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Kevin Durant's 31 points in return not enough as Brooklyn Nets fall to shorthanded Miami Heat

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KD goes for 31 points in return from injury (1:51)

Kevin Durant puts up 31 points in his first game back from injury for the Nets in a loss to the Heat. (1:51)

NEW YORK -- Brooklyn Nets star forward Kevin Durant spent part of his morning brushing off the notion that he would be a "savior" for his struggling team, then he almost was just that in a 113-107 loss to the Miami Heat on Thursday night.

After missing a month and a half because of a sprained MCL in his left knee, Durant looked like he hadn't missed a beat while scoring 31 points, dishing out four assists and grabbing four rebounds in 35 minutes. It was the All-Star's first game since he sprained the MCL in his left knee on Jan. 15.

"I felt great," Durant said after the game. "I felt great. I'm only going to get better, more comfortable out there. Take more of a load out there, too -- when I get more games under my belt -- so I felt solid."

After missing his first two shots of the game, Durant found a rhythm, transforming the Nets' offense in the process -- but it wasn't enough for a struggling team that blew a 16-point lead, dropped its third straight game and is now 32-32 on the season. When asked how long it usually takes a team to find its rhythm, Durant said that in his experience in the league, the answer is always different.

"It could take one game, it could take 20 games," Durant said. "It's a matter of just getting out there and seeing what works for us, but it's not like a certain formula or criteria that goes into [the process]. That's how you know when you build chemistry, it's just kind of an organic thing that happens naturally."

The Nets haven't had time for much to happen organically this season with so many players in and out of the lineup. Star guard Kyrie Irving, who is not vaccinated against COVID-19, still can't play in home games because of New York City's vaccination mandate. Newcomer Ben Simmons is dealing with back soreness, and it's unclear when he'll be able to make his debut. Joe Harris, who's played just 14 games, now will have season-ending ankle surgery.

While Durant no doubt helps, the Nets can't just rely on him to cure all their problems.

"I don't look at myself as that, as a savior," he said before the game. "But I know what I can do and how much I can help this team and what we're missing as a group, but I'm not trying to go out there and win a game by myself tonight or make it all about me. I just try to go out there and help and be a good teammate and do what I do. I know what I bring to the table and try to do it to the best of my abilities."

Durant's words proved to be prescient for a group that hasn't been able to find its footing for over two months; the Nets were 5-18 in his absence.

Even with his brilliance on full display Thursday night, the Nets let a Heat team playing without Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry and P.J. Tucker overpower them in the second half with a combination of smart plays and hustle. Miami big man Bam Adebayo finished with 30 points, 11 rebounds and six assists as a large group of Heat fans made its presence felt throughout the night at Barclays Center.

"Overall, this is a game we should win," said Nets coach Jacque Vaughn, who filled in again for Steve Nash (health and safety protocols). "And we told our guys that after the game. We should feel disappointed. We should have won this game."

While Durant's game showed some understandable rust, his presence gave the Nets the kind of emotional lift they've been seeking since his injury. He finished 10-for-21 from the field with three turnovers, including a 3-pointer that rimmed out down the stretch that would have given the Nets the lead.

The Nets remain in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, two games ahead of the Charlotte Hornets in the loss column. They visit the surging Boston Celtics on Sunday.

"We know what the standings are," Durant said before the game. "We know everybody's telling us every day how far we're dropping and where we may end up, constantly telling us the situation we're in. But we understand that and know that each day is important, so we're focused on tonight and just keep plugging away."