NBA Hoops

With Kevin Durant out, Kyrie Irving’s confidence is driving the Nets

With Kevin Durant out, Kyrie Irving's confidence is driving the Nets

Kyrie Irving does not lack confidence.

It’s his defining characteristic. It’s also the reason that, after losing four straight, the Brooklyn Nets have stopped sliding in the Eastern Conference standings in Kevin Durant‘s absence.

It was Irving who repeatedly set the tone for the rest of the group publicly in the aftermath of the sprained right MCL Durant suffered on Jan. 8. Irving pushed hard against the idea the Nets would repeat last year’s tailspin without Durant when they lost 11 games in a row in January and February while Durant was out with a sprained left MCL.

What would be so different this time around?

“Just staying confident,” Irving said after a disappointing loss to the Phoenix Suns last week. “That’s it.”

After leading the Nets to a 120-116 win against the Golden State Warriors on Sunday, a game in which Brooklyn trailed by as many as 17, Irving’s confidence shined bright.

“I told you guys that I was putting a lot of pressure to be the first option or the second option or be the main one,” Irving said. “And this is just a message for everybody at home, first option, second option, third option, it don’t f—ing matter to me. It don’t matter who has the ball in their hands as long as they’re being aggressive and it’s the best shot for our team.”

Irving, who enters Wednesday’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers (7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN) having racked up 116 points, 25 rebounds, 22 assists and 8 steals over his past three games, has taken over the No. 1 slot that Durant filled, even as he downplays the moniker.

But Irving’s teammates know the only way for the Nets to survive Durant’s absence is for Irving to continue dominating down the stretch in games.

“He’s special,” Nets swingman Royce O’Neale said after watching Irving drop 48 points in a 117-106 win against the Utah Jazz on Friday. “He’s doing it night in, night out. He’s leading us. We got his back, we’re supporting him. He’s finding us when he gets double-teamed or he gets into the lane and don’t have his shots.”

In learning to get comfortable again at the top of the Nets’ food chain, the trust Irving is building with the rest of the group is on full display. Irving’s ability to make the right pass, and his confidence — both in himself and in the rest of the group — underscores the biggest misconception…

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