The Brooklyn Nets have learned that they will continue to be without Kevin Durant through the All-Star break as they seek to extend an eight-game win streak that is the longest active string in the NBA when they host the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday.
They’ve done so despite Durant playing in just one of those games, missing the last six due to a hamstring strain. But the last two weeks have seen Landry Shamet and Tyler Johnson among those stepping in to establish themselves in the rotation as consistent contributors. It’s been a breakthrough, after Johnson played little over the season’s first two months and Shamet began his first season in Brooklyn in a shooting slump.
In Thursday’s win over Orlando, Shamet had his second-highest scoring game as a Net with 19 points, making 5-of-9 3-pointers. Johnson had just six points, but they came on two 3-pointers early in the second quarter as the Nets turned their entire night around after a brutal shooting showing in the first quarter. Johnson’s two threes were part of the 15-5 run that put the Nets ahead for good on the way to a 37-point win.
“I'm really proud of those guys, first of all, for hanging in there,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash. “Tyler getting into the rotation and taking his opportunity so well, and Landry struggled shooting the ball, and he's a very conscientious person, and he might hold on too tight to things, and so to see him stick with it, rely on his work and overcome it has been great. He works his butt off and fights out there defensively and plays with pace on offense so even when he's not shooting he has an impact. But when he starts to shoot the ball like he is now he adds a layer and element to our team, so really proud of all of our bench guys who have really come into their own, to a man. I think it's given our team depth, confidence and given the whole group feel in a sense more robust. So it's fun to see those guys playing well and performing at this level.”
Through 16 games as of Jan. 27, Shamet was shooting 28.6 percent from 3-point range, with DNPs in four of the previous five games. In the one game he did play, he missed all five of his threes. When he returned to make 3-of-7 3-pointers against Oklahoma City on Jan. 29, it was the first of nine double-figure scoring nights in the next 14 games. Over that stretch, Shamet is shooting 41.2 percent from 3-point range.
“I think any bench player, especially on a team like this, has to embrace coming in and not really knowing fully what you're gonna have to walk into,” said Shamet. “Each game's different. There's games like tonight where we come out a little bit flat and it's the bench's job to kind of try to get us going. So I'll give Tyler Johnson credit. He came in, started picking up the ball, and then there's been nights where he's made shots and certain other guys have had to make shots, take on defensive matchups, so it kind of changes from game to game, but you've just gotta be willing to come in with the right energy, have the right energy all the time, I think that's No.1, and understand that every game might have a different role I guess you might say.”
Johnson played in just seven of Brooklyn’s first 24 games, but he’s been steadily in the rotation since the Feb. 6 game against Philadelphia, with Durant out at the time due to health and safety protocols. His defensive energy has been “outstanding,” said Nash, and like Shamet, he’s been shooting it well from 3-point range — 42.1 percent over his last nine games.
That’s going to be key for playing alongside the playmaking Harden off the bench. For both players, at least 70 percent of their field goal attempts this season have come from 3-point range.
“It's very important that they have the swagger,” said Kyrie Irving. “They need that swagger. And that swagger comes with the confidence that we feed them and we just want them to continue to ask questions out there, to be at a different level than even they thought they could reach and that's part of the communication we have here, is we want to continue to raise that bar for one another. We can all do more. And if we all do a little bit more, then collectively, we will separate ourselves amongst the group of teams in our league. So, I'm looking forward to seeing their growth continue — but a few more games of them shooting well and doing great things is coming. So, just continue to stay on them. Even here. We stay on them. Just, that standard, match it. We played in Miami. We played in L.A. And now we're here collectively figuring this out along with other guys... it means something to us. So, we want those guys to be on board and play well.”
Kevin Durant’s absence will extend through Brooklyn’s next three games up to the All-Star break, the Nets announced on Friday following a follow-up MRI on his right hamstring.
“He’s disappointed clearly,” said Steve Nash. “He got himself through one of the most devastating injuries in basketball and playing at an All-Star level or even MVP level, and for it to kind of get shut down for a little while is very disappointing for him. Having said that, it could always be worse. So we’ll continue to monitor him and he’s going to be back this season and we’ll all be grateful when that time comes, but not until he’s ready.”
That will make nine games missed due to the hamstring strain. In addition, Durant missed three games due to health and safety protocols before returning for one game, against Golden State on Feb. 13. So as the Nets hit the All-Star break next week, Durant will have missed 12 of 13 games.
In 19 games this season, Durant is averaging 29.0 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game, shooting 52.4 percent overall and 43.4 percent from 3-point range in 35.7 minutes per game.
“He's an amazing, amazing basketball player,” said Nash. “And anytime you have the Lamborghini in the garage, it's meant to be on the road. So, we're all disappointed. But the team is going to be fine for stretches without Kevin. It's more, you have this incredible player, and you want to build with him, and beyond that you just want Kevin to play.”
In addition, Jeff Green is again questionable for Saturday’s game. He’s missed Brooklyn’s last two after leaving Sunday’s game against the Clippers with a right shoulder contusion. “I think we’re optimistic he’ll be back soon,” said Nash. “I can’t say for sure, but I think the feeling is that every day he’s getting better, not more concerned. Hopefully, he’s back quickly here. But long-term, we don’t feel like this is a situation that can snowball into something worse. We feel like it’s something that’s only going to get better.”
ROBERSON, SHUMPERT ARE BACK
The Nets signed guard/forward Andre Roberson and guard Iman Shumpert to 10-day contracts after having waived both players on Tuesday night. Roberson first signed with Brooklyn on Feb. 16 and appeared in two games. Shumpert, who played 13 games for the Nets during the 2019-20 season, signed with Brooklyn on Jan. 30 and played in one game prior to being waived on Tuesday.
TYLER COOK ON A 10-DAY
Tyler Cook made his first appearance for the Nets with six minutes in the fourth quarter of Thursday’s win over Orlando. A 6-foot-8 forward, Cook was signed to a 10-day contract on Thursday after playing eight games in the G League this season for the Iowa Wolves, averaging 20.8 points on 59.8 percent shooting with 9.6 rebounds.
Cook previously played 13 games last season for Cleveland and Denver, along with 29 G League games in 2019-20.
“It was a pretty quick process for me,” said Cook of joining the Nets. “I had an interview with Sean Marks and Jeff Peterson probably about a week ago, and then Tuesday night, we had a game in the G-League. Got a call that night that I would be on a 10-day in Brooklyn and then came out here on Wednesday. So yesterday I was actually able to play in the game a little bit so it's been a hectic last few days, but it's been fun so, in terms of what I bring to the team, just a guy that's defensive minded, you know what I'm saying. I do the little things and just try to make an impact on the game whichever way I can. If that's defending and rebounding, setting other guys up, so just trying to do everything I can to complement this group.”
ABOUT THE MAVERICKS
The Mavericks are 15-16, but they’ve won seven of their last 10 games. Dallas is 26th in the NBA in defensive rating (113.6), 27th in both rebounding (42.6) and rebound percentage (48.1), 21st in blocks (4.5), 26th in assists (22.5), and 29th in steals (6.3). Luka Doncic leads the Mavericks with 28.5 points per game, 8.4 rebounds per game, and 9.0 assists per game — fourth in the NBA.