- Nick Friedell is the Chicago Bulls beat reporter for ESPN Chicago. Friedell is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and joined ESPNChicago.com for its launch in April 2009.
NEW YORK — Brooklyn Nets coach Jacque Vaughn has a simple message for his team as they embark on the next few weeks without injured star forward Kevin Durant: “No excuses.”
“That’s the biggest thing. I’m not giving this group a chance to make excuses,” Vaughn said Wednesday after the team’s first official practice since Durant sprained the MCL in his right knee in Sunday’s win over the Miami Heat. “Here to play. Here to win. Here to compete. It doesn’t change. Love them.”
Both Vaughn and center Nic Claxton are confident that this version of the Nets is better equipped to handle Durant’s absence than last season, when Durant missed six weeks with an MCL sprain and the Nets went 5-18 during his absence.
This time around, the Nets believe their team is in better shape given that they have a healthy Kyrie Irving playing at a high level and a roster that is coming together more every day.
The Nets enter Thursday’s game against the Boston Celtics having won 18 of their last 20 games.
“Just our spirit, our energy, our vibes,” Claxton said when asked about the differences between last year and this year. “The way that we’ve been defending, even though we’re definitely going to miss him [Durant] out there. I’m going to miss him out there on the defensive end. … Offensively, we’ll figure it out.”
Vaughn said he recently spoke to Durant and described him as being in “good spirits.”
Sources told ESPN’s Adrain Wojnarowski earlier this week that the Nets are hopeful Durant may be able to return in a month.
“I think this group has shown they have resolve, they have the ability to fight, and a belief,” Vaughn said. “You just take the finish of the game in Miami. We were down nine and end up winning a basketball game without Kevin on the floor. So I think that’s a direct reflection of this group.
“I think they’re looking forward to playing and trying to win and figuring it out together. So hopefully this group is in a better place mentally and physically to handle this challenge.”
Vaughn did not want to disclose who would take Durant’s spot in the starting lineup, but did note that veteran swingman T.J. Warren wouldn’t play “40 minutes” as he continues his recovery from foot issues that knocked him out of the last two seasons. Vaughn said that no matter who gets more minutes, the Nets will likely have to take more 3-pointers as a group to make up for Durant’s ability to score while using his midrange game.
“It’s unfortunate,” Claxton said of Durant’s absence. “You never want to see anybody get injured. The best player in the world, he’s out, but guys got to step up. We’ve been in this position before. Not this year, but in previous years, so guys got to step up and take on a bigger role.”
Said Vaughn: “We’ll be a better team when he returns.”
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