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Kevin Durant thrives in return, but Nets loses to Heat, falling to .500

Kevin Durant didn’t want the title, even if it fits.

“I don’t see myself as a savior,” Durant said before playing like one.

But even a savior needs capable disciples.

In his first game in more than six weeks, Durant often looked like the superstar the Nets remembered, but Brooklyn still looked to maintain a 16-point lead in the first half with a 113-107 loss to the first-placed (but exhausted) heat disappeared at Barclays Center on Thursday night.

Durant may be back, but he didn’t stop the free fall immediately. Brooklyn went 5-16 without the face of the franchise, plummeted to eighth place in the Eastern Conference and is likely destined for a Play-In tournament spot. The Nets (32-32) are .500 for the first time since they were 3-3.

You can’t blame Durant after going off the field on 10 of 21 shots for 31 points while working through 35 minutes in his first game in a month and a half. But with a redesigned Nets roster, the Heat looked more composed and shot better in the second half.

Bam Adebayo (30 points) outplayed Andre Drummond wide, Max Strus and Caleb Martin (9 of 17 of 3 combined) were stronger than Seth Curry and Patty Mills, and a superstar wasn’t enough for the Nets.

Kevin Durant, who scored 31 points on his return from injury, drives past Tyler Herro during the Nets' 133-107 loss to the Heat.
Kevin Durant, who scored 31 points on his return from injury, drives past Tyler Herro during the Nets’ 133-107 loss to the Heat.
NY Post: Charles Wenzelberg

The Nets dominated the first half, and Miami dominated the third quarter, setting the stage for a faltering fourth.

Brooklyn rested Durant for the first five minutes of the period, which saw Miami build an eight-point lead that featured a spectacular lob from Tyler Herro, who was at arch, to a grazing Adebayo, who threw it in Drummond’s face.

Durant returned with 6:58 left and led an inspired run in which the Nets closed the gap to two 2 1/2 minutes left with a Durant jump followed by his free throws. Bruce Brown (21 points) rejected Gabe Vincent’s 3, but Curry and Durant then missed their own and ended the rally.

Kevin Durant shoots against the Heat over Duncan Robinson during the Nets loss.
Kevin Durant shoots against the Heat over Duncan Robinson during the Nets loss.
NY Post: Charles Wenzelberg

After building a comfortable first-half advantage based on Durant’s 17 points, the Nets were sloppy against Miami’s zone defenses in the crucial third quarter.

The Heat – who were playing without three-fifths of their starting line-up – used a 21-8 burst that included a 14-0 run from the half-time break to seize control.

The Nets couldn’t get enough stops in a game, with Miami shooting 51.9 percent from the floor.

The Heat (42-22) didn’t seem to miss Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry or PJ Tucker, who dealt with various issues on the second night of a back-to-back.

The second-half collapse wiped away so much of the good first-half feeling around Durant.

Durant watched as Miami’s Omer Yurtseven pulled away from him, so he launched a deep two for his first points in 47 days. He followed these with a turnaround before connecting with a fadeaway. He could overpower or he could finesse.

In the second he saw the defensive key on himself and saw Brown roll to the hoop for an easy layup to make it 44-32. Miami didn’t let up to help Drummond underneath, who was able to squeeze in for a layup.

Bruce Brown, who scores 21 points, lays up a layup during the Nets' loss to the Heat.
Bruce Brown, who scores 21 points, lays up a layup during the Nets’ loss to the Heat.
NY Post: Charles Wenzelberg

Durant’s presence was felt everywhere and he seemed to be everywhere – including in the umpires’ ears when he scored a technical error in the second game.

The struggling Mills knocked down his first four 3s, and the Nets started 9 of 18 from deep before cooling off.

Mills and Curry’s roles became even more important Thursday when the Nets announced sniper Joe Harris needed a second surgery that will take him out for the season.

The Nets have been preaching their own version of The Process all season – heavy on ramp-up and progression and little on results – but that may change in the next 18 games. You can’t afford many more good, but not good enough, efforts.

“We want to win every game. But we just have to take it one day at a time,” Durant said in his first public comments since Feb. 12. “I know the rankings. Every day everyone tells us how far we’ve fallen and where we might end up – and constantly tells us what situation we’re in.

“We understand that and we know that every day is important.”

https://nypost.com/2022/03/03/kevin-durant-thrives-in-return-but-nets-lose-to-heat-to-fall-to-500/ Kevin Durant thrives in return, but Nets loses to Heat, falling to .500

JOE HERNANDEZ

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