In arguably the most anticipated matchup on the NBA calendar this season, the Brooklyn Nets will face the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center. Both teams enter the game red-hot: The Nets have won four straight to surge into second place in the Eastern Conference, and the Lakers have won eight of their last nine to maintain second place in the Western Conference.
All of that being said, Thursday’s marquee matchup will pack slightly less of a punch as both teams will be down a superstar.
No Kevin Durant, No Anthony Davis
Nets star Kevin Durant has been ruled out for Thursday’s game, the team announced Wednesday. The 10-time All-Star, who has traveled with the Nets during their current West Coast trip, will miss his third straight game with a left hamstring strain.
Lakers star Anthony Davis will also miss the game as he continues to deal with an Achilles injury.
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It’s an unfortunate turn of events for a game that many pundits view as an NBA Finals preview. LeBron James expressed disappointment on Tuesday after leading the Lakers to a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“Well, it’s always exciting for me to go against some of the best guys in the game,” James said, per NBA reporter Ben Stinar, “and they’ve got three of them. They’ve got three of the best guys in the game. Definitely love it to be full (strength) when you’re playing against a team like that and see, like, at that point in the season, where you match up, how you match up against some of the best teams in the league. Obviously, we won’t be full (strength) on Thursday. But other than that, yeah, I love going out there and just being on the floor with some of the best to play this game.”
LeBron James asked about the new look Brooklyn Nets and their upcoming matchup next game pic.twitter.com/9VO0FocJr3
— Ben Stinar (@BenStinar) February 17, 2021
Hamstring injuries can be tricky — often they are unpredictable and can continue to linger. As the Nets eye a deep playoff run later this year, erring on the side of the caution seems like the wise approach with Durant.
Kyrie Irving Likely to Play
The good news for Brooklyn? Kyrie Irving is listed as probable for the game, the Nets announced Wednesday. Irving missed Tuesday’s game against the Phoenix Suns with lower-back soreness, but appears ready for a return.
Per The Athletic’s Alex Schiffer, Nets coach Steve Nash said Irving played through the ailment against the Sacramento Kings on Monday.
Steve Nash hopes Kyrie Irving's lower back is "day-to-day." Said he played through it last night and thinks he'll be back in the short-term.
— Alex Schiffer (@Alex__Schiffer) February 17, 2021
Irving missed only the Suns game with his lower-back soreness. He’s averaging a career-high 28.3 points, 5.7 assists and 4.6 rebounds this season.
So, in all likelihood, it will be LeBron James and his supporting cast versus James Harden, Irving and a group of Nets that stormed back against the Suns for a 128-134 victory on Tuesday. Brooklyn had trailed by as many as 24, marking their second-biggest comeback in franchise history.
Much of that came thanks to Harden, of course. He had 38 points (his most since the Nets acquired him on January 14 through a four-way trade), 11 assists and seven rebounds. But Brooklyn got key contributions from several other players down the stretch as it won its fourth stretch.