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Durant dismisses concerns about minutes, “I want to play basketball”

Brooklyn Nets v Dallas Mavericks

DALLAS, TX - DECEMBER 7: Kevin Durant #7 of the Brooklyn Nets celebrates with teammates following the team’s 102-99 win over the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center on December 7, 2021 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

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Kevin Durant played 40 minutes Tuesday night against Dallas, including the entire second half.

That is no one-off occurrence, Durant has played at least 37 minutes in eight straight games. He is sixth in the NBA playing 36.2 minutes a game, and in the top 20 in the league in total minutes played. Durant, in his age 33 season and with a significant injury history, is on pace to play the most minutes he has in a season since he was in Oklahoma City, and that is coming off a summer where he played big minutes in the Tokyo Olympics. It’s the same situation for James Harden (minus the Olympics), who is 10th in the NBA in total minutes played and seventh per game at 35.9 minutes a night at age 32.

Critics have said that’s too much, that Nets coach Steve Nash is risking injury to his two best players by wearing them down in the first half of the season. Tuesday night, after the Nets beat the Mavericks 102-99, Durant and Harden fired back at that argument — they want to be on the court as much as they can. Here’s the quotes, via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“I know people might be concerned about my minutes and I got injured before and all this extra s***, but we’ll figure it out if I get there,” Durant said... “Right now, I want to play basketball.”

“One thing about me and KD, we love to play basketball,” Harden said. “So it don’t matter. We could play the whole 48. Even if we’re exhausted. Coach says something -- nope. We wanna stay in the game. We wanna play.”

Durant and Harden are hoopers — they love the game, they want to stay in and play as much as they can. Sometime’s its the coach’s job to protect a player from himself, to think big picture — and Nash needs to be thinking May and June, not just beating Dallas in December.

However, Nash was honest last week about his situation: “It’s not ideal to have [Durant] have such a burden, but I don’t know what options we have other than to play him less and lose more.”

This is where the absence of Kyrie Irving this season hits the Nets — their margin for error is gone, their third star who can dominate a game has chosen not to be with his teammates. Brooklyn is 17-7 on the season, but only four of those wins were by 15 points or more, the kind of blowouts where the bench is in and KD is icing his knees midway through the fourth quarter.

At some point Nash will need to steal some rest and maybe a few night’s off for KD, but that is easier said than done. In part because Durant loves the game, missed more than a year of it due to injury, and wants to be out there as much as he can now.