Nets Pacers Basketball

Kyrie Irving exchanges a high-five with Nets Coach Steve Nash during Brooklyn’s 129-121 over the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday in Indianapolis. Irving scored 22 points in his first game of the season. Darron Cummings/Associated Press

NEW YORK — Kyrie Irving might be just the jolt the Brooklyn Nets need to escape a midseason slump.

They began finding out Wednesday night at Indiana.

After being held out of the team’s first 35 games because he refused to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, Irving made his highly anticipated season debut.

Irving started, played 32 minutes and scored 22 points Brooklyn’s 129-121 comeback victory.

Coach Steve Nash said it was clear Irving, who took and missed the Nets’ first shot of the game, was excited to be back.

“So you can see the smile on his face and the energy and what it means to him to be back, and it’s exciting for all of us to have him back in the fold,” Nash said.

Irving is unable to play at home because of New York City’s vaccination mandate and had been unwelcome on the road. The Nets didn’t want a part-time player, so sent him away during the preseason.

Things changed. Nash said with the recent COVID-19 outbreak that left the Nets severely short-handed, having the superstar part-time was a better option than signing more players to 10-day hardship contracts.

“So why not bring him back?” Nash said.

Kevin Durant scored 39 points for the Nets, who had lost three straight, all at home, and there’s nothing Irving can do about the Nets’ struggles in Brooklyn if he remains unvaccinated. The vaccine is mandated for New York City athletes playing in public venues. He has said refusing it was what’s best for him and that he was aware there would be consequences.

But he can play in road games in the cities where there is no mandate, including all the upcoming ones during a stretch that has the Nets away for seven of their next 11 games.

Domantas Sabonis had 32 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists for the Pacers, who have lost in six in a row. Lance Stephenson, who had two previous stints with the Pacers, scored 30 in his first home game after signing a 10-day contract.

Stephenson delighted the home crowd by scoring the final 20 points for the Pacers in the first quarter as Indiana took a 37-32 lead. He hit 8 of 9 shots, 4 of 5 3-pointers in that 6-plus minute stretch.

The 20 points were a record for any Pacers player in the first quarter. It was also the most points in the opening quarter for a player coming off the bench.

The Pacers shot 62% to a grab a 73-60 lead at halftime. Irving hit a shot at the third-quarter buzzer to cut Indiana’s lead to 101-94. That capped an 8-0 run by the Nets.

76ERS 116, MAGIC 106: Joel Embiid scored 31 points, Tobias Harris added 22 and Philadelphia won at Orlando.

The 76ers, who notched their NBA-best 14th road victory of the season, tied a season high with a fifth straight win overall.

ROCKETS 114, WIZARDS 111: Kevin Porter Jr. hit a 3-pointer from the right wing with 0.4 seconds left to give Houston a victory at Washington.

Porter and Christian Wood returned from one-game suspensions for conduct detrimental to the team. Wood added 22 points and 11 rebounds to help the Rockets snap an eight-game losing streak.

Bradley Beal led Washington with 27 points. He fouled out with 9:10 to play on his second offensive foul.

HORNETS 140, PISTONS 111: Kelly Oubre Jr. hit a career-high nine of Charlotte’s franchise-record 24 3-pointers and the Hornets routed visiting Detroit.

Gordon Hayward and Miles Bridges each had 19 points to help the Hornets beat the Pistons for the 14th straight time. Charlotte hasn’t lost to Detroit since Oct. 18, 2017.

MAVERICKS 99, WARRIORS 82: Luka Doncic scored 26 points and Dallas celebrated before a ceremony to retire Dirk Nowitzki’s number by beating cold-shooting Stephen Curry and visiting Golden State.

The Mavericks knew the night belonged to their franchise icon, and that Nowitzki’s No. 41 wasn’t going to the rafters until after they played the team with the NBA’s best record coming in.

Dallas responded with its first four-game winning streak of the season.

TIMBERWOLVES 98, THUNDER 90: Karl-Anthony Towns had 17 points and 16 rebounds, while D’Angelo Russell struggled on 3-of-12 shooting in their return to the lineup for Minnesota against visiting Oklahoma City.

Anthony Edwards scored 22 points for Minnesota, which was finally at full strength for the first time since Edwards and Taurean Prince went into the NBA’s health and safety protocols on Dec. 17. Hit hard by COVID-19, the Timberwolves had their preferred starting lineup together for the first time in 10 games.

Towns had missed six games and Russell sat out five while in the protocols.

RAPTORS 117, BUCKS 111: Pascal Siakam scored 33 points, OG Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr. had 22 apiece and visiting Toronto beat short-handed Milwaukee.

The defending NBA champs were without Coach Mike Budenholzer after he entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols.

Milwaukee also played without Giannis Antetokounmpo, who sat out because of an illness unrelated to COVID-19, as well as Grayson Allen, George Hill and Pat Connaughton, who entered protocols on Wednesday.

NOTES

TRAIL BLAZERS: Portland guard Damian Lillard will miss the next three games because of lower abdominal tendinopathy.

The Trail Blazers announced that Lillard will undergo further evaluation and consultation concerning the injury, which has bothered him since the Tokyo Olympics.

Lillard was expected to miss Wednesday night’s game against visiting Miami, as well as home games Friday against Cleveland and Sunday against Sacramento.

Lillard has averaged 24 points and 7.3 assists in 29 games this season.

PELICANS: The Pelicans have agreed to allow star forward Zion Williamson to continue his rehabilitation from a broken foot away from team headquarters.

Pelicans Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin said the club agreed that “in order to put Zion in the best position to succeed, he will rehab away from the team at this time so he can focus on the task at hand.”

Williamson, who averaged a team-high 27 points and was an All-Star last season, was trying to return to practice in mid-December from an injury that occurred during the summer. But imaging of his foot revealed a setback and the club said at that time that Williamson would cease practicing and focus on healing.

The Pelicans have gone 13-25 without Williamson this season, but are just 2 1/2 games behind Sacramento for the final Western Conference play-in spot.

 

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