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Kevin Durant scores 17 in return to lineup, Nets crush Pelicans [UPDATE]

The Nets got Durant back in the fold off the bench and proceeded to demolish New Orleans at home.

Kevin Duran of the Brooklyn Nets reacts after his shot and no foul was called against the New Orleans Pelicans on the play in the second quarter at Barclays Center on April 07, 2021 in New York City. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

UPDATE: BKN 139, NOP 111 — Durant finished with 17 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists in 19 minutes off the bench in his return to the lineup on Wednesday night vs. the Pelicans. KD also had 6 turnovers, but shot a perfect 5-of-5 from the floor. The Nets pulled away in the second quarter and put the Pels away after halftime. This led to the Nets not really needing Durant to play much; the 19 minutes was right on par with what we projected before.

UPDATE: April 7 — Durant is officially available to play in Wednesday’s game vs. the Pelicans. The Nets had listed him as probable to return to the lineup after missing nearly two months due to a hamstring injury. Harden has already been ruled out with a hamstring strain.

Update: The Nets initially had KD in the starting lineup, but now Bruce Brown will start and Durant will come off the bench in his return.

With Durant back, the Nets should opt to start Kyrie Irving, Bruce Brown, Joe Harris, Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge. Chances are KD is on a pretty strict minutes limit in his return, so expect him to play around 20-25 minutes tops in his first game since Feb. 13.

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Brooklyn Nets G James Harden has been diagnosed with a right hamstring strain and will be re-evaluated in 10 days, the team announced Tuesday. Harden was forced to leave Monday’s win over the New York Knicks in the first half after aggravating the hamstring injury. Harden went for an MRI after the game and the strain was revealed. He could miss extended time given how the Nets handled Kevin Durant’s hamstring.

Speaking of Kevin Durant, he’s expected to return to the lineup on Wednesday vs. the New Orleans Pelicans. Durant is being listed as probable on the injury report for Wednesday after missing almost two months due to a hamstring injury of his own. Durant hasn’t played since Feb. 13 against his former team, the Golden State Warriors.

It’s unfortunate that one superstar is set to return while another has to be sidelined with the same injury. Still, the Nets goal is win a championship, not win in the regular season. Brooklyn’s record would suggest everything has been fine despite the injuries and they aren’t a concern until the postseason.

Chances are if KD returns to the lineup on Wednesday that he’ll be on a pretty strict minutes limit. This could mean he only plays around 20-25 minutes or in short spurts in the starting lineup, something we’ve seen with some All-Star players at times — LeBron James being one of them. The Pelicans are pretty decimated by injuries, so if we’re looking for ways to attack Nets-Pels on Wednesday, Kyrie Irving should still be an elite play. Irving dropped 40 points in a comeback win over the New York Knicks on Monday.

With that win, the Nets took over first place alone in the Eastern Conference at 35-16, a half a game up on the Philadelphia 76ers, who face the Boston Celtics on Tuesday. The Milwaukee Bucks are right behind the Sixers and Nets at 32-17 entering their matchup with the Dubs on Tuesday. So the race in the East should come down to the wire, though home court may not be as important as the potential matchups throughout the playoff bracket. The No. 1 seed likely gets an easier potential matchup in the second round, whereas the 2-3 seeds would have to face each other before the Eastern Conference Finals.