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."

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash dismissed criticism of the team's roster moves, insisting "it's not like we did anything illegal".

The star-studded Nets have built an NBA super team, with Brooklyn now boasting former All-Stars Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge alongside James Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Griffin and Aldridge were both acquired after the pair reached contract buyouts with the Detroit Pistons and San Antonio Spurs respectively.

Amid criticism as the Nets eye their maiden championship, first-year coach Nash told reporters on Monday: "I don't hear it. I live in my Nets bubble.

"I don't know what anyone says about us, to be honest with you. … It's not like we did anything illegal. I don't know what we're supposed to do, not try to add to our roster and just sit pat?"

The Nets – who reached back-to-back NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003 – are second in the Eastern Conference, behind the Philadelphia 76ers this season.

Nash added: "That's the idea of this league is to try and put together the best team you can put together, and that doesn't guarantee you anything. … Nothing is set in stone.

"You got to try to put together the best team you can, and then you gotta build that team. ... We're hoping that we have all the pieces and that it's just a matter of how hard we work and how hard we care and the investment we put into this."

 

The Brooklyn Nets announced the signing of LaMarcus Aldridge in a further boost to their star-studded roster on Sunday.

Aldridge's agent Jeff Schwartz on Saturday revealed the seven-time All-Star had agreed to join the Nets for the rest of the NBA season.

The 35-year-old Aldridge agreed to a contract buyout with the San Antonio Spurs earlier this month.

Aldridge will now join forces with James Harden, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Blake Griffin in Brooklyn as the Nets eye their first NBA championship.

Averaging 19.4 points and 8.3 rebounds in his 15 NBA seasons, including nine with the Portland Trail Blazers, Aldridge has not played since March 1.

Aldridge is averaging 13.7 points and 4.5 rebounds per game in 2020-21.

Among active NBA players, Aldridge currently ranks third in field goals made (8,034), fifth in rebounds (8,454), sixth in points (19,887), eighth in blocks (1,129) and ninth in games played (1,024).

Aldridge, who helped the Spurs to the 2017 Western Conference Finals, has a postseason average of 20.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.4 blocks in 37.1 minutes per game.

Steve Nash's Nets (31-15) are second in the Eastern Conference, one game behind the Philadelphia 76ers (32-14).

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash said while Kevin Durant "looks great", the former MVP is likely to miss another week as he continues to recover from a hamstring injury.

Durant has been sidelined since February 13 due to a hamstring strain, which forced him to sit out the NBA All-Star Game this month.

As the star-studded Nets prepare to face the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday, Nash provided an update on Durant.

"There's still steps for him to take, although he looks great, is progressing and will definitely be back with us," Nash said.

"It's just, I don't think this week is likely."

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

Nash added: "[He] still needs to be monitored and still needs to get a certain amount of markers under his belt."

The Nets, though, will welcome back star Kyrie Irving following a three-game absence due to a family issue.

Irving is averaging a career-high 28.1 points, 5.7 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game for the Nets in 2020-21.

The seven-time All-Star's field-goal percentage this season (52.0) is also a career-high.

Brooklyn (31-15) – who have recruited veteran All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge – are second in the Eastern Conference, one game behind the Philadelphia 76ers (32-14).

LaMarcus Aldridge has agreed to join the star-studded Brooklyn Nets for the rest of the NBA season, according to his agent.

Aldridge – a seven-time All-Star – agreed to a contract buyout with the San Antonio Spurs earlier this month.

Now, the 35-year-old star will join forces with James Harden, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Blake Griffin in Brooklyn as the Nets eye their first NBA championship.

Aldridge's agent Jeff Schwartz confirmed the deal to ESPN on Saturday.

Averaging 19.4 points and 8.3 rebounds in his 15 NBA seasons, including nine with the Portland Trail Blazers, Aldridge has not played since March 1.

Aldridge is averaging 13.7 points and 4.5 rebounds per game in 2020-21.

Steve Nash's Nets (31-15) are second in the Eastern Conference, one-and-a-half games behind the Philadelphia 76ers (32-13).

Donovan Mitchell was left a little disappointed at not being able to go up against the Brooklyn Nets' absent 'big three' but praised his Utah Jazz team-mates for not getting complacent in a 118-88 victory. 

