Kevin Durant told reporters Monday that he believes his knee injury earlier this season, along with Kyrie Irving's inability to play in home games for most of the season because he refused to get a COVID-19 vaccine, has played the biggest part in the team's disappointing 40-38 record.
"To be honest, I feel like our season was derailed by my injury," he said. "I'm not looking at it as we're just not a good basketball team. [There wasn't] continuity with me and Kyrie out of the lineup. That's just what it is. When we're all on the floor together, I like what we've got."
Durant, 33, has played in 51 games this year. Irving has appeared in only 25. The Nets are just 7-6 in the games they've played together, though they're outscoring opponents by 9.7 points per 100 possessions with that two-man lineup on the floor, per NBA.com.
It's been a strange season in Brooklyn even aside from the Irving drama or Durant's long absence. James Harden appeared to check out after Durant's injury and eventually got traded to the Philadelphia 76ers. The Nets also languished over the winter, going 9-24 at one point between late December and early March.
Much of that malaise coincided with Durant's injury, including an 11-game losing streak between late January and mid-February.
Ben Simmons—the headliner in the Harden trade on Brooklyn's end—has yet to play since joining the Nets because of a back injury. On Monday, head coach Steve Nash told reporters that the power forward would be out through the play-in tournament.
Despite all of that, the Nets still feel like a true title contender in large part due to the brilliance of KD and Irving. In the past month alone, Durant has three 40-point games and two 50-point outbursts, while Irving has gone for 50 points twice and 60 points once. The Nets are 4-1 in those games.
The Nets are going to have to go through the play-in tournament before they can even start worrying about competing for a championship. But Durant doesn't seem particularly worried about any of that.
"I don't care who we play in the play-in," he told reporters Monday. "Just tip it up.”