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Nets get first taste of life without KD when they host Celtics

Jan 6, 2023; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA;  Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving (11) and forward Royce O'Neale (00) react to a play against the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half at Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, the Brooklyn Nets struggled so extensively without Kevin Durant they endured an 11-game losing streak and won five times in a span of 21 games to tumble from atop the Eastern Conference into fighting for one of the play-in spots.

This time, the Nets believe they are better equipped to withstand a lengthy absence by Durant. They’ll get their first chance at validating their belief Thursday night when they host the Boston Celtics.

“No excuses,” Brooklyn coach Jacque Vaughn said at practice Wednesday. “That’s the biggest thing for this group. To (be in) the position last year where we were, I just say no excuses.

“Not giving this group a chance to make excuses. Here to play. Here to win. Here to compete. Doesn’t change.”

Durant will be out for at least two weeks with a sprained right knee after an MRI exam on Monday revealed an isolated sprain in his medial collateral ligament. Durant was injured in the third quarter when he collided with Miami’s Jimmy Butler before the Nets concluded a three-game road trip with a 102-101 victory on Sunday.

Last year, Durant was injured Jan. 15 in a home game with the New Orleans Pelicans when he collided with then-teammate Bruce Brown, resulting in a sprained MCL. This time, the Nets have a fully available Kyrie Irving, who last season could not play home games due to New York’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, and they also do not have anyone on their way to requesting a trade as James Harden did last season. He was eventually dealt to Philadelphia for Ben Simmons.

The Nets head into their second meeting against the Celtics with 14 wins in their past 15 games. They enjoyed a 12-game winning streak before taking a nine-point loss at Chicago and ended the trip when Royce O’Neale converted a putback with 3.2 seconds remaining after Irving scored 29 points.

Brooklyn also is seeking a sixth straight home win and a 12th win in their past 13 home contests. The Nets’ one home loss in that span is a 103-92 loss to the Celtics on Dec. 4.

Since its last visit to Brooklyn, Boston is 11-7. The Celtics are also 8-2 in their past 10 games and scored at least 120 points for the sixth time in that span when they pulled away for a 125-114 home win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

Jaylen Brown, who scored 34 in the last meeting with the Nets, led the Celtics with a season-high 41 against New Orleans. Jayson Tatum added 31 for his third straight 30-point showing, and it marked the 19th time the duo scored at least 30 in the same game.

“They continue to grow in front of our eyes,” Celtics center Al Horford said. “What we did last year and what they did last year leading us to the Finals, it shows a lot of growth on their end. … Now I feel like they’re just playing basketball, trying to lead us.”

Even though Thursday is the second night of a back-to-back, Brown and Tatum are expected to play. The Celtics were without Marcus Smart and Robert Williams III on Wednesday due to knee injuries, and both could be out again Thursday.

–Field Level Media