Brooklyn Nets' All-Star Kevin Durant will return in the next week according to head coach Steve Nash.

Durant has been sidelined since January 15 when he suffered an MCL sprain, with the Nets struggling in his absence, sliding to a 31-29 record including a run of 11 straight defeats.

The Nets have been reluctant to put a timeframe on the 33-year-old's return, having been expected to be out until the All-Star break but Nash offered some clarity ahead of Saturday's road game against the Milwaukee Bucks.

"Every day closer," Nash said after shootaround. "We'll see. I expect in the next week he'll be back for sure. It could be quick; it could be the whole week barring any setbacks."

"I think with Kevin he's been a great healer throughout his career so the number one thing is to get him back healthy and feeling secure in his health and his body so he can move and be free.

"When he's back, obviously he adds a ton to our team on both ends of the floor... one of the greatest scorers of all time. And we also know he helps us defensively; he gives us more size and length. So he's a big miss for us, and whenever he gets back, he'll impact our team."

Nash was less committal on Ben Simmons, whom joined the Nets earlier this month in a trade from the Philadelphia 76ers. Simmons has not played all season due to his standoff with the 76ers and is building up his conditioning, as well as managing a "little soreness in his back".

"He's not gone to high intensity yet," Nash said. "Just ramping him up still."

On the back issue, Nash added: "It's not like an injury. It's just kind of like as he's returning to play his back's flared up a little bit. It's not a long-term thing."

The short-handed Brooklyn Nets slumped to their 13th defeat from their past 15 games as Jayson Tatum led the Boston Celtics to a 129-106 victory on Thursday.

Tatum scored 30 points including four three-pointers along with seven rebounds and four assists for the Celtics who have won 10 of their past 11 games.

The Celtics' hot form is in contrast to the Nets, who have slumped to a 31-29 record in the absence of the injured Kevin Durant, unavailable Kyrie Irving and unfit Ben Simmons.

Boston led from start to finish, opening up a 35-22 quarter-time lead, with good support from big men Robert Williams III (12 points and 11 rebounds) and Al Horford (11 points and 13 rebounds).

Seth Curry top scored for the Nets with 22 points but only made two-of-seven from beyond the arc, while Patty Mills struggled with one point from 28 minutes, shooting none-of-nine from the field.

 

Morant hurt in tight loss

Ja Morant airballed a game-tying three-point attempt in the dying seconds and had a third-quarter injury scare as the Memphis Grizzlies lost 119-114 to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Morant finished with 20 points and eight rebounds but seemed to pick up a leg injury on a drive which impacted his final quarter. D'Angelo Russell scored 23 of his 37 points in the fourth quarter for the Timberwolves.

The ladder-leading Phoenix Suns had no issues without Chris Paul as they extended their winning streak to eight games with a 124-104 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Devin Booker scored 25 points with five rebounds, 12 assists and a career-high six steals.

Stephen Curry was benched late after 18 points and 14 assists as the Golden State Warriors won 132-95 over the Portland Trail Blazers, while Nikola Jokic had 25 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists in the Denver Nuggets' 128-110 triumph over the Sacramento Kings.

 

Trae wayward in Hawks loss

Trae Young struggled as the Atlanta Hawks went down 112-108 to the Chicago Bulls. The Hawks guard made three-of-17 from the field in his 14 points for the game. For the Bulls, who have won six in a row, in-form DeMar DeRozan scored 37 points while Zach LaVine returned from injury with 20 points.

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash concedes his side must have urgency to arrest their slide after Thursday's 129-106 loss to the Boston Celtics left them with a 31-29 record.

The Nets were billed as title contenders earlier this season but have endured a tough midseason period, winning only two of their past 15 games with Kevin Durant out injured, Kyrie Irving unavailable for home games and James Harden traded out.

Harden swapped places with Ben Simmons from the Philadelphia 76ers, with the new acquisition still yet to debut as he re-conditions having not played this season.

Nash admitted having a healthy roster would go a long way to fixing his side's issues but conceded they needed urgency as their season slips away.

"We understand the situation we're in. We know there's urgency," Nash said at the post-game news conference.

"We're not going to have half a season to figure this thing out. We're up against the clock.

"Our guys have been great. There's a lot of pressure and circumstances that make it difficult as you're dropping in the standings but their spirit has been outstanding.

"That's the spirit of taking it day-by-day game-by-game trying to improve. At the same time, we recognise the situation we're in."

