonging our injury situation.

"So I think we have to be very careful and make sure that our guys get to the finish line as whole as possible."

Durant has been averaging 28.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game this season.

He is also shooting a career-high 44.8 per cent from three-point range, while the two-time NBA champion (53.5) only boasted a better field-goal percentage in 2016-17 (53.7).

On Durant's absence, Nash responded to suggestions the two-time NBA champion was held out to keep Philadelphia guessing to how Brooklyn – eyeing a maiden title – might operate as a full and healthy unit in the playoffs.

"I think when you start to really try to be cute, it backfires most of the time," Nash said. "It wasn't strategic. It was, this is what this is the availability we have."

Irving – who returned from a personal issue after sitting out the Timberwolves matchup – starred for the Nets, but he watched from the sidelines as Brooklyn's reserves rallied down the stretch.

"Just played their hearts out," Irving said. "That's all you can ask coming out here to play the game that we all love. Just to go out there and compete. You know I'm sure they were chomping at the bit.

"Especially to get that win down the stretch for us and I feel like they grew as a group, we grew as a team and they learned some things out there playing against a high level playoff team that we can potentially see down the line. So it was a fun game overall."

The Brooklyn Nets will be undermanned for Wednesday's blockbuster NBA matchup with Eastern Conference rivals the Philadelphia 76ers after Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin were ruled out.

Brooklyn and Philadelphia are set to do battle in a first-place showdown midweek – the two championship hopefuls share 37-17 win-loss records atop the east.

But the Nets will be without superstar Durant (hamstring – injury management) and former All-Stars Aldridge (illness – non-covid related) and Griffin (knee – injury management) as the trio join James Harden (hamstring) on the sidelines.

The star-studded Nets, however, do welcome back Kyrie Irving after he missed Tuesday's 127-97 rout of the Minnesota Timberwolves due to personal reasons.

Former MVP Durant was in doubt for the 76ers clash after playing 27 minutes against the Timberwolves.

Durant posted 31 points on 11-for-15 shooting in his third appearance following a 23-game injury absence.

The Nets-Timberwolves matchup was initially scheduled for Monday, but it was pushed back in the aftermath of Daunte Wright being shot and killed by a police officer in Minneapolis.

It meant Durant faced the prospect of back-to-back games, which the Nets opted to avoid as they eye their maiden NBA title.

Durant is averaging 28.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists for the star-studded Nets this season.

He is also shooting a career-high 44.8 per cent from three-point range, while the two-time NBA champion (53.5) only boasted a better field-goal percentage in 2016-17 (53.7).

The Brooklyn Nets warmed up for Wednesday's showdown with the Philadelphia 76ers with a comfortable 30-point victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves in Tuesday's postponed game.

Kevin Durant top scored for the Nets with 31 points along with four rebounds, with guard Joe Harris adding 23 points in the 127-97 win.

Brooklyn improved to a 37-17 record, equal with the 76ers, in the absence of James Harden (hamstring) and Kyrie Irving (personal reasons).

The Utah Jazz regained some form after losing three of their past five games, triumphing 106-96 over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Jazz center Rudy Gobert put on a show with 13 points, 14 rebounds and a staggering seven blocks, while Croatian forward Bojan Bogdanovic top scored with 23.

 

No Kawhi but Clippers keep on winning

The Los Angeles Clippers extended their winning streak to six games despite missing Kawhi Leonard in a 126-115 victory over the Indiana Pacers.

Leonard was out with a sore right foot but Paul George was up to the task, with 36 points, seven rebounds and eight assists. That's the fourth straight game he's reached 30 points.

The Clippers have now won 12 of their past 14 matches and move to a 38-18 record, equating to third in the West.

The Los Angeles Lakers managed a 101-93 win over the Charlotte Hornets to move to 34-21 in the West.

With LeBron James and Anthony Davis still out injured, the Lakers relied on Kyle Kuzma with 24 points including four threes while center Andre Drummond had 12 rebounds.