Ordinarily Wednesday's contest in Salt Lake City would have captured the imagination of neutrals, given it pitted Eastern and Western Conference contenders against each other. 

But the game lost a lot of the attraction due to James Harden (neck), Kevin Durant (hamstring) and Kyrie Irving (personal reasons) all being absent. 

Such a situation might have led to some teams taking a more relaxed approach, but not the Jazz, and it was this professionalism that impressed Mitchell, who top-scored with 27 points. 

"We want to play against guys like KD, Kyrie, James Harden - that's what competitiveness is," he said in his post-game interview. 

"But we're not going to change how we play or our mindset because those guys aren't in the game. 

"The biggest thing was trying to be aggressive, get downhill, make plays, get on the rim and finish. That was just my mindset from the jump.

"We've had instances in my time here where we've played differently because guys have been out; tonight really showed the mental fortitude we had throughout the entire game to continue to keep our foot on the pedal." 

The Nets' half-time tally of 38 points was the fewest they have recorded all season, not one of their players reaching the halfway mark with double figures. 

The Jazz were a whopping 21 points clear at the start of the second quarter, with the Nets never looking capable of ensuring it was a competitive game. 

But Nets coach Steve Nash was realistic about the situation and even felt a hint of pride. 

"That's the team [the Jazz] with the best record in the league, we went out there severely undermanned and most importantly they stuck together, played hard, defensively were pretty good; maybe gave up too many threes, but otherwise did a lot of good things defensively," he said. 

"I just told them I was proud of them, and it was great to see some of those guys get some minutes, get some opportunity to make some buckets get some rebounds and stops and just kind of develop. 

"So, lots to be thankful for and we move on to Detroit." 

One of those who took full advantage of a rare opportunity was Alize Johnson, only signed to a 10-day contract earlier this week. He met Nash for the first time on Wednesday. 

Johnson most recently played for Raptors 905 in the NBA G-League, but he certainly made his mark with a career-best 23 points – bettered by only Mitchell in the game – and 15 rebounds. 

"[I wanted to] just prove to everybody that I belong here in the NBA. I've put in a lot of hard work," Johnson said. 

"I got here last night and they got me in here early before the game started and go over a couple things and they did a really good job with that. 

"It was pretty simple and I knew kind of the stuff they were running just from being in the league for a couple years and it just kind of showed that I have a feel for the game - I just applaud those guys for getting me ready for the game." 

James Harden has been ruled out of the Brooklyn Nets' blockbuster match with the ladder leading Utah Jazz on Wednesday due to neck soreness.

Harden joins Blake Griffin (knee), Kyrie Irving (personal), Kevin Durant (hamstring), Landry Shamet (ankle) and Spencer Dinwiddie (ACL) on the sidelines for the match-up.

The Jazz heads into the match on top of the Western Conference with a 31-11 record, although they've only won five of their past 10 matches.

The Nets have surged into contention over the past two months aided by Harden's addition from the Houston Rockets, sitting second in the Eastern Conference with a 30-14 record. Brooklyn are 23-8 since Harden's arrival.

Harden admitted he almost sat out Tuesday's 116-112 win over the Portland Trail Blazers due to the complaint.

The former MVP appeared to hurt his neck during a collision with Garrison Mathews in Sunday's 113-106 win over the Washington Wizards.

James Harden believes Brooklyn Nets have found good chemistry on the court despite the absence of key men Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Brooklyn Nets coach Steve Nash said Durant will not be risked for road games against Utah Jazz and Detroit Pistons this week but is the final phase of rehabilitation.

Durant has been sidelined by a hamstring strain since mid-February and was absent from the team that topped the Portland Trail Blazers 116-112 on Tuesday.

The 32-year-old averages 29 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists from 19 games, but Nash said he will be absent again for the trips to Utah and Detroit on Wednesday and Friday respectively.

Harden led the way for the Nets against the Trail Blazers with a double-double as they go toe-to-toe with Philadelphia 76ers the Eastern Conference.

He posted 25 points and a career high-tying 17 assists to fuel the Nets in Portland as they won without Durant and fellow superstar Irving, who was absent for personal reasons.

Harden claimed the Nets have clicked into gear ahead of meeting with the Jazz on Wednesday.

"The team chemistry, it's there. It's right where we need it to be," the 31-year-old told NBA.com

"Obviously missing Kevin and Kyrie, I think everyone else has a sense of what their roles are, and they're doing it to the best of their ability every single night. 