Jayson Tatum starred for the in-form Celtics with 30 points and seven rebounds, while the Nets' best were Seth Curry (22 points and seven rebounds), Bruce Brown Jr (15 points, seven rebounds and five assists) and Kessler Edwards (13 points and five rebounds) off the bench.

Nash was pressed on ways to fix their struggles without their key players, with no timeframes on Durant and Simmons' availability but he reverted to a healthy roster.

"That's number one, two, three and four really," Nash said. "We could've played better tonight, but we can play better on nights when we have everybody too.

"In this league, you flip it, take four of the Celtics starters out, it's a different look."

Seth Curry does not want an apology from Ben Simmons as the pair start a new chapter with the Brooklyn Nets.

Curry and Simmons were team-mates on the Philadelphia 76ers, although the former first overall pick had not played this season.

Simmons has now cited a difficult period with his mental health as his reason for staying away from the 76ers until a trade was agreed with the Nets.

The Australian was the subject of intense criticism following the team's playoff defeat to the Atlanta Hawks last season, in which he was deemed to have shirked responsibility and passed up shooting opportunities.

With James Harden leaving the Nets for the 76ers, Curry and Andre Drummond joined Simmons in the deal going the other way.

It means Simmons must now play with team-mates he abandoned earlier in the season, but Curry does not see that as a problem.

"Business is business," Curry told ESPN on Thursday ahead of the NBA's resumption after the All-Star break.

"I said from day [one], even when he was out early in the season, people were asking me if I feel like, if Ben comes back, should he apologise to us or whatever?

"I understand the business; he doesn't need to apologise to anybody. When he's on the court, I know he's going to do his job and he's going to do what he does. So I understand the business.

"He was doing what he felt was best for himself business-wise and personal-wise. And the team's going to do the same thing as far as making trades or whatever, so I understand it, I've been around it; I don't take anything personal.

"When we're on the court, we're team-mates. Everything's fine, and we depend on each other to do good things. There's been nothing negative he's done to me personally, so I'm fine."

With another NBA All-Star weekend in the books, Thursday sees the league back in regular season action, with one of the more intriguing games taking place at Barclays Center when the Brooklyn Nets entertain the Boston Celtics.

They played in the same venue earlier this month, with Boston easing to a 126-91 victory, which the Nets will be eager to avenge this time.

Somewhat surprisingly given the strength of their respective rosters, Celtics star Jayson Tatum was the only player representing either team to play in the All-Star game, scoring eight points during his 20 minutes on court for Team Durant.

Kevin Durant missed the game in Cleveland with a knee injury and is likely to be out of this clash as well. 

Nets general manager Sean Marks recently said Durant and new arrival Ben Simmons could be ready to play in the coming weeks, but the visit of the Celtics is likely to come too soon for both.

Steve Nash's team currently sit eighth in the Eastern Conference on 31-28, having fallen away dramatically in the last month, losing 11 games in a row until beating the Sacramento Kings on Valentine's Day.

Injuries have played a big part in the dip in form, but back-to-back wins against the Kings and the New York Knicks suggested they could be about to turn things around, even with a defeat to the Washington Wizards in their last game before the All-Star break.

The Celtics, meanwhile, have been going in the other direction, winning nine games in a row before a loss to the Detroit Pistons ahead of the break, and they find themselves sixth in the East on 34-26.

Coach Ime Udoka has led his team to a five-game winning streak on the road and will be looking to make it six in Brooklyn.

He will be reliant on Tatum and Jaylen Brown to pick up where they left off. The Celtics' star duo combined for 57 points and 20 rebounds in the recent 135-87 thrashing of the Philadelphia 76ers.

The impact of guard Derrick White could also be crucial after his recent arrival from the San Antonio Spurs. He has made a respectable start to life with Boston, averaging 12.3 points per game in his four outings.

The restart of the league signals the beginning of what will no doubt be a tense run in a tightly contested Eastern Conference, and both these teams will be looking to get off to a perfect start on Thursday.

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Brooklyn Nets – Patty Mills

It's a home game, so Kyrie Irving (vaccination status) cannot play, and with James Harden gone and no Durant or Simmons yet, the pressure will once again fall on Mills to be his team's main man.

The Australian narrowly missed out on the three-point finals at All-Star weekend but is enjoying a career-best season for points (13.4 average per game) in Brooklyn after moving from San Antonio last year.

His three-point shooting is what has been letting him down in recent times, going five games in a row scoring single figures for points, before hitting 22 in the loss to Washington before the All-Star break, including five of seven from beyond the arc.