The Phoenix Suns remain firm in second in the West with a 106-86 win over the Chicago Bulls and the Boston Celtics edged the Portland Trail Blazers in a final quarter thriller 116-115 as the jostle for play-offs seedings continues.

 

Thunder crashing down

Guard Luguentz Dort may have scored a career-high 42 points but he was not able to celebrate as the Oklahoma City Thunder slumped to their seventh straight loss against the Jazz. The Thunder are now 20-34 and practically out of playoffs contention.

 

LeBron loves Kuz sledgehammer

Kyle Kuzma got LeBron James on his feet with a massive one-handed dunk on the transition late in the second in the Lakers' win.

 

Tuesday's results

Brooklyn Nets 127-97 Minnesota Timberwolves
Los Angeles Clippers 126-115 Indiana Pacers
Atlanta Hawks 108-103 Toronto Raptors
Los Angeles Lakers 101-93 Charlotte Hornets
Utah Jazz 106-96 Oklahoma City Thunder
Phoenix Suns 106-86 Miami Heat
Boston Celtics 116-115 Portland Trail Blazers

 

Nets in Philly

The top two in the East will face off when the Philadelphia 76ers host the Brooklyn Nets (both 37-17) with Joel Embiid and Kevin Durant available to play although James Harden will likely miss due to injury.

Kevin Durant played down the importance of the Eastern Conference showdown between the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers as the superstar focuses on his return to full fitness.

The Nets and 76ers will go head-to-head in a blockbuster clash pitting the east's top two teams against each other on Wednesday – Brooklyn and Philadelphia share 37-17 records atop the standings.

Brooklyn eased past the Minnesota Timberwolves 127-97 in their rescheduled game on Tuesday, with Durant posting 31 points on 11-for-15 shooting in 27 minutes as the former NBA MVP works his way back from a 23-game absence following a hamstring injury.

The Nets-Timberwolves matchup was initially scheduled for Monday, but it was pushed back in the aftermath of Duante Wright being shot and killed by a police officer in Minneapolis.

It means Durant is facing the prospect of back-to-back games, with his status for the 76ers contest uncertain midweek.

"I want to play just to get back in the swing of things more so than like pinpoint that matchup," said Durant as the Nets eye their maiden championship. "You know what I'm saying?

"I think for us we want to get everybody healthy and acclimated to what we're doing out there and I think that's just as important as circling the calendar for Philly.

"They're a great team, well-coached and I'm sure a team we're going to run into here soon but for us at this point we want to continue to fine tune what we do get better at the things that make us who we are and we'll see what happens down the line."

Durant – in his first game back as the Nets played without James Harden (hamstring) and Kyrie Irving (personal) – added: "I felt good out there. I felt like my wind and legs were getting underneath me in each and every minute I'm playing.

"That's really what I wanted out of this time and we'll see how I feel in the morning and I'll talk to coach and the training staff to see where we go from there."

Durant is averaging 28.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.2 assists for the star-studded Nets this season.

He is also shooting a career-high 43.7 per cent from three-point range, while the two-time NBA champion (52.8) only boasted a better field-goal percentage in 2016-17 (53.7).

"It's a tricky balance because he needs to play a certain amount of minutes for his benefit," said Nets head coach Steve Nash. "At the same time, when the game is that out of hand, you're caught like, do we want to risk him being out there at this point in the game.

"In an ideal world he'd play close to 30 minutes, but at the same time, he's out there at the end of the game in meaningless minutes you want to be careful as well.

"We're trying to find that balance. At least he had a good game and got some minutes in his legs."

Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant said he is no longer motivated by titles, with the former NBA MVP focused on development and further improvement.

Durant has won it all in his illustrious basketball career – two championships and two NBA Finals MVP awards, to go with his 2014 Most Valuable Player gong and 11 All-Star selections.

