NEW YORK -- As the Brooklyn Nets embark on one of the strangest logistical road trips in recent NBA history, star Kevin Durant plans to use the two road games in Portland and Chicago as an opportunity to build "chemistry" with Kyrie Irving, who is making his way back to the lineup.
"We're definitely a better team, a way better team [with Irving]," Durant said after scoring 28 points in Sunday's 121-119 overtime win over the San Antonio Spurs. "And he's definitely going to give us a lift. So I'm looking forward to it -- a couple games on the road, an opportunity for us to build our chemistry. So I'm looking forward to it."
The Nets are able to have that luxury after they reversed course last month and decided to allow Irving, who is not vaccinated against COVID-19, to come back to the roster as a part-time player. Irving, who returned to the Nets' lineup Wednesday during a win over the Indiana Pacers, is currently not able to play in home games because of New York City's vaccination mandate.
Nets coach Steve Nash said after Irving's first game that he didn't want to ramp up the 29-year-old's workload too quickly, but he acknowledged that after the heavy workload several key players put forth in Sunday's overtime win, there was a chance Irving would play a few more minutes Monday in Portland. Irving played 32 minutes in Wednesday's win over the Pacers.
"We'll see," Nash said. "Typically with a game under his belt he could play a little more [Monday], so that's definitely possible."
Nash said both James Harden and Durant would play against the Trail Blazers. Asked why he wanted to play when so many other stars might not take a cross-country flight to play on the second night of a back-to-back in an analytics era that prioritizes rest, Durant's reasoning was simple.
"I want to play," Durant said, after playing 43 minutes against the Spurs. "And then they pay me money to play basketball."
The Nets will be playing a lot of basketball over the next week, thanks to the rescheduled game against the Blazers, which was originally supposed to be played Dec. 23 but had to be moved after the Nets dealt with a COVID-19 outbreak. After Monday's game, they'll fly to Chicago for a Wednesday game against the Bulls, then fly back to New York for a Thursday game against the New Orleans Pelicans in Brooklyn.
"I can't remember all the back-to-backs I ever played in but I don't remember any six-hour flights in between a back-to-back and three-hour time zones and all that stuff," Nash said before the game. "So it's different, but we got to take it as an opportunity, an opportunity to succeed under adversity and this moment where we're trying to find ourselves again -- we have a tough back-to-back, so let's embrace it. Let's see if we can win both, and if we can win both, or at least play well in both, maybe that gives us a spark."
Nash did not want to use the rescheduled game as an excuse -- no matter what happens over the next week.
"I'm very hesitant to make excuses," Nash said. "We got to attack this back-to-back. We got to play well today. We'll play well today, we'll get on the plane, we'll start thinking about [Monday]. And when we get there we'll try to figure out the best way to be rejuvenated, regenerated and ready to have another good performance. So I'm very skeptical, especially as we face a little adversity here, to have any sort of excuses or any sort of 'woe is me' [mentality]. We got to get down to business here and play hard, play well, play together and build day by day."
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich echoed similar sentiments when asked before the game whether he had ever seen a cross-country back-to-back quite like the one the Nets are going through.
"That's a tough one, obviously," Popovich said. "But I can remember days when we'd play three in a row. So all kinds of crazy stuff goes on, but you just deal with it. Every team gets some sort of situation that seems ridiculous. And nobody does that on purpose but it happens."