Brooklyn Nets' Kevin Durant (knee) expected to play Thursday vs. Miami Heat

NEW YORK -- Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant is expected to return Thursday night against the Miami Heat after missing a month and a half because of a sprained left MCL.

Durant, who was not listed in the injury report Wednesday for the first time since getting hurt in the Nets' Jan. 15 win over the New Orleans Pelicans, will provide a huge lift for a team that went 5-16 in his absence.

Without Durant on the floor, coupled with the timing of trading James Harden to the Philadelphia 76ers for a package of Ben Simmons (who has yet to play as he continues to deal with a back issue), Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two future first-round picks -- along with the ongoing absence of Kyrie Irving in home games because of the New York City vaccination mandate -- the Nets have slid to 32-31 and eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

It's a sharp decline for a team that had been at or near the top of the standings with Durant, as the All-Star forward played like a strong MVP candidate before the knee injury.

"He's going to come back and impact the game every way possible," Drummond said prior to the loss Monday to the Toronto Raptors.

Durant returned to practice right after the All-Star break and has been around the team, and on the bench, a lot more over the last couple of weeks. His availability will give the struggling group an emotional lift with 19 regular-season games remaining.

"He doesn't look hurt to me," Nets guard Bruce Brown said with a smile when asked about Durant's rehab progress earlier this week. "I'm going to be honest. He looks good."