Boston Celtics – Jayson Tatum

Tatum has been his team's standout player this season, and the momentum from featuring in the All-Star game could see him raise that level even higher.

Only three players in the league have scored more than his 1,439 points this season (DeMar DeRozan - 1,547, Trae Young - 1,475, Giannis Antetokounmpo - 1,443), while only DeRozan (566) and Nikola Jokic (516) have hit more than his 500 field goals.

Interestingly, Tatum took more of a back seat when Boston beat Brooklyn earlier this month, with Brown and Marcus Smart (both 22) scoring more than his 19 points.

KEY BATTLES – Make a better start, Brooklyn

The recent game between these two saw the Celtics race out to a 35-16 lead after the first quarter. It was always a big ask for the Nets to do anything from there.

Where Brooklyn will likely look for success is in mid-range, where no team in the league has a higher percentage of field goals from (48.7). However, only four teams have a lower percentage of mid-range field goals allowed than Boston (39.9 per cent).

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Although the Celtics won at Barclays Center earlier this month, the Nets had won the previous four meetings between the two, including at TD Garden in November, and all three encounters last season.

The Brooklyn Nets are set to be bolstered for the final stretch of the NBA regular season with the signing of experienced free agent guard Goran Dragic.

The 35-year-old Slovenian, who has an outstanding postseason record, had interest from several sides including the Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks and Chicago Bulls.

Dragic's agent Billy Duffy told ESPN that the Nets have won the race for his signature, joining for the rest of the season.

The 2018 All-Star offers the Nets capable backcourt size and backup to Kyrie Irving, who is currently only permitted to play road games due to New York City's vaccination mandate.

Dragic played five games for the Toronto Raptors this season before being traded to the San Antonio Spurs upon the deadline, before they went on to buy out the former Miami Heat star's contract.

Brooklyn will waive guard Jevon Carter to open up a spot for Dragic their roster.

Kevin Durant was absent from the NBA All-Star Game in Cleveland on Sunday night after the death of his grandmother.

Although injured, the 33-year-old Durant had been due to be present as the non-playing captain of Team Durant against LeBron James' Team LeBron.

The Brooklyn Nets superstar was also set to be feted in a ceremony along with fellow members of the NBA's 75th Anniversary Team, the players voted the greatest in the league's history.

Durant's mother, Wanda, announced the family's loss earlier on Sunday.

Wanda Durant wrote on Instagram: "It is with great sadness that we share with family and friends that our Dear Sweet Mama, BARBARA A. Davis, transitioned early this morning."

The NBA sent its condolences to Durant's family, stating on Instagram: "The NBA family mourns the loss of Barbara A. Davis."

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell also pulled out of the game, having fallen ill.

Mitchell had been on the Team LeBron roster, and said: "It is a great honour and has always been a dream of mine to be selected as an NBA All-Star. Remorsefully, I will not be able to play in tonight’s All-Star Game due to an upper respiratory illness [non-COVID-related].

"The entire All-Star weekend is a celebration of the basketball community, the fans and the sport I am blessed to play. I'm focused on getting well and back out on the court. Thank you for all the get-well wishes. I can't wait to see the game later today."

Joel Embiid had 42 points as he inspired the Philadelphia 76ers to a 123-120 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks.

With James Harden having arrived to bolster the 76ers' championship bid, but still missing due to a hamstring injury, Embiid served up a reminder of just how crucial he is with another supreme display on Thursday.

This time, it was reigning NBA champions the Bucks who were on the receiving end of a masterful showing from the 27-year-old, who also tallied up 14 rebounds and five assists.

The Bucks came close, though, and had their own MVP to thank for that – Giannis Antetokounmpo helping himself to a double-double of 32 points and 11 rebounds, while also contributing nine assists.

Embiid, fittingly, put Philadelphia ahead for good with a 10-foot shot in the final quarter. 

It marked a valuable return to form for the 76ers, who can enter the All-Star break on a high despite Tuesday's dismal 135-87 defeat to the Boston Celtics. They are third in the Eastern Conference with a 35-23 record, while the Bucks sit fifth (36-24).

Doncic downs Pelicans

Anything Embiid or Antetokounmpo can do, Luka Doncic is out to do it better.

The Dallas Mavericks star had 49 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists in a 125-118 defeat of the New Orleans Pelicans.

Doncic has now had 45 points or more in three of his last four games for Dallas, who enter the break in fifth place in the West.

Nets back to losing ways

After snapping an 11-game losing streak with victories over the Sacramento Kings and New York Knicks, the Brooklyn Nets fell to a 117-103 reverse in Washington.

