The Nets weathered the loss of one star Wednesday night because their biggest star would not let them lose.
They missed Ben Simmons on the glass and on defense under the hoop against the Wizards, too often looking too small and too thin.
But Kevin Durant, fresh off a 45-point explosion two nights earlier, poured in 39 points, helping the Nets outshoot their rebounding issues in a 113-107 win over the Wizards at Barclays Center.
The Nets (12-11) have won a season-best three straight and are above .500 for the first time in 2022-23. They have yet to lose to begin a seven-game homestand that star guard Kyrie Irving called “essential.”
Durant, who had 16 points in the first quarter, shot 13-for-20 from the field and knocked down all 11 of his free throws. He helped provide an early lead that evaporated by late in the third quarter.
That’s when Irving, who scored 15 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter, picked up the slack.
The Nets were up just 82-79 after a free throw by Washington’s Corey Kispert with 11:14 left in the fourth when Irving went to work. He scored eight straight points for the Nets, using a jumper, an and-one on another stepback and a 3-pointer to give the Nets a 93-84 lead with 7:15 left.
The Nets were able to withstand Washington runs the rest of the way.
Durant, who had five rebounds and five assists, tied his own (and James Harden’s) franchise record with four straight games of 30-plus points, five or more rebounds and five or more assists. With more points and more minutes played than anyone in the NBA, he is making a convincing case as the best player at an opportune time.
Without Simmons, who will be out for at least a week with a left lateral upper calf strain, the Nets had to dust off guards Edmond Sumner (eight points in 15 minutes), Cam Thomas (six points in 19 minutes) and big man Markieff Morris (who played four minutes), volleying between smaller and bigger lineups. Joe Harris (14 points on 5-for-10 shooting) stepped into the starting lineup and also played a bigger role, too.
But defensively and on the boards, the Nets had few answers for Kristaps Porzingis, who finished with 27 points and 19 rebounds. The former Knick shot over Royce O’Neale and was able to gain position too often against Durant, who was asked to do more on defense with Simmons out.
The Wizards had 15 more second-chance points and 15 more rebounds but went 6-for-24 from beyond the arc, which opened the door for the Nets’ stars.
The Nets’ offensive pace began to slow in the third quarter, as the lead they held most of the game vanished.
Bradley Beal dunked a breakaway to tie the score at 70 with 3:20 left in the third, but it was Durant’s time to respond.
He hit a long jumper and got fouled, knocking down the free throw to make it 73-70. Two possessions later, Durant drained a 3 to make it 78-72. A cutting Durant then caught a pass from Cam Thomas and finished a fadeaway.
The Nets led by as many as eight points in the first half on the backs of Durant and Irving, but the Wizards — led by Porzingis’ 15 first-half points and seven first-half rebounds — did not go away, cutting the lead to 57-53 at the half.
It took 48 minutes, but the Nets fended them off.
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