Nets 119, Wizards 114: Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving Sharp in Preseason Opener

What’s left to make a two-time NBA Finals MVP “anxious and nervous?” How about stepping onto the court for an NBA for the first time in 18 months after rehabbing a major injury?

“I visualized this moment for so long, you know? Nine, 10 months just thinking about how it would be this next phase of my career,” said Kevin Durant. “So, I felt like I was just chomping at the bit. Especially once COVID hit, I was just so frustrated because I didn’t see an end. I mean, I didn’t see the future, where the season was going to start in the future, so I was just so, I was going through it. So to go through this felt solid, and I’ve just got to keep building on it.”

The Brooklyn Nets’ preseason opener for the 2020-21 season marked Durant’s return, with the Nets eventually holding off the Washington Wizards for a 119-114 win at Barclays Center.

But the result on this night was always going to be secondary, with the focus squarely on Durant and his return bringing him together with Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn for the first time since they decided to come to the Nets in the summer of 2019.

“I felt good. I want to play at the highest level of basketball, you know? That’s the highest intensity of basketball, and it’s not in preseason,” said Durant. “Like I said, it’s a good first step. I want to play at an elite level late in the season and playoffs. That’s when I want to play my best basketball, so I’m working towards that point. So I think every single day just keep working and getting used to it. I think my rhythm and timing is going to get better as I move on, so I’m just looking forward to each day.”

He and Irving fueled the Nets’ fast start, combining for 33 of Brooklyn’s 68 first-half points. Durant had 15 at the break on 5-of-8 shooting, while Irving shot 7-of-9 in the first half, including 2-of-3 from 3-point range as the Nets jumped out to a 26-point second-quarter lead.

“That’s one of the perks of this position is you get to coach two incredible players,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash. “Ky was super sharp, and Kevin, after such an extensive layoff, was very good and close to being incredible. He’s going to keep building and getting comfortable. When you have that type of injury, it’s kind of remarkable that he’s at the level he’s at. Those two were great, and we’re really positive about them getting a stretch of minutes and some game time in their legs and we’ll keep building.”

Durant played into the middle of the third quarter before leaving to complete a 24-minute stint, while Irving’s night ended at halftime with 17 minutes played.

The Nets jumped out to a quick 9-2 lead, and then they really got rolling. By the end of the first quarter, they were up 38-20 after making 13 of their first 17 shots, and Irving and Durant and had combined for 23.

They pushed that lead to 26 points midway through the second quarter when a Taurean Prince layup made it 61-35. Brooklyn finished up the first half shooting 63.9 percent overall and 40 percent from 3-point range while getting to the line for 24 free throws, making 16.

The Wizards opened the second half on a 12-0 run, and went on to make 11 of their first 15 shots of the half — including 5-of-7 3-pointers — in tying the game at 79. But the Nets ran off the next six points, mostly at the foul line, and after Washington led by a point in the final minutes, closed the game on an 8-2 run.

Six Nets scored in double figures, led by Irving’s 18 points and Durant’s 15. Landry Shamet had 13 while shooting 3-of-5 from 3-point range, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Prince had 11 each, and Spencer Dinwiddie had 10 points plus seven assists and six rebounds.

“I thought we saw flashes of everything,” said Nash. “We saw good stints, where I thought we were really impressive at both ends of the floor, but overall, it wasn’t really as sustainable as we’d like. But that’s to be expected this early, a week of practice, and like I said, we’re going to err on the side of trying to help them manage their physical preparation as much as anything. Overall, it was a really productive exercise for us today. It will be good to look at it overnight and continue to refine and tweak. The guys, I thought, played well and tried to play the right way and we’ll get better.”