Rui Hachimura led the way for the Wizards with 20 points, as they moved to 2-2 for their series against the Nets this season.

The Los Angeles Clippers beat the Houston Rockets to win for a third time in their last four games, while the Miami Heat were overtime winners over the Charlotte Hornets.

The Los Angeles Lakers are awaiting news on the injury sustained by Anthony Davis in Wednesday's 106-101 victory over the Utah Jazz.

Davis had 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting when being forced to exit the game after turning his ankle and clutching his right leg in pain.

The 28-year-old was helped to the locker room by his team-mates and initial X-rays revealed no fracture, but he will be re-evaluated after the All-Star break.

In the absence of Davis, who had only recently returned after missing 17 games with a sprained knee, the Lakers stepped up to snap a three-game losing run.

Frank Vogel's side trailed the Jazz by 12 points midway through the fourth quarter, but they went on a 19-4 run – LeBron James scoring the last 10 of those points – to hit back.

James finished with a team-high 33 points, 15 of those coming in the final quarter, meaning he has now scored 25 points or more in a career-best 23 straight games.

The Lakers are now 27-31 for the season but are still down in ninth in the Western Conference, while the 36-22 Jazz are in fourth after suffering a first loss in seven outings.

 


Knicks blow 28-point lead against Nets

Rookie Cam Thomas impressed in the absence of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to help the Brooklyn Nets match their biggest comeback in franchise history.

The Nets trailed the New York Knicks by 28 points before going on to win 111-106, with 16 of Thomas' 21 points arriving in the fourth quarter, including a 3-pointer to clinch the win with 7.7 seconds to go.

Julius Randle had seemingly put the Knicks in control with 31 points and 10 rebounds, but they were unable to hold on and suffered a third successive loss to stumble to 25-34 for the season.


DeRozan eclipses Chamberlain's streak

DeMar DeRozan scored 38 points in the Chicago Bulls' 125-118 victory over the Sacramento Kings to create some NBA history.

The five-time NBA All-Star became the first player to score 35 or more points and shoot 50 per cent or better in seven straight games, usurping Wilt Chamberlain's previous record of six.

Elsewhere on Wednesday, the Golden State Warriors lost 117-116 to the Denver Nuggets through Monte Morris' 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded.

Nikola Jokic had 35 points and 17 rebounds for the Nuggets, who have now won three in a row and five of their last six.

The NBA-leading Phoenix Suns beat the Houston Rockets 124-121 for a seventh successive win thanks to 24 points for Devin Booker and 23 for Deandre Ayton.

James Harden is confident it "made sense" for him to leave the Brooklyn Nets for the Philadelphia 76ers in his pursuit of a first NBA championship.

Harden headed to Philly ahead of last week's trade deadline in a move that saw wantaway 76ers outcast Ben Simmons head in the opposite direction.

Ten-time All-Star Harden had been expected to contend for titles in Brooklyn, having formed a 'Big Three' with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving when he arrived from the Houston Rockets last year.

But injuries and coronavirus controversy – Irving remains unvaccinated – meant the trio played just 365 minutes together across 16 games in the regular season and playoffs.

Now, Harden is instead targeting glory alongside Joel Embiid, the MVP frontrunner who endured a frosty relationship with Simmons on the 76ers.

Embiid has scored 25 or more points in 23 consecutive games – a sequence only three players have topped this century – including a 40-point triple-double last time out.

Harden is excited by the prospect of teaming up with the center, as he said: "For me, [the trade] made sense, man.

"It's a time where I needed to be around guys that I know want to win, and know that they are willing to do whatever it takes to win, and the structure here is unbelievable.

"[Winning is] the goal, man. That's the goal. Like Daryl [Morey, president of basketball operations] said: the opportunity to win is now. Joel is playing the best he's ever played.

"So, my job is to come out there and help him and help the entire team win a championship this year and in years going forward."

Harden left the Rockets for the Nets with the same idea but is now focused on a positive future.

"I mean, it wasn't planned like this – 14 months ago, I didn't see myself with three different teams," he said. "But we are here today and I'm happy.

"The last year has been a lot of ups and downs, a lot of stress, but whatever. That's in the past. I'm excited, I'm healthy and it's the opportunity of a lifetime."

The former MVP added his injured hamstring, which will keep him out until after the All-Star break, "feels really good".

Harden was speaking alongside Morey – formerly his general manager in Houston – who expressed his delight the 76ers had managed to land their man without dealing promising point guard Tyrese Maxey.

