Nets hope for spark with return of Kevin Durant vs. Heat

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The Brooklyn Nets, struggling to avoid the Eastern Conference play-in tournament, are optimistic that Kevin Durant will be back in the lineup Thursday night when they host the Miami Heat.

Durant, who has been recovering from a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee, hasn’t played since Jan. 15. He was hurt in a collision with teammate Bruce Brown during the second quarter of a 120-105 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

The Nets were 27-15 and in second place in the Eastern Conference after winning the night Durant got hurt. They have since gone 5-16 to drop to eighth place in the East, 4 1/2 games out of sixth place, which is the last spot in the standings that doesn’t come with a play-in requirement to make the postseason.

Brooklyn’s skid included an 11-game losing streak and a 1-6 mark at home, with five of those home setbacks coming by double digits. The most recent occurred Monday, when the Nets were blown out 133-97 by the Toronto Raptors.

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The Nets fared somewhat better Tuesday but were outplayed in the fourth quarter of a 109-108 loss at Toronto. Brooklyn was outscored 28-19 in the final period.

Durant will have a different cast around him upon his return, with James Harden in Philadelphia. Durant’s new teammates include Seth Curry and veteran center Andre Drummond, who is probable to play Thursday despite with a sore left knee.

One player who still won’t be around for the Nets is Kyrie Irving, whose lack of getting a COVID-19 vaccination leaves him ineligible for home games.

“We all know who we have coming back, and we all know what we need to do to help,” Brooklyn forward James Johnson said. “We see how hard it is to do what KD and Kyrie do every night.”

Miami is 18-7 since losing at Golden State on Jan. 3. The Heat have won nine of their past 11 games, including 115-111 home victory over Brooklyn on Feb. 12.

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The Heat scored at least 110 points nine times in that 11-game span, but they are coming off a 120-119 loss in Milwaukee on Wednesday, two nights after a 112-99 home win over the Chicago Bulls.

Like the Nets on Tuesday, the Heat lost Wednesday because they wilted down the stretch. They led 113-99 lead with 7:12 remaining but were outscored 21-6 the rest of the way, including Jrue Holiday’s jumper with 1.9 seconds left that proved to be the difference.

“We did enough for 47 minutes and change to put ourselves in position to win this game,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said after the Heat hit 21 of 44 3-point attempts. “We just couldn’t close it out, and that’s the deal.”

Tyler Herro led the Heat with 30 points, his fourth straight game with at least 20. Gabe Vincent added 21 points, while Bam Adebayo collected 18 points and 12 rebounds. However, Jimmy Butler was 2-for-14 from the floor en route to six points at Milwaukee after missing 9 of 13 shots Monday and scoring 15 against Chicago.

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Miami was without Kyle Lowry (personal reasons) for the second consecutive game, and he could be out again Thursday.

The Heat are seeking their fourth straight win over the Nets. Miami outscored the Nets 57-42 in the second half of a 106-93 win in Brooklyn on Oct. 27 before the tight win in South Florida last month.

–Field Level Media

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