Yes, the Brooklyn Nets lost to Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers Thursday night.
And yes, Embiid returned the favor to Kevin Durant by waving him off the court after the 110-102 victory at Barclays Center. Durant had done the same on Dec. 16 after leading Brooklyn to a win in Philadelphia.
But the Nets (23-10) are still in first place in the Eastern Conference — five games ahead of Embiid’s Sixers — and they are about to add another superstar to the mix in Kyrie Irving.
Ask Durant and James Harden about Irving’s impending return and here’s what you get.
“I mean, have you watched him play? He’s a master,” Durant said after going for 33 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists in his first game in two weeks after clearing Covid-19 protocols this week.
“He can score 60 percent, 70 percent of his shots if you don’t guard him. And he’s a high IQ player. It’s just a matter of him getting his legs up under him, and his wind up under him. And for us, we’re going to run plays for him and we’ll try to look for him and we play team basketball.”
“But he can adapt and do anything out there so we don’t worry about him.”
MORE FOR YOU
James Harden, who notched his Nets-record sixth 30-point triple-double and the 64th triple-double of his career in the Sixers’ game, also raved about Irving after he debuted at practice Wednesday.
“Elite,” he said of Irving’s play level.
Asked how he looked, Harden said, “The same Kyrie, we’re just happy to have him back and we got to get him on the court and get this thing going.”
Nic Claxton already said it could be “scary hours” when everyone returns.
“Hopefully he [Harden] can continue this and when we get everybody back, it’s going to be scary hours for real,” he said after the Clippers game.
Whenever Irving plays his first game — it could be Jan. 5 at Indiana or maybe Jan. 12 at Chicago — head coach Steve Nash will be tasked with coming up with road lineup featuring Irving and a home lineup without him.
Due to being unvaccinated, Irving cannot play in New York or Toronto — leaving 21 road games left in the season for him to play in.
“I may be a little naive but I think we just keep it really simple,” Nash said. “Kyrie plays on the road and we figure out how he re-joins the group, finds his rhythm and his place in the team. And when we come home, we’re back to normal the way we’ve been all year.
“So we just try to keep it really simple, don’t over-analyze it or complicate it, try to enjoy it and try to put him in a position to succeed and to enjoy what he’s doing and then the positives of having him back can be high and that can also have an effect on us when he’s not in the lineup and guys are not having as much of a burden in every single game.”
For his part, Irving says the goal remains to compete for a championship alongside Durant and Harden as long as the window remains open.
“With us getting together at this time in our careers, we wanted to take advantage of it,” Irving said Wednesday. “We have a lot more left in the tank, but obviously our age between us three, us being at a certain level of mastery in this game, is only going to last for a certain amount of time.”
The Nets remain the betting favorites to win the NBA title.
“Brooklyn has remained the favorite to win the NBA Championship all season, with little to no movement seen by the Kyrie Irving news,” said Matt McEwan, national sportsbook expert and Editor-in-Chief at Sports Betting Dime. “Sportsbooks likely believe Kyrie will be able to play full-time once the NBA playoffs hit, and know the team is talented enough—see their [23-10] record thus far—to get to the playoffs with or without Irving.”
The Nets may see Joel Embiid and the Sixers in the playoffs, but when they next see them March 10, it will be in Philadelphia. And Irving will be eligible to play.
Scary hours are coming.