"Tyrese absolutely has the chance to be an All-Star in this league," said Morey, adding "the sky's the limit" for both Maxey and Matisse Thybulle. "And that's a big reason why we made sure that they weren't in this trade."

Ben Simmons revealed he had been dealing with "dark times" due to his mental health as he was presented as a Brooklyn Net on Tuesday, although he added his issues while with the Philadelphia 76ers were "a personal thing".

Following a long-running trade saga, Simmons joined the Nets ahead of last week's deadline, with James Harden heading in the opposite direction.

Simmons had been mooted as a piece in a potential Harden trade as long ago as January 2021 – with Harden then forcing his way out of the Houston Rockets – and his future became more uncertain still following the 76ers' playoff defeat to the Atlanta Hawks last season.

The former number one overall pick averaged 6.3 points from 4.7 field goal attempts across the final three games of a seven-game series.

He was the subject of intense criticism after appearing to pass up shooting opportunities, with team-mates and coaches among those to question his performance level.

With Simmons subsequently keen to leave the 76ers, he has not played at all this season.

But the Australian explained as he met the media that the fallout from the Hawks series had not been a prominent factor in a difficult year to date.

"For me, it was just making sure mentally I was right to get out there and play again," Simmons said. "So that's something I've been dealing with.

"And it wasn't about the fans or coaches, or comments made by anybody. It was just a personal thing for me. That was earlier than that series or even that season that I was dealing with, and [the 76ers] knew that.

"So, it is something that I continue to deal with and I'm getting there and getting to the right place to get back on the floor."

He added his mental health issues had "nothing to do with the trade" but rather "a bunch of things that I was dealing with as a person, in my personal life, that I don't really want to go into depth with".

However, getting out of Philly was important for Simmons as he aims to recover.

"A bunch of things that had been going on over the years to where I knew I wasn't myself," he said, explaining his pursuit of a trade. "And I needed to get back to being myself and being happy as a person and taking care of my well-being.

"That was the major thing for me. It wasn't about the basketball, it wasn't about the money, anything like that. I want to be who I am and get back to playing basketball and that level and being myself."

Of his critics, Simmons said: "They should be happy I'm smiling, honestly. I've had some dark times over these last six months and I'm just happy to be in this situation with this team and organisation."

The move also gives Simmons the opportunity to team up with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, with the Nets maintaining title hopes despite their slump to eighth in the East.

"I think it's going to be scary," the new signing said. "Having those guys running alongside me, multiple different weapons on the floor, and I think at the pace we want to play at, it's going to be unreal."

Simmons does not yet know when he will be available for the Nets, but he hopes to play against the 76ers on March 10.

Seth Curry's 23-point arrival helped the Brooklyn Nets snap their 11-game skid in a 109-85 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Monday.

Curry landed four three-pointers with seven rebounds and five assists while fellow debutant Andre Drummond added 11 points, with Ben Simmons still out despite being present for the pre-game shootaround.

The Nets led from start to finish but were propelled by a 54-37 second half with LaMarcus Aldridge scoring 19 points with eight rebounds off the bench.

Bruce Brown had season-high returns with 19 points, six assists and five steals for the new-look Nets who improved to 30-27.

De'Andre Fox had a game-high 26 points for the Kings who were limited to 34.4 per cent shooting (31-of-90) overall.

 

Steph stars but Warriors lose

Stephen Curry made eight three-pointers in a 33-point haul but it was not enough to get the Golden State Warriors past the Los Angeles Clippers who won 119-104. Terance Mann scored 25 points with seven rebounds and six assists for the triumphant Clippers.

Julius Randle had a triple-double with 30 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists but he was overshadowed by Rookie of the Year contender Josh Giddey as the Oklahoma City Thunder won 127-123 in overtime. Giddey also had a triple-double with 28 points including three triples along with 11 rebounds and 12 assists.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic starred with 26 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists as the Denver Nuggets brushed aside the Orlando Magic 121-111, while Donovan Mitchell had 30 points with six rebounds and seven assists in the Utah Jazz's 135-101 victory over the Houston Rockets.

 

Middleton loses radar as Bucks go down

Khris Middleton almost had a triple-double but shot poorly, going three-of-15 from the field and one-of-eight from beyond the arc as the Milwaukee Bucks went down 122-107 to the Portland Trail Blazers. Anfernee Simons scored 31 points for the Blazers, while Middleton had 16 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists as the Bucks lost in Giannis Antetokounmpo's absence due to a sore ankle.