The 32-year-old arrived in Brooklyn in 2019, having claimed both of his NBA titles with the Golden State Warriors.

Having battled Achilles and hamstring injuries during his time with the star-studded Nets – who are eyeing their maiden championship – Durant said he is not driven by silverware.

"I wasn't expecting to be a happy human being from a title," Durant told ESPN. "I was just expecting like, you know, the ending of a movie -- once you worked so hard and everybody tells you like, 'Yo, this is what you need to be working for, is this gold ball and these rings'.

"And I'm just like, 'All right, cool, let me lock in on that.' And I locked in on wanting to achieve that, but I also realised it's a lot of stuff that factors in it that's out of my control.

"And once I won a championship [with Golden State], I realised that, like, my view on this game is really about development. Like, how good can I be? It's not about, you know, let's go get this championship.

"I appreciate that stuff and I want to win to experience that stuff, but it's not the end-all, be-all of why I play the game."

Durant added: "I've been around, been out of the game for two years and having anxiety about like, 'What am I doing when I get back?

"Being out with an Achilles has you thinking about the game differently. And my goal is to be out there, you know. Who knows what's gonna happen when I'm out there.

"I just want to be available. And I think that's all I really want out of this, to be available for as long as I can. And we'll see what happens between the lines."

Durant is averaging 28.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists for the Nets this season, while he is boasting a career-best three-point percentage (44.3).

The Nets (36-16) are a game ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers (35-17) atop the Eastern Conference.

Devin Booker and Chris Paul helped the Phoenix Suns take down Donovan Mitchell and the NBA-leading Utah Jazz 117-113 after overtime.

Booker posted 35 points, while Paul finished with 29 points as the high-flying Suns moved to within a game of the best record in the league on Wednesday.

DeAndre Ayton finished with 18 points and 12 assists for the Suns (36-14), who won their seventh successive game after scoring the first five points in overtime and never trailed again.

Mitchell – who nailed a three-pointer with 10.4 seconds remaining to force OT – had a game-high 41 points, eight rebounds and three assists for the Jazz (38-13) in a thrilling encounter.

Jazz team-mate Rudy Gobert put up 16 points on seven-for-seven shooting and 18 rebounds in the losing effort on the road.

Kevin Durant made his long-awaited return in the Brooklyn Nets' 139-111 victory against the New Orleans Pelicans.

Durant had been sidelined since February 13 due to a hamstring strain, but the former NBA MVP returned as the star-studded Nets won midweek.

After a 23-game absence, Durant – initially named in the starting five – came off the bench and posted 17 points on five-for-five shooting in 19 minutes, making both of his three-point attempts.

Durant, who received an ovation from the home crowd at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, also collected seven rebounds and tallied five assists against the Pelicans midweek.

 

Westbrook fuels Wizards with triple

A Russell Westbrook triple-double of 23 points, 15 assists and 14 rebounds led the Washington Wizards past the Orlando Magic 131-116. It was Westbrook's 20th triple-double of the season as the Wizards snapped a four-game losing streak. Bradley Beal returned from a five-game absence and posted 26 points, while the Wizards made a season-best 19 three-pointers.

MVP candidate Nikola Jokic (25 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds) fell just short of his 13th triple-double of the season after the Denver Nuggets topped the San Antonio Spurs 106-96.

Grayson Allen's season-high 30 points helped the streaking Memphis Grizzlies beat the Atlanta Hawks 131-113. Jonas Valanciunas (19 points and 11 rebounds) set a franchise record with his 19th straight game with 10-plus rebounds.

 

Richardson struggles

It was a rough outing for Josh Richardson in the Dallas Mavericks' 102-93 loss to the lowly Houston Rockets. In 29 minutes, he was 0-for-nine shooting for one point. Richardson missed all six of his three-point attempts.

