CLEVELAND — The Nets got Kevin Durant back Monday night.
And surrounded him with a brand-new starting lineup. Again.
After missing his first and only game of the season on Friday night to rest a sprained right shoulder, Durant started in Cleveland. While the Nets did manage to come from behind and beat Orlando without him, Durant’s return can’t be overstated — especially playing without Kyrie Irving, Joe Harris, Bruce Brown and Nic Claxton.
Durant is an early-season candidate for another MVP award, coming into Monday averaging 28.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and 4.9 assists, shooting 56.7 percent overall and 42.7 from behind the arc.
Steve Nash reinserted Durant into a lineup that included James Harden, Patty Mills, DeAndre’ Bembry and Blake Griffin. It was the Nets’ sixth different starting five of the season, and fourth in the past five games.
“Always on any team it’s a next-man-up mentality,” said Bembry, who was filling Brown’s vacant wing spot. “Here we’ve got a couple of guys down, and we’re ready to go.
“We’ve got plenty of guys that are ready to go out there and take those minutes obviously with all of the vets we have on our team and I know you guys have seen Cam [Thomas] dropped 46 [in the G-League]. So he’s back out there with us. Collectively, we try to do it together, but if it’s a certain player asserting himself in the lineup or someone coming off the bench.”
Nash had considered going with James Johnson or Paul Millsap in that spot, with Millsap back after missing the prior four games due to personal reasons.
“We’ve got a bunch of guys who can plug those minutes throughout the game. So it will be a few different looks, and I think everyone will get a crack at it,” said Nash, who added that Millsap — despite the layoff — was fit enough to potentially go right back into the rotation. “Yeah, I think there’s a chance he’s in the rotation tonight. He has been working out. He probably won’t play a ton of minutes, but there’s a good chance he’ll play.”
Mills came into the game sixth in the league in 3-pointers off the bench (37) and third in 3-point percentage (48 percent, 49 of 102), behind only Jonas Valanciunas and Tyus Jones (53.1 percent; 17 of 32).
Harris (sprained ankle) and Brown (hamstring tightness) were both out. While Harris has already been ruled out for Wednesday’s game in Boston, the Nets are at least holding out the possibility that Brown could face the Celtics.
“I think we’re just going to monitor it, but he’s out [Monday],” Nash said. “We don’t feel like it’s a long-term thing at all. Boston is a question mark.”
The Nets are a stellar 40-11 (21-4 at home) when Brown starts. They’re 11-3 when he’s in the lineup this season, and 4-2 when he cracks double figures.