"I'm really proud of the guys. In order to be a special team like we're more than capable of being, we've got to have a sense of urgency every possession.

"Our sense of urgency in the way we play and our effort and our intensity on the defensive end, has to be there no matter what."

On the Jazz's recent improvements Harden added: "I think they're healthy. They're healthy and they finally have clicked.

"I think that loss in the playoffs in the bubble last year got to them a little bit and so they have a fully healthy team that's well coached and everybody knows their role and they have a great system and it works for them."

The Nets (30-14) remain within a game of the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers (31-13) who held on to beat the Golden State Warriors 108-98 on Tuesday.

Behind Tobias Harris' 25 points and 13 rebounds and Ben Simmons' 22 points, the 76ers earned their fifth consecutive road victory – the team's longest winning streak away from home since winning seven straight in 2018.

76ers coach Doc Rivers was pleased with the natural rhythm to the way in which Harris performed as he turns his attention to Thursday's game with the LA Lakers.

Rivers said: ''What I liked about his game, he didn't force it, he kind of just let the game come to him. And he made plays, not just with his shot but with the pass.

''As a group, we've won nine out of 10 games, the guys are playing good basketball - no need to talk about it."

Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant remains sidelined until at least Friday as the former MVP is at a "critical" point in his recovery from a hamstring injury, according to Steve Nash.

Durant has been sidelined since February 13 due to a hamstring strain, which forced him to sit out the NBA All-Star Game this month.

The star-studded Nets are second in the Eastern Conference and as they eye a run to the NBA Finals, first-year head coach Nash is not prepared to rush Durant back from injury.

"We just felt like it didn't benefit him to travel across the country while he is trying to get that critical last part of his rehab done," Nash said as Durant sat out Tuesday's 116-112 win over the Portland Trail Blazers – the first of a three-game road trip.

The Nets will face the NBA-leading Utah Jazz and Detroit Pistons before returning home to Brooklyn to host the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday.

"Just trying to make sure that functional strength is there and that he's — we're confident that he can re-enter playing safely. That is the thing, right? Kevin is doing very well," Nash said.

"If this was the playoffs, there's a chance he'd be back, you know, very soon. But there's no point in taking a big risk with him when the most important thing is to get him back for the remainder of the season."

Nash added: "He is working out on the court pretty much every day, he looks great."

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

 

Kyrie Irving is "super excited" at the prospect of having Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin on the same team after the Brooklyn Nets saw a six-match winning streak snapped by the Orlando Magic.

The Nets had lost just once in 15 previous NBA outings before going down 121-113 at the Amway Center on Friday.

Irving scored 43 points and also posted six rebounds and four assists, while James Harden contributed 19 points in the losing effort.

Aaron Gordon had 38 points, six rebounds and four assists, while Evan Fournier drained 31 points and Nikola Vucevic 22 for a Magic side that responded to a loss to the New York Knicks last time out.

Irving said the loss can be a "great learning experience".

"They just got going early and we got down in a hole. And when you're trying to play out of a hole for the rest of the game, obviously when teams are shooting the three — or when a team is shooting the three like they were tonight — it makes it a lot more difficult and you have to be perfect down the stretch," Irving said. 

"But they came in off a back-to-back very desperate, and we didn't match their energy so it kind of happens like that, this is what it feels like to lose. 

"We don't want too many more feelings like this, so just learn from it and move forward, but great learning experience."

The Nets, second in the East, will soon be reinforced by the return of Kevin Durant, who is absent with a hamstring injury, and Griffin, who is yet to play since signing for Brooklyn on March 8.

Griffin has been contending with a left knee issue and Irving is excited by the impact both men can have on the team.

"I am super excited. You know, it's just high-level talent out there," he added.

"So, when you can just prepare for the game and go over the X's and O's, you can look to your left and right and know the guys next to you have your back and you're able to play at a high level offensively and defensively and make an impact, you've got to look forward to that. 

"I look forward to it for sure. And as a competitor wanting to be on the main stage, we want all our guys healthy. 

"Hopefully we can hit a stride at the right time and make a run, but this is great practice ground right now to just get as healthy as we can before stepping into the playoffs soon, very soon."

When the Brooklyn Nets signed Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the 2019 offseason, it was apparent that the team were destined to eventually become a juggernaut.