 

Grizzlies roar

The Grizzlies are hard to beat at the moment thanks to their collective effort. All five starters finished in double-digit points – Ja Morant tallying 19 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, including this combination with Kyle Anderson (16 points, nine rebounds, six assists and two steals).

 

Wednesday's results

Indiana Pacers 141-137 Minnesota Timberwolves
Washington Wizards 131-116 Orlando Magic
Boston Celtics 101-99 New York Knicks
Brooklyn Nets 139-111 New Orleans Pelicans
Memphis Grizzlies 131-113 Atlanta Hawks
Houston Rockets 102-93 Dallas Mavericks
Charlotte Hornets 113-102 Oklahoma City Thunder
Denver Nuggets 106-96 San Antonio Spurs
Phoenix Suns 117-113 Utah Jazz (OT)

 

Suns at Clippers

The Suns (36-14) will put their winning streak on the line when they visit Western Conference rivals the Los Angeles Clippers (34-18) on Thursday. The Clippers are third in the west, behind leaders the Jazz and second-placed Suns.

Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant said he was not surprised by his perfect shooting performance after making his long-awaited return to the court.

Durant had been sidelined since February 13 due to a hamstring strain, but the former NBA MVP returned as the star-studded Nets took down the New Orleans Pelicans 139-111 on Wednesday.

After a 23-game absence, Durant – initially named in the starting five – came off the bench and posted 17 points on five-for-five shooting in 19 minutes, making both of his three-point attempts.

Durant, who received an ovation from the home crowd at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, also collected seven rebounds and tallied five assists against the Pelicans midweek.

"I expected to come out here and play the way I played," Durant said. "I wasn't trying to ease into the game."

Kyrie Irving had 24 points in the absence of fellow All-Star James Harden (hamstring) as Durant featured alongside recruits LaMarcus Aldridge (22 points) and Blake Griffin (10 points) for the first time.

"When we move our bodies and we move the basketball the way we did and we talk on defense it's fun out there. You have veteran players that know how to play and it feels like these guys can finish my sentence before I even finish," Durant said.

"So these guys know the game inside out they know me they know one another as team-mates and from playing against each other over the years so it's pretty smooth."

Durant added: "We've always been in communication about different sets and different actions when I was on the bench and practices and film room. So I felt like we were learning each other throughout that time and then finally getting on the floor we didn't have to say much.

"I feel like we know each other's games and we know exactly what to do on each play. So guys have been in constant communication no matter if it's a game or off day and I think it helps."

Nets head coach Steve Nash, whose team moved clear of the idle Philadelphia 76ers atop the Eastern Conference, said: "You could see I think that's there's lots of potential there. It's not hard to play basketball with Kevin Durant.

"I think he's gonna make guys better. He demands a lot of attention and creates a lot of space on the floor. He's a shotmaker, but he creates a lot for his team-mates as well, whether it's through passing or his presence. I think that his length also helps the group in a number of ways.

"He affects his team-mates so positively, so I think a lot of the combinations are going to improve because of him being back in the line-up."

Kevin Durant will make his first appearance in 23 games after being named in the Brooklyn Nets' starting line-up to face the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday.

Nets superstar and former NBA MVP Durant has been sidelined since February 13 due to a hamstring strain, which also forced him to sit out last month's All-Star Game.

But Durant will make his long-awaited return midweek as the star-studded Nets – without James Harden (hamstring) – welcome the Pelicans to Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Durant was averaging 29.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game for the Nets in 2020-21 prior to the injury, while he was also shooting a career-high 43.4 per cent from three-point range.

The Nets and rivals Philadelphia 76ers share 35-16 records atop the Eastern Conference.

James Harden will miss over a week due to a hamstring strain, but superstar Brooklyn Nets team-mate Kevin Durant is likely to make his long-awaited NBA return against the New Orleans Pelicans.

Harden was forced out of Monday's 114-112 win over the New York Knicks after just four minutes, with an MRI revealing a strained right hamstring, the Nets announced on Tuesday.

