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NBA: Undermanned Nets welcome Nikola Jokic, Nuggets

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The Brooklyn Nets’ original plan was for Kevin Durant to rest his sore right ankle on the first night of a back-to-back and then return for the second part in a marquee matchup against Nikola Jokic.

With the sudden rash of players entering the COVID-19 health and safety protocols, Durant will not be in the building Sunday night when the Nets continue a stretch of being undermanned by hosting Jokic and the Denver Nuggets.

Durant is among 10 Nets in the health and safety protocol. Starters LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre’ Bembry and James Harden along with reserves Bruce Brown, Jevon Carter, James Johnson and Paul Millsap will miss their fourth straight game for that reason, and Durant will miss his second straight contest after landing there Saturday afternoon.

Durant landed in the health and safety protocols after scoring 150 points in his previous four games, giving him a league-best scoring average of 33.1 points this month.

With Durant away from the team, the Nets saw their four-game winning streak stopped with Saturday’s 100-93 loss to the visiting Orlando Magic. Brooklyn started three rookies (David Duke Jr. Kessler Edwards and Cam Thomas) for the first time since April 15, 2009, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, and the trio flanked Patty Mills and Blake Griffin.

Mills scored 23 points after initially being listed as out for a rest day and played 40:37, marking his ninth straight game of at least 30 minutes. Griffin tied a season high with 17 points but also bumped knees with someone and could sit Sunday.

“You see who we do have and how much hard work these young boys put in to deserve the opportunity,” Mills said. “It’s a learning experience for everyone to take out of this.”

The Nets, who are 18-6 in their past 24 games, are looking to bounce back after shooting 38.2 percent and missing 37 of 46 3-pointers in an effort they were proud of considering the circumstances.

“I told the guys, I’m really proud of the effort — overall I’m really proud of them and it was a great effort,” Brooklyn coach Steve Nash said.

Denver is one of the few teams with nobody in the health and safety protocols as of Saturday night and its performance has picked up of late. Since dropping six straight Nov. 15-26, the Nuggets are 6-4 in their past 10 games, a stretch that has seen them play eight road games.

“These are trying times, but I never feel it’s too much, it’s too heavy,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “It’s been a challenge for all of us. It has not been easy.”

Denver, which went 4-3 on a road trip earlier this month, opened its three-game trip with Friday’s 133-115 win over the Atlanta Hawks. It was the highest point total of the season for the Nuggets, who matched a season high by shooting 58.1 percent.

Jokic totaled 20 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists but played only played 26:06 due to the blowout. He enters Sunday averaging 26.4 points in 10 games this month, a stretch during which he has produced a 39-point showing and a 35-point outing.

The Nuggets are also getting a strong showing by rookie Bones Hyland of late. Hyland scored 24 Friday and is averaging 13.2 points in his past six contests.

–Field Level Media

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