National Basketball Association

If Kevin Durant is healthy, can the Brooklyn Nets' title quest be halted?

April 26

KD’s back – again.

After missing three games because of a left thigh contusion suffered against the Miami Heat last week, Kevin Durant returned to the lineup for Sunday's game against the Phoenix Suns.

And he returned in a big way. 

Despite being on a minutes restriction, "Durantula" came off the bench in the second quarter to score 33 points in 28 minutes, connecting on 12 of his 21 field-goal attempts.

Durant's performance resulted in a 128-119 win over the Suns – the team with the second-best record in the league – and Brooklyn now sits at 41-20, 1.5 games ahead of Philadelphia for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

KD previously missed 23 games between Feb. 15 and April 5 because of a hamstring injury. Then he missed the past three games, raising concerns about his status ahead of the Nets' impending playoff run.

But Durant seemed to squash those concerns Sunday, and in a postgame interview with YES Network, he discussed his individual performance and what lies ahead for him now that he's back on the floor. 

"I’m excited I get to be out there with my teammates again," he said. "… I think my teammates did a great job of looking for me all game. … Hopefully I build on this game and keep going."

Durant's stellar return was undoubtedly a welcome sight for Brooklyn and its fans, and with the playoffs set to begin in less than a month, the discussion now revolves around whether a healthy KD can lead the Nets to a title.

On Monday’s "Undisputed," Shannon Sharpe and Skip Bayless weighed in on KD’s aptness to carry Brooklyn to the promised land, discussing Sunday’s impressive outing and his ability to do it again.

Sharpe gave kudos to Durant but was also wary of jumping the gun after a single evening.

"[KD] is a transcendent player," Sharpe said. "Am I surprised at the way KD played? No. … Kevin Durant makes it look so easy. ... After being off for a year-and-a-half, he comes in and picks right up where he left off after the Achilles injury. He goes down, and he picks right up where he left off after he has the hamstring injury. He goes down with a thigh contusion, and he picks right back up. So I’m not surprised.

"But we just can’t look at one game."

Bayless, on the other hand, said Monday that he's sold – and has been sold – on Durant's ability to overcome all obstacles. 

"I have never, ever seen anything like Kevin Durant," Bayless said. "This guy is all-time great freakish because I’ve never seen anything like the way he plays, the way he plays with rust and the way he responds to any kind of off-court controversy."

Bayless might be on to something.

Durant has played in 25 of the Nets’ 61 games so far in the 2020-21 season and started 22 of them. He's averaging 27.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game. He's 54.4% from the field, 46.7% from 3 and 87% at the line.

But in looking a little more closely at the numbers, Durant has actually seen no drop-off when returning to the Nets' lineup after sitting out.

On eight occasions this season, Durant has come back from a multigame or single-game absence due to injury.

Brooklyn's record in those games is 6-2, and Durant is putting up 29.0 points on 55.8% shooting from the field and 45% shooting from distance in those contests, as well as 6.8 rebounds.

"Kevin Durant comes back [Sunday], and it looks like … he hasn’t missed a single dribble," Bayless said. "And yet, he’s now played a grand total of 25 games over two basketball seasons. That’s impossibly great."

Brooklyn has 11 games left, and it's a mystery as to how many Durant will play. 

What's not a mystery is that fully healthy, off an injury or off the bench, "The Slim Reaper" is not to be trifled with.

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