MVP hopeful Harden – who has been averaging 25.2 points, 10.9 assists and 8.0 rebounds per game this season – will be re-evaluated by the star-studded Nets in approximately 10 days.

While Harden is set for a stint on the sidelines, fellow former MVP Durant is poised to make a comeback.

Durant has not played since February 13 but is listed as probable for Wednesday's clash with the Pelicans.

A hamstring strain has plagued Durant, who was also forced to sit out last month's All-Star Game in Atlanta.

Durant is averaging 29.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game for the Nets in 2020-21.

Steve Nash's Nets (35-16) top the Eastern Conference, ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers (34-16).

New York has long been starved of NBA success but now has two teams making strides in 2020-21.

The Brooklyn Nets have made plenty of noise as they have claimed a share of first place in the Eastern Conference, led by the 'big three' of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden.

But the New York Knicks, the city's favourite team, are also in playoff contention with a .500 record.

On Monday, the two teams go head-to-head at Barclays Center – and Durant, Irving and Harden could all feature for just the eighth time this season.

The Knicks will have their work cut out as they try to stop their star-studded neighbours.

TOP PERFORMERS

Brooklyn Nets - Kyrie Irving

Durant is likely to be seen as the Nets' difference-maker in the biggest games, while Harden, the third man in the 'big three', has established himself as an MVP contender. He cannot afford many more nights off.

But as both players recover from hamstring injury – Durant is "an outside possibility", Harden's absence is "just caution" - it will likely again be Irving's turn to carry the team, showing their remarkable depth.

The point guard leads Brooklyn in total points, scoring 27.7 per game – the best mark of his career and one which puts him eighth in the NBA among all players.

Irving had a game-high 34 points when these teams last met in March, a 117-112 Nets win.

New York Knicks - Julius Randle

First-time All-Star Randle has led the Knicks' improvement this season and he has been talking a big game ahead of this clash.

The forward responded to talk of Brooklyn's 'big three' by suggesting New York have a "big 15", of which he is undoubtedly the star, averaging 23.0 points and 10.7 rebounds this year.

Randle will certainly not be short of motivation.

He had 33 points in the game last month, just shy of Irving's total, and had to be held back from the officials after a late three-pointer was ruled out due to an incorrect traveling call.

KEY BATTLE - BROOKLYN BIGS TO BOSS BIG APPLE?

It is not just the Nets' superstar talent the Knicks have to worry about, as there is also a mismatch at center.

Third-year big man Mitchell Robinson was set for a breakout year in New York, seemingly contributing to the team's decision not to push harder for a buyout signing as Andre Drummond went to the Los Angeles Lakers.

But Robinson, posting 8.3 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.1 steals, fractured his right foot, leaving the Knicks with Nerlens Noel (4.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.1 blocks) and Taj Gibson (5.0 points, 5.0 rebounds) as their primary options at the five.

Meanwhile, Brooklyn have a whole array of possibilities at the position, led by buyout signings and former All-Stars LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin but also including DeAndre Jordan, Jeff Green and surprise performer Nicolas Claxton (7.9 points, 1.3 blocks).

HEAD TO HEAD

The Nets are 2-0 in this season's series, also beating the Knicks in January, and Monday's game could see a significant power swing.

The all-time record stands at 101-100 in the Knicks' favour, giving Brooklyn the opportunity to pull ahead for the first time since the 2010-11 season.

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash said there is a "high probability" that Kevin Durant will make his long-awaited return this coming week.

Durant has been sidelined since February 13 due to a hamstring strain, which forced him to sit out last month's NBA All-Star Game in Atlanta.

The star-studded Nets have moved to the top of the Eastern Conference in the former MVP's absence – a half-game clear of the Philadelphia 76ers.

As the Nets prepare to face the Chicago Bulls on Sunday, Nash provided an update on Durant.

"I am not certain on Monday [against the New York Knicks]," Nash said. "I think it's an outside possibility, but I also couldn't say he's in any stretch probable for Monday.

