Kyrie Irving has missed 28 out of 49 games this season, so he is no stranger to injury and the rest of his team is no stranger to playing without him. 26 of these games were missed due to his right shoulder impingement, one due to a strained hamstring and he recently missed a game against the Knicks to mourn the loss of his close friend and mentor, Kobe Bryant.
After scoring a career high of 54 points against the Chicago Bulls and becoming the seventh player in Nets history to score over 50 points in a game, Kyrie is facing another unfortunate injury. During the Nets game against the Washington Wizards on February 1st, Irving was fighting Bradley Beal for the ball and fell, causing a knee sprain. He attempted to play throughout the injury, but had to ultimately leave the game. The Nets eventually lost the game 113-107.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski stated Irving would get an MRI on February 2nd, and ESPN later reported the results of the MRI warrant Irving to rest for at least a week, at which point he will be re-evaluated. The official diagnosis was a medial ligament sprain on his knee.
Kyrie took to Instagram to make a statement on the injury stating:
"“I appreciate everyone reaching out! I’ll be okay after last night’s tweak with my knee. Honestly, what a scare, but I know God and the angels definitely looked out for me on that one! The Marathon Continues though, gotta keep the same focus and determination to get back out there when I’m healthy. What a week of challenges, but I trust in the Divine Purpose of life!”"
Coach Kenny Atkinson has also commented on the injury saying he is glad the severity of the injury is not worse and the team “dodged a bullet” considering how intense the fall initially looked.
The Nets are seventh in the Eastern Conference right now at 22-27, right on the playoff cusp. Therefore, it is important for the team to be as cohesive and functional right now as possible. Kyrie Irving is a crucial player for the Nets, averaging 27.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and shooting 47.8% in field goals. Kyrie has also had previous history with knee injuries, which can turn into long absences and intense damage, so Brooklyn will be taking this injury seriously, despite an expected return on Monday. This projected return is very possible to be delayed further, which could be detrimental to their playoff spot.
This week, the Nets have a lineup of significant games to secure a spot in the playoffs that Kyrie will be out for. He missed the home game against the Phoenix Suns last night and will also miss games against both the Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors.
Brooklyn’s previous game against the Raptors was on January 4th and was also without Kyrie on the court. The Nets lost 121-102 and had a high 24 turnovers compared to Toronto’s 7. However, the Nets did make 47.8% of their field goals, which is slightly more than Toronto’s 45.4%. Spencer Dinwiddie was the leading point scorer with 23 points. The Raptors last 10 games have been 10-0, so this will be a challenging game for the Nets without the quintessential role of their starting point guard.
In their first game without Irving facing the Phoenix Suns, the Nets had a successful game winning 119-97. They secured a lead early on in the game and went into the last quarter with a strong 89-73.
Despite Brooklyn’s win, several Phoenix players had strong performances. Deandre Ayton scored 25 points and 17 rebounds, while Kelly Oubre Jr. also scored 16 field goals. Devin Booker has had an average of 27.2 points per game this season, but was held down to 11 points and 2 rebounds by the Nets’ defense last night.
For the Nets, players had to step up to compensate for the loss of Kyrie and they delivered. The biggest lead 4-26 for the Nets and they made 48.3% of their field goals. Joe Harris scored 16 points and Taureen Prince scored 15. Caris LeVert has often been inconsistent since his return, but last night he had 29 points, 3 rebounds and 7 assists.
Spencer Dinwiddie’s significance to the team continues to be highlighted with Kyrie’s absence and he also scored 14 points, with 3 rebounds and 4 assists. He has been getting ample time on the court this season with an average of 31.1 minutes per game. While Kyrie was out due to his shoulder, he had an average of 21.5 points per game and 6.5 assists, making 42.1% of shots from the floor. Taureen Prince and Garrett Temple have been averaging less than 40% of field goals made, and Caris LeVert missed a few weeks due to injury as well. Therefore, the Nets have been carried by Dinwiddie’s strong performance for a large chunk of this season.
Luckily for the Nets, this week will not seem unusual without Kyrie, considering they have been playing more than half the season without him. As unfortunate as the injury is, his time off the court often allows for other players to solidify their status with the team, such as Jarrett Allen. He has been defensively strong in recent games and achieved a high 15 rebounds against the Wizards on February 1st, as well as against the Pistons on January 25th.
The player who will most likely benefit from this time without Irving is Caris LeVert. On his own, he has had strong games, but with Kyrie the cohesion always seems to be off. In a total of 284 minutes shared on the court with Irving, they have gotten a net rating of -10.7. They do not work well together and their time on the court seems forced and awkward. After missing several weeks himself, this could be an opportunity for LeVert to cement his worth and the degree of his contribution to the team.
Additionally, lower profile players could benefit with the additional playing time, such as Nicolas Claxton. As a rookie, he has had little time on the court, but has had some promising moments. He averages scoring 56.6% of his field goal attempts and having 4.4 points per game, which is a considerable amount with his low playing time.
There has been speculation that Kyrie’s recurring injuries and missing games will also have an impact on trades. Brooklyn is in an interesting position this trade season. They have 4 first rounders who are available to send out. They are 1 of only 9 teams with an open roster spot. ESPN has projected them winning 41 games with potential for the playoffs, and that is without Kevin Durant entirely. The question is, will any big 3 piece fit in and is it even necessary?
Brooklyn went into this season knowing it would be a transitional season to figure out the framework of the team, based around Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. There have been trade rumors around Aaron Gordon, but to bring in new key players when the Durant Irving dynamic has not even been established yet does not seem plausible. Trades are not solely about talent or about loading a team with star players, they are essentially about fit and how the players will complement each other’s talents. Therefore, I speculate that any additions to the team, if any, will be young players to be used as future assets to build on the foundation they are currently working on.
The team is hoping Kyrie will be back by Monday, February 10th for the Pacers game. Their last match was on November 18th where they lost 115-86 without Irving, so it would be interesting to see the game with Kyrie back in the mix.