With two stars and the talent behind them to either keep a deep bench or trade for a third star, the Nets were always in position to become a contender, even with Durant sitting out last season to rehabilitate his ruptured Achilles.

Because of Brooklyn's pedigree, Steve Nash – the former two-time MVP turned first-year head coach – will not be considered for Coach of the Year.

But Brooklyn's road to title contention has been a bumpy one, and Nash has helped guide the Nets to the top of the Eastern Conference – alongside the Philadelphia 76ers – despite challenging circumstances.

The Nets have won six games in a row to climb to 28-13, tied with the 76ers for the best record in the East, but it can be easy to forget the obstacles Brooklyn have faced in the first half of the season. 

One look at the Nets' first game of the season, a 125-99 win over the Golden State Warriors, serves as a reminder of this team's dramatic metamorphosis.

Spencer Dinwiddie started in the backcourt alongside Irving to open the season but played just three games before suffering a ligament tear in his right knee, ending his season.

Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Landry Shamet and Taurean Prince combined to play over 80 minutes in the season opener and only now remains in Brooklyn after the James Harden trade – Shamet.

Since the Nets traded away much of their depth, Nash has tinkered with line-ups and found gems further down the bench to supplement the team's star-power.

Bruce Brown, who was acquired in November for virtually nothing, has morphed into a versatile role-player who is very efficient from the floor.

Brown played a total of 13 minutes in the Nets' first seven games this season but has become a key member of the team's rotation, starting in 23 games and guarding much taller players in Brooklyn's smaller line-ups. Brown is shooting 55.5 per cent from the floor this campaign and averaged 18.0 points during a six-game stretch before the All-Star break. Brooklyn are 11-2 when Brown scores in double figures this season and 7-0 when he scores at least 15.

Tyler Johnson was also an afterthought to start the season, appearing in just seven of Brooklyn's first 24 games. Since then, Johnson has played just under 20 minutes per game while developing into a reliable floor-spacer, shooting 42.4 percent from beyond the three-point arc this term and going five for eight from deep in his only start.

Journeyman Jeff Green is scoring 11.9 points per game since the Harden trade – compared to 6.1 before the deal – and has even started at center when DeAndre Jordan has been forced to miss games.

While Nash has been blessed with three star players on his roster, even the trio of Durant, Irving and Harden has faced hardships.

Irving took an indefinite leave of absence for personal reasons in early January without communicating with the team first. While he only missed seven games, the mystery of Irving's absence left the Nets in a state of uncertainty and left Nash to answer for his star guard amid a barrage of media questions.

Nash showed the savvy of a veteran head coach and the sensitivity required in the new-age NBA by not vilifying Irving. A more authoritarian coach could have used the media to force Irving back, a move that may have jeopardised a relationship with a star player and eroded the trust of the entire team.

Irving returned with back-to-back 30-point games and is averaging career highs with 27.6 points per game, 52.0-percent shooting from the field and 41.5-percent shooting from beyond the arc.

Then there is Durant, who has reminded the world that he may have been the best player in the NBA before rupturing his Achilles in the 2019 NBA Finals, but the former MVP has missed more games than he has played this season.

After two stints in league COVID-19 protocols, Durant has been sidelined for over a month with a hamstring strain and is expected to be out another week or two after having a routine MRI to track progress.

In all, the Nets have had 21 different starting line-ups this season, second only to the Houston Rockets' 26. That number is likely to increase soon, once Blake Griffin is ready to make his Brooklyn debut.

Only sharpshooter Joe Harris has played in every game for the Nets in 2020-21.

While Harden has been reliably excellent since moving to Brooklyn, Irving has missed 12 games and Durant has been absent for 22. The trio have been on the floor for just 186 minutes so far, less than 10 percent of Brooklyn's season.

Those minutes, however, have been transcendent, bucking a recent trend of power trios going through growing pains before hitting their stride.

With Durant, Irving and Harden on the floor at the same time, the Nets are averaging 120.6 points per 100 possessions. And while some pundits envisioned this offensive-minded trio taking turns in isolation plays, 64.8 percent of the Nets' field goals have been assisted when they all play together, more than when one or more of the stars is relegated to the sideline.

It is hard to deny Nash credit for the quick chemistry between Durant, Irving and Harden, and his ability to fill gaps with role players has kept Brooklyn playing well even when the stars are sitting.

