Fewer shootarounds. More pregame walkthroughs. New rotations. Hopefully some blowout video games. The Nets are doing no matter it takes to avoid wasting their star for the top of the season.
Reducing Kevin Durant’s workload is precedence No. 1, says Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn.
Durant entered Wednesday night time’s matchup in opposition to the Charlotte Hornets because the NBA’s chief in minutes performed. Through the primary 25 video games of the Nets’ season, the famous person ahead tallied 921.7 complete minutes. Miami’s Kyle Lowry, who ranks second behind Durant with 907 minutes, is the one different participant over age 30 who entered the day with greater than 801 minutes performed to date.
Durant’s minutes, after all, give the Nets the most effective likelihood to win video games.
He is averaging 29.9 factors per recreation, is flirting with 50-40-90 Club numbers as soon as once more (Durant is capturing 55.3% from the sphere, 91.8% from the foul line and 33.8% from three-point vary) and brings added rim safety and flexibility on the defensive finish.
The caveat, after all, is the toll the workload takes on his physique.
Durant is 34 years previous in his fifteenth NBA season. He is 4 seasons faraway from rupturing his Achilles’ tendon within the 2019 NBA Finals, a devastating harm that jeopardized his NBA profession and value him your entire 2019-20 season.
Veteran Nets ahead Royce O’Neale, 29, ranks third within the NBA in minutes at 896 by the primary leg of the season. Every different participant who ranks within the prime 12 in minutes is 26 years previous or youthful. Of the 40 gamers who entered Wednesday night time with a minimum of 750 minutes performed, solely seven are age 30 or older.
But the schedule is the schedule, and the Nets don’t wish to repeat final season, the place they completed eighth within the Eastern Conference and needed to survive a Play-In Tournament recreation in opposition to the Cleveland Cavaliers earlier than the Boston Celtics swept them out of the primary spherical. As Durant’s minutes pile, so do Nets victories. After beginning the season 2-6, the Nets have gained seven of their final 10 video games. If the playoffs began at this time, it might keep away from the sudden-death Play In.
But if the playoffs began at this time, Durant would have the NBA’s most fatigued legs.
It’s a stability the Nets wish to strike — and the staff is trying to return injured gamers and alleviate Durant’s minute load throughout the upcoming schedule.
For starters, Vaughn anticipated Durant to play a ton of minutes in opposition to the Boston Celtics. He anticipated it to be a taxing recreation — two championship contenders in opposition to each other with the current reminiscence of the Celtics sweeping the Nets off the Barclays Center flooring looming within the backdrop.
But the Nets made positive they’d two-and-a-half days off after that onerous fought loss to Boston.
The Nets didn’t maintain an actual apply on Tuesday, simply a person work session the place gamers got here in and received therapy, received photographs up, or performed mild pickup video games. The staff additionally didn’t have a shootaround — often based mostly on the apply facility in Industry City, about 2.5 miles southwest of ‘The Clays’ — on Wednesday forward of the Charlotte Hornets recreation.
Instead, it kicked media off of the court docket two-and-a-half hours forward of tip-off to undergo a walkthrough. The Nets did the identical factor on recreation day in opposition to the Celtics on Sunday: scratch shootaround, simply present as much as the world early.
”It’s a bit change of tempo and actually it’s us attempting to capitalize on the period of time that guys can have for relaxation,” Vaughn mentioned. “In New York totally different guys reside totally different locations. Now, it turns into only one journey proper to the world. That journey leads you proper into recreation time.
”So, we had two video games in between, gave them this morning to have breakfast and low and every part and have one journey to the world. So, all capitalizing on giving guys juice for tonight.”
That in-season tweak, the Nets hope, will assist protect Durant’s legs. Kyrie Irving’s minutes are additionally excessive. He is averaging the identical variety of minutes per recreation as Durant (36.9) however has brisker legs after serving an eight-game suspension for conduct detrimental to the staff.
The staff can be wanting ahead for alternatives to avoid wasting mileage within the upcoming schedule. The Nets play Friday in opposition to the Atlanta Hawks then hit the street instantly after to play the Indiana Pacers within the second recreation of a back-to-back.
Not coincidentally, the Nets expect Ben Simmons (calf) and Yuta Watanabe (hamstring) to return to the rotation this this weekend, and they’re additionally working the not too long ago recovered TJ Warren into the move. Warren averaged 27 factors per recreation within the 2020 Orlando Bubble however missed every of the previous two seasons on account of a left foot that didn’t heal correctly after consecutive stress fractures.
Both Warren and Watanabe are versatile scoring forwards able to assuaging Durant’s minutes load for brief spurts.
“The fact that we’ll have more bodies to put in the game, more flexibility in what those bodies look like, small and big. We haven’t seen Yuta, TJ, Kevin and Nic on the floor at the same time. So what does that look like?” Vaughn mentioned. “Does that decrease some of his minutes? So the thought of more bodies back gives us more opportunities to give [Kevin] relief.”
After the back-to-back, nonetheless, the schedule loosens from a frequency standpoint.
The Nets journey to D.C. to play the Washington Wizards on Nov. 12, then get three days off earlier than touring to Toronto to face the Raptors on the sixteenth. The Nets then journey to Detroit to play the Pistons on the 18th earlier than internet hosting Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors — after one other two days of relaxation.
“Hopefully you got some injured guys that have been on the injured list back to help you on the back-to- back,” Vaughn mentioned. “Then you take a little sigh of relief, and then the next two weeks after that we’re in pretty good shape. We’ve got a game, three days in-between, with another game. So there is vision going ahead of hopefully getting some of those minutes down.”
Of course Durant has a say in his minutes, and each time he’s requested about his load, he says some variation of “Let me die out there.”
If it have been as much as him, he may lead the NBA in minutes performed each season. He needs to play as many minutes as doable as a result of he’s that good on the recreation and needs to impose his will on the opponent.
On some nights, like his 40-minute load in opposition to Boston, the Nets will want that from him. In order to avoid wasting his legs for the top of the season and the playoffs, although, the Nets want to search out pockets of the yr to slice his minutes a couple of ranges.
“[Kevin’s minutes load is] priority number one, in all honesty; it is,” Vaughn mentioned. “It’s just stretches of the season where you are trying to win games, you’re trying to win that day’s game and you hope you get through by playing Kevin those amount of minutes, with the long term view of cutting those minutes.”
There’s one thing that may save Durant extra mileage than gamers coming back from harm or tweaking the apply schedule, although, and that’s caring for enterprise in opposition to lesser opponents.
The Nets haven’t dominated decrease stage competitors in a style that might permit them sit Durant your entire fourth quarter this season. The Nets typically let opponents hold round, or it’ll construct an enormous lead solely to blow it by the top of the sport.
Vaughn is hoping all three correlate. He hopes the added relaxation, coupled with injured gamers returned to the rotation, finally offers the Nets the depth and optionality to deal with non-playoff opponents with ease. Whatever it takes to protect some of the feared postseason performers in league historical past for a deep playoff run.
“You can’t say you don’t’ have juice. We gave them plenty of time to recharge, so they should have juice,” he mentioned. “So that part we try to take care of. Now the mental approach. We’ve been talking about each game and trying to win each game and getting better. We have more guys healthy tonight, how we incorporate those guys. We have minutes across the board. Let’s capitalize and take care of home.”