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Nets vs. Raptors: Eyeing Action for Kyrie Irving as Brooklyn Wraps Up Preseason

Nets wrap up preseason slate against Toronto at Barclays Center

On Friday evening, the mission is minutes.

Minutes for Kyrie Irving, that is.

“He practiced today,” said Nets coach Kenny Atkinson after Thursday’s practice session. “This is a game we want to prepare for like a regular-season game. I don’t think he’ll be there at the minutes I expect in the regular season. That’s obvious with him being out a little bit. He’ll still play good minutes but not regular-season minutes. Not yet."

The All-Star guard has played a total of one minute in the preseason after suffering a facial fracture in workouts prior to training camp. After contact to the area at the start of the first game against the Lakers in China, Irving left the game and missed game two of the trip as well.

But he returned to action during practice on Wednesday — and “played pretty well,” according to Atkinson. Now he’ll take another swing at game action when the Nets host the Toronto Raptors at Barclays Center in their final preseason tune-up before the regular season tips off next Wednesday against Minnesota.

“I think he’s headed in the right direction,” said Atkinson. “This is part of the buildup, this next game.”

Irving is entering his ninth season coming off his second All-NBA selection after averaging 22.2 points and a career-high 6.9 assists and shooting 40.1 percent from 3-point range, his third straight season shooting at least 40 percent.

With last year’s leading scorer D’Angelo Russell in Golden State and fellow free agent signee Kevin Durant out rehabbing his Achilles’ injury, Irving is stepping right into a leading role in Brooklyn.

“We need to get that chemistry going,” said Atkinson. “So really just starting to establish that chemistry, his chemistry with that starting group. I think that’s key, so that’s step 1. And building on our principles and our habits that we’ve been talking about since day 1.”

MUSA MAKES A CASE

Through three preseason games, Brooklyn’s second-leading scorer has been second-year swingman Dzanan Musa.

Drafted at age 19, Musa spent nearly all of his rookie season in the G League with Long Island. He’s been determined to crack the Brooklyn rotation this season and his play over the last two weeks is making a case.

With Kyrie Irving and Caris LeVert leaving the first preseason game in China against the Lakers in the opening minute, Musa took advantage of an opportunity and scored 16 points while making 4-of-6 3-pointers. That followed an 18-point outing in the preseason opener back on Oct. 4.

Over three preseason games, Musa is averaging 13.7 points on 50 percent shooting, including 42.9 percent from 3-point range.

“He’s pushing the envelope in a good way,” said Kenny Atkinson. “He’s really trying to push through that ceiling and break through. I think what he’s understood and I even saw this in the offseason just playing with the guys. He understood that his role is gonna be a little different. With Long Island, he was a primary ballhandler, complete freedom, kind of played some pick and roll, shoot whenever he wanted. He's understanding he’s gotta space the floor for us and defend. That’s where he sits as a role player and embracing that. But there are times and I think we’ve all seen the individual moments where he can make plays other guys can’t make with the pass. Left hand, left hand hook pass, drive to the rim and dunk with his left hand. There is talent there. He’s progressed and progressed mentally.”

CORE CONSISTENCY

Get used to these Nets.

With summer signings Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and DeAndre Jordan, a contract extension for Caris LeVert, and matching rights for other young players, the Nets have the ability to keep a significant core together for at least three seasons, maybe more.

For Kenny Atkinson then, the key then is ensuring the group that stays together continues to elevate its game along the way.

“I think it gives us more stability and guys feel more comfortable that way, but I think our job as coaches is these guys can’t stay at the same level,” said Kenny Atkinson. “Spencer’s gotta go from a $13 million player to a $24 million player — but don’t tell Sean (Marks) I said that. It really is that. With Kyrie we’re working on the margins, but can we push him a little higher. And DeAndre Jordan, get him a little. There’s the pressure to get these guys and push these guys to perform at a higher level than they ever have before. That’s where we’re making the step. The step also has to come from the Musas. Caris, can he go from really good to great? I think that’s the challenge for us as coaches to push these guys in that direction because that’s where the big-time results will come.”

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