Seth Curry is excited about the weapons at the disposal of the Brooklyn Nets when they get their stars back on court after helping snap their 11-game skid in 109-85 win over the Sacramento Kings on Monday.

Curry top scored for the new-look Nets with 23 points including three three-pointers, while fellow new addition Andre Drummond added 11 points.

Brooklyn were without Kevin Durant (MCL sprain), Kyrie Irving (unable to play in New York due to vaccine mandate) and new acquisition Ben Simmons (conditioning).

"I didn't have to see what we did tonight to know the kind of style we'll play," Curry told reporters after the game.

"We'll have so many weapons out there - offensively and defensively. It's going to be a lot of fun to play.

"It's been a while since I got up and down the floor like that and played with that kind of pace, even in the halfcourt."

The win ends Brooklyn's slump that saw them go from a record of 29-16 to 30-27, but there is renewed hope with a fresh line-up after last week's trade moves that saw Curry, Drummond and Simmons join from the Philadelphia 76ers.

Drummond added: "We have a great group of guys. Guys that are missing right now, we got to wait for them to get healthy, but once everybody gets back I think we'll be very, very good and make a very good push in the playoffs."

Nets head coach Steve Nash had said pre-game that there was no official timeline on Simmons' return to play as he builds reconditioning having not played all season.

“I think he’s in a pretty good state mentally,” Nash said. “If we work with him in conjunction to his physical ramp-up to make sure he’s comfortable on and off the floor, I think he’ll be ready to play mentally when he’s physically ready.”

Reigning NBA Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and new Brooklyn Nets acquisition Ben Simmons will both not play on Monday.

Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer confirmed that Antetokounmpo will miss Monday's game against the Portland Trail Blazers with a sore ankle.

The Greek forward had been listed as probable before being downgraded to doubtful, ahead of back-to-back games with a Tuesday date with the Indiana Pacers too.

"He's not ready to go tonight," Budenholzer told reporters pre-game. "It's not anything more than that. We'll see how he feels tomorrow. I think it's very short term."

Simmons, who joined the Nets from the Philadelphia 76ers in a blockbuster trade late last week, attended shootaround prior to their game with the Sacramento Kings.

However, the three-time All-Star was ruled out as he "returns to competition reconditioning".

Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant was relieved to come through the "noise" surrounding James Harden after his blockbuster trade to the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Sixers signed up Harden and Paul Millsap this week from the Nets, sending Seth Curry, reserve center Andre Drummond, Ben Simmons and two first-round picks the other way.

Harden had last January forced his way out of the Houston Rockets to move to Brooklyn and team up with Durant and Kyrie Irving, but the Nets' 'Big Three' played just 365 minutes together across 16 games in the regular season and playoffs.

Although the Nets went 13-3 in that time, Harden and Irving were each absent for three games of the seven-game series against eventual champions the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2020-21 postseason.

Injury problems have persisted this season, while Irving has missed 10 games due to not having had the COVID-19 vaccination, and the Nets were on a 10-game skid when the Harden trade went through.

Durant insists Harden does not owe an explanation after growing "unhappy" in Brooklyn.

 

"James doesn't have to explain anything to anybody," he said before Saturday's 115-111 loss to the Miami Heat. "He's his own man. He makes his decisions on his career by himself. He doesn't owe anybody an explanation, and I wasn't looking for one.

"I'm just glad that we got this thing done and now we're able to move forward and get some of this noise away, and I'm sure he would feel the same way. But from around our team and around our group, there's noise about what may happen. So I'm glad we can push through that.

"I think once a person gets to that decision of 'I'm unhappy,' I think he's gone through a lot of steps to get there. So, no matter what I say or try to convince someone - I'm not saying I did this, but this is just my theory on this - no matter what I say or do to try to convince someone to change their mood from being unhappy to happy, I think that's when I'm pretty late to the party.

"He's made his decision. I'm sure people make their decision before they get to that mode of being unhappy. I didn't have any conversations with James up until then. I thought everything was solid. I don't do any convincing. I'm sure you make those choices and decisions on your own as an individual. Me as a friend, I just have to accept it."

Harden saw his new team move to 34-22 with an impressive 103-93 defeat of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Joel Embiid continued his MVP form with a triple-double, making a minimum of 25 points for the 31st game in a row, and he believes Harden's arrival will only help him perform better.

"He's going to make the game easy for all of us, especially me," said Embiid. "I don't get a lot of easy shots. I have to work for most of them. I hope he's going to make my game easier."

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