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Kevin Durant can return, expected to play Saturday vs. Warriors

Michael Holley and Mike Smith analyze Kyrie Irving's comments on the Nets' 7-6 start since acquiring James Harden and explain why Brooklyn is no longer a clear-cut favorite to win the East due to recent struggles.

NEW YORK — Kevin Durant is back on the court, just in time to go back to the Bay Area.

Durant rejoined the Brooklyn Nets on Friday, a day ahead of his return to the place where Stephen Curry said the Warriors played “some of the best basketball l think the world has ever seen” when Durant was one of them.

“That was an amazing three years of a moment in time,” Curry said.

Now in his first season playing for the Nets, Durant is set to resume what’s been a stop-and-start season for the star forward.

He has missed three games for coronavirus health and safety protocol reasons, facing a mandatory seven-day quarantine after being a close contact of a team employee who tested positive for the virus.

Golden State’s players were certainly planning on him to play.

The trouble started in a bizarre and frustrating night for Durant and the Nets against Toronto last Friday. Durant was told he couldn’t start the game shortly before tipoff, then was cleared to enter in the first quarter, resulting in his first appearance off the bench in his 867-game career.

He was then pulled for good in the third quarter, throwing a water bottle in frustration before the Nets went on to lose the game.

“But I’m back out there now. It is what it is,” Durant said. “I was a little upset during and after the game, but it’s cool now. I’m ready to play.”

Durant continued to test negative during his absence and was able to return to practice Friday. The Nets left later for San Francisco, where they would start a five-game trip Saturday.

Durant said his primary focus was on the Nets building chemistry but was looking forward to visiting the Warriors, who have moved to a new arena since he left.

“I had some great years in Golden State,” Durant said. “Looking forward to being back in the Bay Area but it’s just a shame the fans won’t be there.”

He spent three seasons with the Warriors, winning NBA titles in the first two. Golden State went 16-1 in the 2017 postseason and repeated the next year, with Durant winning NBA Finals MVP awards in both.

But he was injured to begin the 2019 finals and the Warriors fell into a 3-1 hole against Toronto. Durant returned for Game 5 but ruptured his Achilles tendon and the Warriors lost their title in the next game when Klay Thompson tore his ACL.

“Two championships, an unfortunate ending with injuries and not getting it done in the ’19 finals, but it was some of the best basketball that I think the world has ever seen,” Curry said. “The ability to put that much talent and experience together and make it work - there’s no guarantee that it was going to work - and we figured it out and it was a amazing run.”

Durant left shortly after to sign with the Nets and missed last season while recovering from surgery. He is averaging 29.5 points, which would be second in the league, but hasn’t played enough games to qualify. He had an earlier three-game absence for protocol reasons.

The Nets, who routed the Warriors in this season’s opening game, were supposed to visit Golden State last March before the season was suspended.

“I don’t know how special it will be because it’s not at Oracle and there are no fans,” Curry noted of this weekned’s reunion.

The Warriors plan to pay tribute to Durant on Saturday night and again in his next visit to Chase Center when fans have returned.

“I know we’re all looking forward to seeing him, it’s just too bad that there won’t be any fans in the stands,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “I imagine that next season, knock on wood, we’d have fans back in the stands and we will commemorate his return when that comes.”