Understandably, coach Steve Nash expressed concern Thursday about the hefty workload shouldered by Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant with the team missing seven players due to the NBA’s Health and Safety Protocols.
“It’s a really important topic,” Nash said. “I don’t know that we can continue to lean on him the way we have. It doesn’t feel right.”
At the same time, nobody in Brooklyn can deny the positive vibes emanating from Durant’s current assault on the opposition, which continued with a 34-point effort over 39 minutes — including eye-poppers like this — in Thursday’s 114-105 win against the Philadelphia 76ers. If you add Joe Harris (ankle surgery) and Kyrie Irving (ineligible due to not fulfilling vaccination requirements) to the mix, the Nets hit the floor against the Sixers missing a total of nine players, forcing Durant to share the floor at times with four rookies in David Duke Jr., Cam Thomas, Kessler Edwards and Day’Ron Sharpe.
No biggie, Durant keeps delivering.
That’s why he claims the top spot in this week’s edition of Kia Race to the MVP Ladder, while last week’s leader Stephen Curry falls back a slot despite making history Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.
“I know he’s enjoying it,” Nash said of Durant just before Thursday’s win. “I know he’s enjoying playing at the rate he’s playing at trying to bring his teammates along with him and all the responsibility that he’s accepted, and crushed, basically. It’s just been incredible. But at the same time, we know that’s not safe or sustainable to continue to lean on him like that. So, there’s gonna be a lot of consideration, and we’ll have to figure out a way to give him breaks.”
Durant followed up a season’s-best 51-piece delivered piping hot on Sunday with a 34-point triple-double two days later in an overtime win against Toronto in which he played 48 minutes. Over his last four games, Durant is averaging 38 points and 8.5 assists in spearheading Brooklyn’s current four-game winning streak.
“I don’t think I have to do anything extra, just be myself,” Durant said after the win over Philadelphia. “I love playing. I like being out there. The challenge of winning is fun to me. So, no matter who’s out on the floor, we want to play to win. We’re all passionate about the game. It’s not like I’m the main voice out there. Everybody’s out there talking and communicating. That’s what the team is about.”
Good luck to Nash in his upcoming efforts to strike a compromise with Durant on resting. The NBA’s leading scorer, Durant has sat out of just two games this season and ranks No. 4 in the league in minutes (37.0). Durant hasn’t clocked this much time on the floor since 2013-14, when he was playing 38.5 minutes per game in Oklahoma City.
It’s worth noting that the Nets players currently in the NBA’s Health and Safety Protocols will be out for at least another week.
“Kevin’s been great, and he’s been our leader,” power forward Blake Griffin said. “When you have a guy like that leading, you have no choice but to fall in line.”
And now, the Top 5 this week in the 2021-22 Kia Race to the MVP Ladder:
1. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets
Last week’s ranking: No. 2
Season stats: 29.7 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 5.9 apg
With the efficient Durant leading the way, Brooklyn now owns a record of 12-3 in clutch situations (games within five points over the last five minutes), which ranks as one of the best in the league. Durant is one of five players in Nets history to produce a 50-point game, joining Vince Carter, Kyrie Irving, Caris LeVert and Stephon Marbury. Durant is the only player in Nets history to post a 50-point game and a triple-double in back-to-back outings. “Kevin is the most unaffected basketball player maybe of all time,” Griffin said. “High-difficulty shots, and he just shoots it like nobody’s there.”
2. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Last week’s ranking: No. 1
Season stats: 26.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 6.1 apg
Curry was the feel-good story of the week, making history by becoming the NBA’s all-time leader in 3-pointers made. But the truth is he really isn’t shooting the ball up to his usual standards. If you throw out Curry’s injury-shortened, five-game campaign of 2019-20, his field goal percentage (43.1) represents a career-low. His 3-point percentage (39.9) is also sitting at a career low. One component of that is the fact opposing defenses over the past week and a half were selling out to prevent Curry from breaking the 3-point record. But Curry has played well defensively for a Warriors team tied for the best record in the NBA while owning the league’s best defensive rating (100.2).
3. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Last week’s ranking: No. 4
Season stats: 26.6 ppg, 13.6 rpg, 7.5 apg
The triple-double machine racked up his sixth of the season (most in the NBA) and 63rd of his career for sole possession of seventh place on the all-time list in a loss Wednesday to the Minnesota Timberwolves. The injury-riddled Nuggets can’t seem to catch a break, and that’s putting a damper on Jokic’s MVP candidacy despite the fact he’s playing arguably better than last season when he won the award. “It’s sad. All the players keep going down,” Jokic said. “And they work hard to play.” In the five games prior to the loss, Jokic averaged 28.2 points, 14.4 rebounds and 10.6 assists.
4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Last week’s ranking: No. 3
Season stats: 27.0 ppg, 11.6 rpg, 5.8 apg
Put up 20 points in a loss at Boston on Monday, before entering the NBA’s Health and Safety Protocols the very next night. Antetokounmpo was one of three Milwaukee players to go into the protocols, a list that also includes Wes Matthews and Donte DiVincenzo. So, this leaves Antetokounmpo out for a minimum of 10 days going back to Tuesday and to clear the league’s protocols, he’ll need to return two negative PCR tests at least 24 hours apart. Remember, Milwaukee struggled early in the season due to injuries before running off a hot streak to get back near the top of the East.
5. Chris Paul, Phoenix Suns
Last week’s ranking: No. 5
Season stats: 14.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 10.1 apg
Phoenix finished 1-1 in the two recent games missed by DeAndre Ayton and the club owns a record of 5-2 without leading scorer Devin Booker. In fact, the Suns have now won 13 consecutive home games, which ranks as the most since they captured 14 straight back in 1994. The success is all largely due to the leadership and consistency of Paul, who has dished 40 assists over his last four games, finishing Thursday’s win over Washington as one of Phoenix’s eight double-figures scorers. With Paul serving as the chief facilitator, the Suns are now 15-1 when at least six players score 10 points or more.
The Next Five:
6. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz (Last week: unranked)
7. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz (Last week: No. 6)
8. Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls (Last week: No. 8)
9. Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks (Last week: No. 7)
10. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers (Last week: unranked)
And five more (listed alphabetically): Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers; DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls; Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks; Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers; James Harden, Brooklyn Nets.
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