"I think it's just wait and see. But it does look positive that this week sometime, there's a high probability he can return."

Durant is averaging 29.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game for the Nets this season.

"I think a lot of first-year teams struggle to compete for a championship if for no other reason than that collective history and experience," Nash added. "So, that's something we have to accept and have to overcome."

Nets team-mate James Harden, meanwhile, remains on the sidelines with right hamstring tightness.

Harden will miss Sunday's clash with the Bulls, having sat out Thursday's win over the Charlotte Hornets.

Another former MVP, Harden has been averaging 25.9 points, 11.1 assists and 8.2 rebounds per game this season.

Kevin Durant has been fined $50,000 for using "offensive and derogatory language on social media" in his recent exchange with actor Michael Rapoport.

The sanction was announced by the NBA in a statement on Friday with the 32-year-old Brooklyn Nets forward acknowledging his actions were inappropriate.

Earlier in the week, Rapoport revealed expletive-laden private messages that Durant had sent him which included threatening language, as well as anti-gay and misogynistic slurs.

"I'm sorry that people [have] seen that language I used," said Durant, who is currently sidelined with a hamstring injury.

"That's not really what I want people to see and hear from me, but hopefully I can move past it and get back out there on the floor."

Nets coach Steve Nash said he had spoken to Durant about the exchange and that the former Golden State Warriors man was apologetic.

Rapoport revealed the direct messages which were sent by Durant on Instagram after the actor had criticized his post-game conduct in an interview.

"I receive threats and disgusting messages DAILY, but never in my wildest dreams did I think @KDTrey5 (Durant) would be among them," Rapaport wrote in a Twitter post with screenshots of the exchange.

"The Snake himself is now threatening me, bringing up my wife and wants to fight."

Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant has apologised after an argument with actor and comedian Michael Rapaport in which he used homophobic language was made public.

Rapaport posted screenshots of a private conversation on his Twitter account earlier this week.

"I receive threats and disgusting messages DAILY, but never in my wildest dreams did I think @KDTrey5 would be among them," he wrote.

"The [snake] himself is now threatening me, bringing up my wife and wants to fight. This is supposed to be America's sweetheart right?"

The dispute appeared to begin when Rapaport called Durant "super sensitive" following a post-game interview on TNT in December.

The pictures showed Durant respond with homophobic language and threats towards the True Romance and Deep Blue Sea star.

Rapaport also addressed the 2014 NBA MVP's comments on his podcast, saying: "That's not locker-room talk, we're not s***-talking.

"That's not how people talk, you're threatening me. You've done it three times."

An apologetic Durant said: "I'm sorry that people [have] seen the language that I used.

"That's not really what I want people to see and hear from me, but hopefully I can move past it and get back out on the floor."

Durant has been out of action with a hamstring injury since February 13, although the Nets have claimed first place in the East in his absence.

The 32-year-old forward missed the entirety of last season after rupturing his Achilles tendon in the 2018-19 NBA Finals while playing for the Golden State Warriors.

He returned to average 29.0 points across 19 outings this year, leading Brooklyn in scoring, before his latest setback gave new signing James Harden the reins.

Harden, also now missing with a hamstring issue, has put together an MVP run, aided by Kyrie Irving.

Of his season, Durant said: "I was playing solid before I got injured and feel like we were just starting to figure each other out, James, Kyrie and myself, and different line-ups out there on the floor.

"I felt like we were starting to gain our rhythm and, even though I was out a week before that with [COVID-19] protocols, I felt like our team was gaining more chemistry then and that's moreso what I care about.

"How I play, I'll figure that out over time whenever I get out there."

Reports suggest Durant is nearing a return, but the player added he had to be "smart and cautious with this type of injury".

"I've been through this situation before so I just try to take myself back to that place," Durant said.

The Brooklyn Nets are well and truly stacked for a championship run.