The Nets' star-power makes Nash virtually ineligible to win Coach of the Year, an award that typically goes to an over-performing team that are good but not great. While Durant, Irving and Harden will receive accolades for the Nets' season, a lesser coach certainly could have derailed this runaway train given the numerous challenges.

Yes, the Nets have elite talent. But Nash has done plenty to maximise that talent while largely flying under the radar.

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash said Kevin Durant has showed "improvement" in his recovery from a hamstring injury, but a return is still a few "weeks" away.

Durant has been sidelined since February 13 due to a right hamstring strain, which forced him to sit out the NBA All-Star Game this month.

While Durant is on track with his recovery, Nash said the former MVP still has work to do.

"We're monitoring it and expect him to make a full recovery," Nash said ahead of Brooklyn's clash with the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday.

"And hopefully it won't be too long. But he's probably got a couple weeks of ramp-up left."

Durant made his long-awaited debut for the Nets this season after sitting out the 2019-20 campaign due to an Achilles injury sustained with the Golden State Warriors in the 2019 Finals.

"If he continues to improve and closes the gap on the healing and also puts himself in a position to return safely to play, he'll be back out," Nash added.

"So we'll see. That's kind of up to his body and however long that takes."

Brooklyn's Durant is averaging 29.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game for the star-studded Nets this season.

The NBA's top-ranked defense will be aiming to slow down the leading offense when the New York Knicks make the short trip to play the Brooklyn Nets. 

The in-form Nets have won 12 of their previous 13 games to rise up the Eastern Conference, the impressive run of form leaving them just a game back of the Philadelphia 76ers, who lead the way in the standings. 

But while they were always expected to be near the summit, particularly following the arrival of James Harden from the Houston Rockets, the Knicks have been one of the surprise packages so far. 

A first playoff appearance since 2013 is a distinct possibility, with coach Tom Thibodeau building solid foundations for a franchise that has chopped and changed in the hope of finding success.

TOP PERFORMERS

New York Knicks - Julius Randle

Randle has excelled since moving to the Big Apple, leading to a first All-Star appearance this year. The seventh overall pick by the Los Angeles Lakers in 2014 averages 22.9 points and 11 rebounds through 39 games, as well as 5.7 assists.  

His 375 defensive rebounds puts him inside the top three in the league, while he has also contributed 31 steals as the Knicks have tightened up under Thibodeau.  

Having registered a season-low seven points as the Knicks returned from the All-Star break with a lopsided loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, Randle bounced back with 26 in a resounding triumph over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday.

Brooklyn Nets - James Harden

Since joining the Nets, Harden has recorded nine triple-doubles, the latest of them coming in a 100-95 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Saturday that saw him score his team's final 10 points of the contest.  

While he was the focal point for Houston, the two-time MVP no longer has to carry the offensive burden in the same way for star-studded Brooklyn. He is shooting at a career-high 48.9 per cent from the field though, while his improved success from deep (39.7 per cent) has been noticeable.  

Harden has also demonstrated his ability as a passer too, his tally of 363 assists comfortably the most by any player, averaging out at a whopping 11 a game.

KEY BATTLE - A CASE FOR THE DEFENSE

The continued absence of Kevin Durant has not prevented the Nets from putting up points. They average 120.6 a game, while their combined field goal percentage of 49.9 is also the best by any team in the NBA.  

However, the Knicks have given up a league-low 105 points per outing. Randle and his fellow big men will look to dominate when it comes to rebounding, while the visitors will hope to get better at capitalising on turnovers – their average of 14 points when gaining possession in such circumstances ranks them 29th out of 30 teams.  

"It starts with our effort, our defense, those are the most important things," Immanuel Quickley, who has impressed in his rookie season, averaging 12.5 points, said ahead of the game. 

"We try to have that defensive mindset coming into games, then let everything take care of itself. The little things – defense, rebounding, energy, effort – give you a chance to win every night." 

HEAD TO HEAD 

These neighbours have met in 200 regular-season games, the Knicks narrowly leading 101-99 overall. 

Last season's four-game series was split 2-2, while the Nets prevailed 116-10 in January of this year, Durant – who has missed Brooklyn's last 11 games due to a heal issue – leading the way with 26 points in the absence of Kyrie Irving and with the Harden trade yet to be completed.  

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