The Wizards' win over the Nets three weeks ago may have been Kyrie Irving's last game of the 2019-20 season.
Washington bottled Irving up for most of the night, and Brooklyn's star guard exited the game early after suffering a right knee injury. He missed all five games leading up to the All-Star break, and now it appears the Nets are facing the possibility that Irving's season is over, according to the New York Post's Brian Lewis.
However, Irving's shoulder injury seems to be the cause of this new development, not the knee sprain he suffered in Washington. Per Nets coach Kenny Atkinson, Irving's shoulder is still bothering him and the team will seek a second opinion before deciding how to approach the final 29 games of the season.
Irving missed 26 games in a row this season while dealing with a shoulder impingement and has missed 33 of the Nets' 53 games to date. Brooklyn is 8-12 when Irving plays.
With an increased likelihood Irving is out for the year, it creates a bit more intrigue to the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Here's a snapshot of the standings before games resume post-All-Star break.
7. Nets: 25-28 (--)
8. Magic: 24-31 (2 GB)
9. Wizards: 20-33 (5 GB)
The Wizards weren't expected to make any sort of playoff push at the beginning of the regular season, but they now find themselves in striking distance for one of the last two spots. Washington has a particularly light schedule coming out of the break and before they went on a quick hiatus, were playing some of their best basketball of the season.
Bradley Beal has a 12-game streak of 25-point performances and has increased his efficiency after suffering from cold shooting for most of the first half of the year. The Wizards also boast the third-best defense in the NBA since the trade deadline.
If the goal is to avoid the Bucks in the first round, gunning for the seventh seed is the way to go. And with Irving out, the door might be wide open.
It's hard to ignore the Nets' record with Irving. Spencer Dinwiddie has played spectacularly well leading the offense in Irving's absence. Caris LeVert, who struggled to find a rhythm with a shot creator and ball-dominant scorer like Irving on the floor, could flourish with extended time as a top-two option on offense.
But Brooklyn's eyes were already on next season with Kevin Durant using this year to recover from his Achilles injury. If Kyrie indeed misses the rest of the season, will the Nets have an easier time gelling under a similar system to last season? Sure. Will it significantly lower their ceiling down the stretch? Absolutely.
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