If superstars James Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving were not enough, the Nets turned to the buyout market and acquired former All-Stars Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge.

The Nets now boast a combined 41 All-Star appearances on their roster – Durant (11), Harden (nine), Aldridge (seven), Irving (seven), Griffin (six) and DeAndre Jordan (one). On the all-time list, only the Boston Celtics have managed more, across three different teams in 1977-78 (42), 2011-12 (43) and 2010-11 (56).

Jason Collins was part of the franchise, then known as the New Jersey Nets, that reached back-to-back NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003, and he told Stats Perform News: "I know KD and James have played together in the past [with the Oklahoma City Thunder]. Kyrie, at this point, realises this team is something special, especially when you're adding Blake and LaMarcus, and already have DeAndre Jordan.

"All of these guys recognise they are playing for a championship. They might only get one shot, these newer guys who haven't already won. This team reminds of me of the Houston Rockets from a few years ago when they had Chris Paul, who was clicking on all cylinders, and Harden. Then Chris got injured. They had a shot to beat the Golden [State] Warriors that season.

"Now, you see with the Nets – you have these tremendous playmakers. If one goes down or has an off night, oh by the way, you have two other guys who can make plays and for team-mates who are former All-Stars. They have a squad right now. I know Space Jam is coming out soon, maybe we're getting a glimpse at the Monstars."

The foundations were set last season, when Durant – recovering from an Achilles injury that meant he sat out the entire 2019-20 campaign – and Irving made the move to Brooklyn via the Golden State Warriors and Celtics respectively. But the Nets cemented 'superteam' status after trading for former MVP Harden in January.

There were question marks when first-year head coach Steve Nash and the Nets acquired Harden from the Rockets, with the three-time NBA scoring champion, Durant and Irving predominately ballhandlers.

Harden, Durant and Irving, however, have managed to make it work in the small time spent on court together – Durant has been absent since February due to a hamstring injury, having also sat out because of health and safety protocols, while Irving has also missed time this season.

Per 100 possessions, Harden – who has a franchise record-equalling 12 triple-doubles this season – has been averaging 21.1 points, 15.1 assists, 9.4 rebounds and 13.9 field-goal attempts when sharing the court with Durant and Irving.

Durant's numbers read 32.8, 3.5, 9.2 and 23.8, while Irving is averaging 31.3, 5.5, 6.7 and 21.3 at the same time.

Despite the continued absence of former MVP and two-time NBA champion Durant, the Nets have won 19 of their past 22 games to top the Eastern Conference.

Prior to Wednesday's win over the Houston Rockets, the Nets have been leading the NBA in points per game and field goal percentage this season – only the Stephen Curry-led Warriors (2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018) and the Nash-led Suns (2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010) have managed to do that in the last 30 years. As of March 30, the Nets were also leading the league in points.

In terms of effective field-goal percentage, the Nets (57.6 as of March 30) are on pace to set an NBA record, which would eclipse the 2017-18 Warriors (56.9).

"For all the injuries and the games that have been missed by one or all of those superstars, they have been doing great. Especially when you have new talent coming in, new pieces," said Collins, who spent his first seven years in the NBA with the Nets before leaving in 2008 and returning briefly in 2014. "It takes a while. Sometimes it can take half a season and in this shortened season, they're doing great. You have to tip your cap to the players, but the coaches, they are doing an excellent job making sure all the pieces are fitting.

"You're still adding the mix with LaMarcus and Blake. It seems he has found his ability to jump and dunk, it's glad to see his body is responding well. It's pretty obvious to see with this team that they're not necessarily playing for positioning in the regular season, this team is built for the postseason. That is why I think they're being so cautious with KD and his return. My hats off to Kyrie Irving for recognising that he needs to step away from time to time.

"With Harden, in his mind he is the MVP. A lot of people who follow the NBA are recognising the James Harden who started the season with the Houston Rockets, that guy is no longer in the building. The guy in the building in Brooklyn is the guy we have seen for the past several years, who is an MVP candidate."

