This 2021-22 season has not gone to plan for the Brooklyn Nets, but with just a couple weeks left in the regular season, things are finally starting to turn around. On Saturday, they destroyed the then-Eastern Conference leading Miami Heat, 110-95 in a game that was not as close as that final score indicates.
Coming off that victory they head home Sunday for a matchup with the Charlotte Hornets, and for the first time all season, Kyrie Irving will be in the lineup at Barclays Center. The All-Star guard remains unvaccinated against COVID-19, but has been cleared to play at home now that New York City’s private sector vaccine mandate has been lifted for athletes.
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Irving, who has played just 21 games this season, is thrilled to finally regain full-time status.
“Please take my comment seriously when I say I’ve been pinching myself since Wednesday and Thursday because there was a time where I got my hopes really, really high and all the air just got let out,” Irving said. “I didn’t want to get too excited. Still, tonight, I’m trying to stay focused on this game. But I know tomorrow [Sunday] will eventually come and I’m looking forward to playing back in Brooklyn.”
Between Irving’s limited availability, Kevin Durant’s long-term knee injury and the James Harden saga, the Nets have been miserable at times this season. Even now, with Ben Simmons‘ status still up in the air, there are still some major questions about this team. But with Durant and Irving both back in the mix, we’ve been reminded of their potential.
“Every game, everyone is fixated … let me just call a spade a spade, we’re in the eighth spot and we’re picked to be contenders,” Irving said. “If that’s not a true testament to the talent level we have on this team, I don’t know what is. I appreciate the respect. But honestly, it takes a little bit longer to build that continuity and we’re using these games and practice time but we’re just going to put our best foot forward and live with the results.”
Including their statement win over the Heat, the Nets have won seven of their last nine games to improve to 39-35. They’re still stuck in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, but even though they’ll likely have to go through the play-in tournament they remain the betting favorites (+260 per Caesars Sportsbook) to win the East.