The Brooklyn Nets had anticipated that a stretch of road games would give them significant minutes with their star trio of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving on the floor.
Instead, Durant will be sidelined probably for more than a month with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee as the Nets open a four-game trip Monday afternoon when they visit the Cleveland Cavaliers.
"Guys got to step up. It's simple," Harden said. "Obviously you know how great of a player KD is and what he brings to the table each and every night consistently. So, guys got to step up and fill that role and just continue to compete."
The Nets have played just two games with the trio since the unvaccinated Irving is ineligible to play home games due to New York City's vaccine mandate. In the first game with the trio, Brooklyn rallied from 19 down to beat Indiana on Jan. 5 and in the second game, the Nets routed the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday.
Monday begins a stretch in which the Nets play 12 of their next 17 on the road, but now Durant will be watching from afar as he rehabs his knee after getting injured in the second quarter of Saturday's dominating 120-105 win over visiting New Orleans. The Nets never trailed and led by as many as 30 points.
Following an MRI on Sunday, the Nets said only "updates regarding his return will be provided as appropriate," without a timetable for his expected return, but according to multiple reports the team is anticipating four to six weeks of rehabilitation.
Without Durant, the Nets will likely lean on Harden even more than usual. Harden totaled 27 points, 15 assists and eight rebounds Saturday and is averaging 27.2 points in 11 games since returning from COVID-19 protocol on Christmas.
Besides Irving and Harden, the Nets will rely on Patty Mills as well as rookies Cam Thomas, Day'Ron Sharpe and Kessler Edwards, especially if LaMarcus Aldridge (sore right foot) and Nic Claxton (left hamstring tightness) are limited or unavailable at times. That trio combined for 48 points and 22 rebounds Saturday.
Cleveland is looking to inch closer in an Eastern Conference race where only 2 1/2 games separate the top six teams. The Nets are a half-game behind Chicago, two games ahead of the Cavs.
Cleveland is 17-9 since losing twice to Brooklyn within a week in November, and is on a four-game winning streak.
The streak continued Saturday when the Cavaliers overcame an 18-point deficit in an 107-102 win in Oklahoma City that capped an impressive 5-1 road trip with the only loss coming at Golden State on Jan. 9.
"The theme of his trip was how would we react in adverse situations and environments," Cleveland coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. "We showed that grit and toughness to get that job done. We battled, didn't give in."
Darius Garland scored 27 points and had a career-high 18 assists Saturday and has scored 59 points in his past two games following a three-game shooting slump.
Rookie Evan Mobley, who missed the first two games against the Nets due to a right elbow injury, added 20 points Saturday and is averaging 17.8 points in 11 games since spending time in the protocol.
--Field Level Media