Harden's 11.2 assists per game this season is on pace to be the most by a player averaging 25.0-plus points since Tiny Archibald averaged 11.4 in 1972-73 (as of March 30). He, Irving and Durant dominate the headlines, but the likes of Joe Harris, Nicolas Claxton, Bruce Brown and Landry Shamet have proved to be an effective support cast in a further sign of frightening depth.

"When you're going to go up against them [Durant, Harden and Irving], you're going to have to leave someone open and it's going to be those other guys. I think Shamet will be huge in the playoffs, Harris also," Collins, the 42-year-old former center, said.

"Just because of reputation, you're going to be hesitant to leave DeAndre Jordan, if you're the center, you know you can't let him get behind because you know it will be a dunk. So, you're afraid to step up and help. With those big three, you're not going to leave them either so it's going to be the others on the guard – a shooter or somebody who is going to get a lot of good looks."

Eyebrows were raised when the Nets appointed two-time MVP Nash to replace Kenny Atkinson ahead of the season, despite his lack of coaching experience.

The Nets were coming off a first-round playoff exit inside the Orlando bubble last season when they handed Hall of Famer Nash his first head coaching role.

But Nash – supported by veteran Mike D'Antoni in Brooklyn – has impressed from the outset, juggling a superstar trio, injuries and the coronavirus pandemic in the pursuit of NBA glory.

An NBA ring eluded Nash during his stellar playing career, but a championship in his first season as head coach would see him follow in the footsteps of Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse (2019), Los Angeles Clippers coach Tyronn Lue (Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016), Warriors counterpart Steve Kerr (2015), Pat Riley (Los Angeles Lakers in 1982) and Paul Westhead (Lakers in 1980) – who are the last five men since 1977 to achieve the feat.

"I think he was thrown into the deep end but as athletes and competitors, you kind of like being thrown into the deep end because that's what you work hard for," Collins said. "He isn't alone, he has great staff and players who have played at the highest level. It's definitely a group effort.

"I have to add, nothing would be possible without ownership. Ownership in the NBA is so important. Joe Lacob has done a phenomenal job with the Golden State Warriors. Also now Joseph Tsai with the Brooklyn Nets. He has told [general manager] Sean Marks, do what you need to do to create this culture and you'll have support. It's just great to see when an organisation, from ownership, to general manager, to team president, head coach, assistant coach and it all falls in line. You're setting yourself up for success."

The Nets have never won a championship since their first NBA season in 1976-77 – a run of 44 consecutive seasons. Byron Scott's team – featuring Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin and Collins – came close in the early 2000s, but in two appearances in the Finals they were swept by the Lakers and beaten 4-2 by the San Antonio Spurs.

Among active streaks in the league, the Nets have the eighth-longest drought alongside the Denver Nuggets and Indiana Pacers, behind the Sacramento Kings (69). Their rivals, the New York Knicks, have been waiting 47 years.

"The elephant in the room that we're all dealing with [the pandemic]," Collins said. "I can't think of any other part of our country hit harder than New York City. To end this year in the pandemic, if they were to win a championship, it would give so much hope to a lot of people. I lost one of my uncles to COVID recently and he lives in New York. People are still being affected and dying. It would mean a lot just to see the Nets win a championship for the city of New York.

"I think it will be huge if the Nets are able to win. It's all set up because they now have the target on their back with all the All-Stars on their team. Even if they don't get the number one seed, even if they finish at number three or four, which I doubt they will, they will still have the target on their back because they have all those names.

"If they are playing at all cylinders, they have the best chance out of the east. I love what Doc Rivers is doing in Philadelphia and I love the season Joel Embiid was having before injury.

"I'm really looking forward to that Eastern Conference championship between the Nets and 76ers, no disrespect to the others. I think the Nets just have more horses than the other squads."

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