The Nets, despite having been the NBA’s best team for most of the past two months, still haven’t been at their best. But with the expected returns of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving over the next week, they’ll finally get to build toward the “scary hours” that James Harden warned the rest of the league about.
“That’s all it’s about, is guys getting comfortable, guys figuring each other out. And we’re going to have to have that mindset of trying to work through things, especially when Ky gets back,” Harden said. “Hopefully he’s back this week, and Kevin as well.
“It’s going to be that same mindset of figuring out, get things going, because I think we have 25 or 26 games left, so the postseason is coming up really soon. The quicker we can get guys healthy and on the floor we can figure it out. We can watch film and learn on the fly because there’s really no practice time, the better off we’ll be. We expect to get those guys back this week and we can’t wait.”
To be specific, the Nets (31-15) have 26 games left heading into Monday’s home game against the Timberwolves. But what makes the record more impressive — and the Nets even more hopeful — is that it largely has been crafted without Durant and Irving.
Though there is little more than a month-and-a-half left in the regular season, the Nets’ Big Three have had just 186 minutes and seven starts together. The sample size is small, but the record (6-1) promising. And the victories they’ve managed while shorthanded have buoyed the Nets’ confidence that they’ll get far better.
“Definitely. I think we’ve proven that we can win without Kevin. We’ve proven that we can win without Kevin and Ky at times,” coach Steve Nash said. “Knowing how great they are, it does give the guys confidence that we’re only going to improve when they come back. But we have the confidence to win when they’re not here and not available to play.
“We’ve built that confidence and trust over the course of the last whatever it’s been now, five, six weeks and it’s definitely added to our confidence but also just the energy of the group. We have a great environment and guys really genuinely enjoy being a part of this and have proven that they have value even if when those guys come back their roles aren’t as big. They’ve been a part of this thing. I think that gives them a sense of reward and hope and connectivity.”
Since Feb. 10, the Nets are an NBA-best 17-3. All but one of those games was played without Durant, who has missed 18 straight with a hamstring strain and 21 of the past 22 overall. Irving didn’t travel on the recent three-game road trip due to a family matter.
That doesn’t include the signing of Blake Griffin, the emergence of Nic Claxton or any possible addition from the buyout market.
“It is a confidence booster, the way we’ve been playing,” Jeff Green said. “We’ve gotten contributions from everybody that’s been on the floor, and that’s just a confidence builder in itself, knowing that we can trust the next guy. And when Kevin gets back, it just adds to the firepower that we have.
“It just puts the other teams at a much higher awareness notice of knowing what we have, the personnel we have, and how they have to prepare if you want to beat us. So we want him back, we want him healthy, we can’t wait for him to get back. We understand what we have and know that we have what it takes to win games.”
Landry Shamet’s ankle injury isn’t serious, and a source told The Post he could be set to make his return.
“Potentially,” said Nash. “We don’t really have a date yet, but he’s improving and we’ll evaluate him when we get back to Brooklyn, but definitely moving in the right direction and not a long-term thing.”