The Nets played their 19th straight game without Kevin Durant on Saturday night, but they may not have to wait much longer for their star to return.
Durant went through a second high-intensity workout Saturday morning in Milwaukee and if he comes out of that healthy, could only need one more before he is cleared to return from his sprained left MCL — though coach Steve Nash said Durant is unlikely to return during a back-to-back Monday and Tuesday against the Raptors.
“Every day closer,” Nash said before the Nets’ 126-123 win over the Bucks. “We’ll see. I expect in the next week he’ll be back for sure. But it could be quick, it could be the whole week barring setbacks.”
Nash described the high-intensity workouts as playing either half-court or full-court games with the Nets’ “stay-ready” group. It remains to be seen when Durant will get the chance to go through a third high-intensity workout — possibly Monday morning in Brooklyn — but the Nets have a home-and-home Monday and Tuesday against the Raptors before hosting the Heat on Thursday.
Before sustaining the knee injury, Durant was putting together an MVP-caliber season, averaging 29.3 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.8 assists through 36 games. His return would go a long way toward reviving the Nets, as they try to avoid the play-in tournament, with 21 games left in the regular season following the clash with the Bucks on Saturday.
“I think with Kevin, he’s been a great healer throughout his career,” Nash said. “The No. 1 thing is to get him back healthy, feeling secure in his health and his body so he can move and be free when he’s back. Obviously he adds a ton to our team on both ends of the floor. He leads the league in scoring, one of the greatest scorers of all time.
“But we also know he helps us defensively and gives us more size and length. He’s a big miss for us and whenever he gets back he’ll definitely impact our team on both ends of the floor.”
While Ben Simmons continues his conditioning for a return to play, he is dealing with some back soreness, Nash confirmed. The coach said the flare-up was not an injury, but instead “normal soreness” for someone who was ramping back up after not having played a game since June.
“It’s not a long-term thing,” Nash said. “That’s just part of his process in returning to play. As you ramp up, you’re a little bit susceptible to certain things, as you would be with muscle soreness or tightness. He’s having a little tightness with his back.”
It was not clear whether the issue would further delay Simmons’ Nets debut.
Simmons traveled to Milwaukee with the Nets, but is not yet doing high-intensity workouts. Nash described Simmons as doing individual work and combining physio, strength and conditioning and skill work to get his body and game back up to playing speed.
“He’s not quite in [Durant’s] position, so as far as Kevin’s really close, [Simmons] still has some time ahead of him,” Nash said.
Nash said there was still no decision yet whether Joe Harris (ankle) would need another surgery.
“He’s going to keep working at it and trying to see if it continues to improve,” Nash said.
Newly signed point guard Goran Dragic, playing for the first time since Nov. 13, made his Nets debut and chipped in six points in 14 minutes off the bench.