NBA: Nets out to shed drama in opener vs Pelicans

Kevin Durant #7 and Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets

FILE–Kevin Durant #7 and Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets. Al Bello/Getty Images/AFP

The Brooklyn Nets were last seen in a game that counted on April 25 when they were bounced out of the playoffs in a four-game first-round sweep by the Boston Celtics, a year after losing in overtime of Game 7 in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Then came a wild summer featuring a trade request by star Kevin Durant unless coach Steve Nash and GM Sean Marks were fired.

Eventually, the sides cleared the air and the Nets are hoping to put their summer of animosity behind them starting Wednesday night when they play host to the New Orleans Pelicans in the season opener for both teams.

The Nets finished seventh in the Eastern Conference last season and only advanced to the first round by winning a play-in game over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Nets’ drop in the standings, from second place in 2020-21, was mainly due to Kyrie Irving limited to 29 games due to his vaccination status and Durant missing 21 games with a left knee injury. That was in conjunction with James Harden asking for a trade because of his frustration with Irving’s constant absences.

Irving has appeared in 103 regular-season games since joining the Nets. Last season, he averaged 27.4 points but shot 46.9 percent after shooting 50.6 percent the previous season.

Durant averaged 29.9 points in 55 regular-season games last season but shot 38.6 percent in the series against Boston.

“He’s ready to make an impact and I feel like he’s ready to change the narrative on him, on himself,” Brooklyn center Nic Claxton said of Irving after Monday’s practice. “That’s big for us having him full-time and not having to worry about the COVID stuff.”

Ben Simmons #10 of the Brooklyn Nets speaks at the podium during a press conference at Brooklyn Nets Media Day at HSS Training Center on September 26, 2022 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.

FILE–Ben Simmons #10 of the Brooklyn Nets. Dustin Satloff/Getty Images/AFP 

The Nets also had little to show for trading James Harden. They obtained Ben Simmons from Philadelphia, but he did not play last season after injuring his back. Wednesday marks his first appearance since June 21, 2021, in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against Atlanta.

The Nets head into their 11th season opener in Brooklyn without Joe Harris and Seth Curry, who are recovering from ankle surgeries.

The Pelicans will play their first game with Zion Williamson on the floor since May 4, 2021, and the former No. 1 overall pick is appearing in his 86th regular-season game. He was limited to 24 games as a rookie and then averaged 27 points in 61 games two seasons ago before missing last season with a foot injury.

“He’s so talented and gifted,” Nash said. “He causes problems for everybody, no matter, I think, what state his body and game is in. He’s still such a unique athlete and player.”

Williamson twisted his left ankle in a preseason game last Wednesday at Miami but said he’s fine after New Orleans practiced Monday.

“We’re starting the season off on the road against a great team,” Williamson said. “I think we have a special team here. I’m excited to see how we do.”

The Pelicans are seeking their first winning season since getting 48 wins in 2017-18. They finished 36-46 last season and lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Phoenix Suns.

New Orleans will begin its first full season with CJ McCollum. McCollum averaged 24.3 points per game and shot 49.3 percent in 26 games after being obtained from Portland.

McCollum and Williamson will be flanked in the starting lineup by Herb Jones, Brandon Ingram and Jonas Valanciunas. Ingram led the Pelicans in scoring at 22.7 points while Valanciunas averaged a double-double of 17.8 points and 11.4 rebounds.

The Nets have won the past seven meetings with the Pelicans, including a 120-105 home win on Jan. 15 when Durant injured his knee in the second quarter.

Field Level Media

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