Nets’ Kevin Durant to get much-needed breather with Ben Simmons, Yuta Watanabe returning

Brooklyn Nets, Yuta Watanabe, Kevin Durant

Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant is a hooper. He loves playing, so he’s not complaining of the heavy minutes he’s logging in with his 34-year-old knees in his 16th season in the league.

On Wednesday, Durant buried a clutch three-pointer to cap off a 29-point performance in 36 minutes to help the Nets notch their fifth win in six games Wednesday night. He’s averaging 36.8 minutes through the first 26 games, leading Brooklyn’s turnaround from a 2-7 start to the fourth-best record in the East at 14-12 after Wednesday’s games.

Nets coach Jacque Vaughn hopes to cut Durant’s minutes at some point. That might come soon as they are expected to welcome back Ben Simmons (left lateral upper calf strain) and Yuta Watanabe (hamstring) to the lineup after their bout with injuries.

“They actually did a little work before that, so they came to the walk-through with a little sweat on them. So they did get some work in. They’re both on track to play this weekend.”

Jacque Vaughn via NY Post

Simmons said he plans to play on Friday against the shorthanded Atlanta Hawks, the team that gave him the one-and-a-half-year nightmare after he blew up a wide-open dunk in an elimination game against them in the 2021 playoffs.

Watanabe, who missed his eighth straight game Wednesday, is also hopeful of returning either Friday at home or Saturday in Indiana.

Vaughn is excited about the flexibility the two forwards would bring to the Nets team nearing 100 percent healthy. He’s curious to see what he can get from a tall and rangy lineup composed of Simmons, Watanabe, Durant and Nic Claxton. Those four Nets players standing no less than 6-foot-8 haven’t played together. But more than that, he’s looking forward to experimenting with lineups that will ease some of Durant’s burden.

“So what does that look like? Does that decrease some of [Durant’s] minutes? So the thought of more bodies back gives us more opportunities to give him relief.”

Jacque Vaughn via NY Post

Simmons is expected to return to the starting lineup, joining Kyrie Irving at the backcourt. Watanabe, who rose to become the league’s most accurate three-point shooter, will return to the second unit that welcomed TJ Warren earlier this week.

Both Simmons and Watanabe bring different dimension to the Nets’ play with their versatility especially on the defensive end.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

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