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What to know about Kyrie Irving’s Nets return against Pacers


INDIANAPOLIS – The prodigal point guard has officially returned.

Kyrie Irving will make his season debut Wednesday night in Indiana. And even though he’s not ready to log 38 minutes or any other marathon outing, he’s definitely playing and possibly even starting.

“I don’t think it’s where he can play 38, but I think he can play a big chunk of the game. He’s had three or four full-court days with five-on-five. I think he’s capable of playing extended minutes but not necessarily his accustomed high 30s,” said Steve Nash, adding Irving can go long enough that he’d feel comfortable starting him.

“Yeah, (we’re open to) anything. We could put him on the bench. We could put him on the starting lineup. I think he’s open to either and it’s just a matter of us thinking short-term, middle-term and long-term and what suits our group.”

Until last week, Irving hadn’t practiced with the Nets since training camp. He hasn’t played in a game since hurting his ankle in Game 4 of last season’s Eastern Conference semifinals back in June.

Kyrie Irving during a game against the Cavaliers in 2021
AP

That changes Wednesday night vs. the Pacers. It’ll be the first time Brooklyn’s Big Three – Irving, Kevin Durant and James Harden – are together since the opening seconds of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semis against the Bucks, when the latter strained his hamstring.

“I’m sure there will be a little bit of nerves, jumping in in the middle of a season like this, but really he just looks excited and happy to be back and enthusiastic,” said Nash.

“Looks good. He’s Ky. He’s a professional, and he’s talented, so he looks good,” center LaMarcus Aldridge said of Irving’s practices since rejoining the fold. “Been fun, man. He’s a very talented guy, good teammate. I had some time with him last year, so I’m excited to have him back for sure.”

For good reason.

The Nets came into Wednesday mired in a season-long three-game losing skid, having fallen out of first place in the Eastern Conference.

Now – at least on the road – they’re adding a seven-time All-Star. Last season, Irving became just the ninth player in NBA history to record shooting splits of 50/40/90, and only the fourth – behind Durant, Steph Curry and Larry Bird (twice) – to do it while averaging 25 points.

But after Irving refused to adhere to New York City’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, it precipitated a three-month staredown between the Nets and their employee. And late last month, the employer blinked first, allowing Irving to return as a part-time, road-only player.

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash
Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash
Corey Sipkin/NY Post

“I think when we realized how much stuff was thrown at us – COVID got really dicey, we had 13 players in COVID (protocols), so we’re going around signing a bunch of 10-days when we have a guy who can play for us,” said Nash. “So what’s the difference between a 10-day and (Irving)? Those are part-time players, too.

“So it was an opportunity to bring him back in the fold and use a resource that we have that we weren’t using. Everything has been in flux this season and last season, so I think there’s the other case to it, too, where we’ve been adaptable, we’ve found solutions, have found ways to work through situations and we’re going to bring him back in now.”

So if part-time players weren’t going to work in October or November, why now that the calendar has flipped?

“That’s not a question for me, if I didn’t have any say so in the beginning,” Aldridge shrugged, channeling his best I-just-work-here vibe. “I think now we’re excited to have him back. He’s a talented player, a great teammate, and we’re looking forward to playing with him.”

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