Kyrie Irving Thankful After NYC Covid Vaccine Mandate Ends

Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets
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Kyrie Irving can play in Brooklyn Nets home games now that NYC Mayor Eric Adams has lifted the vaccine mandate for private employers in the city. 

This Sunday, Irving will make his Barclays Center season debut against the Charlotte Hornets. Sunday’s game will be the Nets’ 75th game of the season. It will also be the first time this year that Irving and superstar teammate Kevin Durant will play together on their home floor. 

With the postseason fast approaching, can Irving and Durant lead the Nets to an NBA Championship?

NYC Vaccine Mandate Lifted. Can Kyrie Irving, Nets Win it All?

The Nets’ Season Hasn’t Gone as Planned 

The Nets began the season with great promise, bringing back their superstar trio of Irving, Durant, and James Harden. From there things quickly unraveled. 

Irving’s decision to not receive the Covid-19 Vaccine put the Nets in a precarious position. He spent the first 3 months of the regular season away from the team, with Nets’ leadership electing not to have Irving participate as a ‘part-time’ player. As the team dealt with injuries and watched their position in the standings drop, pressure mounted for the Nets to welcome Irving back into the fold for away games. He rejoined the team for practices in late December and made his season debut in a road victory against the Indiana Pacers on January 5th. 

Irving’s return sowed seeds of discontent in the locker room, particularly with Harden. The Nets traded Harden at the deadline to Philadelphia for Ben Simmons, Andre Drummond, and Seth Curry. Curry and Drummond have helped bolster the Nets’ depth, while Simmons (back) remains without a timetable for return.

With the Nets currently in 8th place in the Eastern Conference, this season has certainly not gone as planned.

Kyrie Irving the Magician

Let’s set aside the politics surrounding Irving’s position on the Covid-19 vaccine. There’s no question that the Brooklyn Nets are far better off with Irving on the floor than without him. 

Irving is one of the most gifted basketball players of our generation. He’s an absolute magician with the ball in his hands. Despite sitting out the first half of the regular season, Irving returned fresh and at the top of his game. His artistry was most recently on display during a 50-point effort when the Nets beat the Hornets on March 8th. The following week, Irving dropped a career-high 60-points in a win over the Orlando Magic. 

The Nets with Kyrie Irving & Kevin Durant  

The Nets’ title hopes hinge entirely on their superstar duo of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. While we don’t have a large sample size of games, here’s what we’ve seen with both Irving and Durant on the floor together. 

Since the Harden trade, the Nets are 3-2 when both Irving and Durant play. In their first game together on March 6th they lost to the surging Boston Celtics. Then they won 3 straight against the Hornets, Sixers, and Magic. On Thursday night they fell to the Memphis Grizzlies.

The win against the Sixers had a playoff-like atmosphere, with Harden facing his former team and Simmons drawing lots of attention despite sitting on the Nets bench. Irving and Durant absolutely looked absolutely dominant. Ultimately, though, that game probably taught us more about Harden’s disappearing acts in big games than it did about the Nets’ title hopes. 

The Nets’ losses in Boston and Memphis are better indicators of their title chances this season. 

The Celtics and Grizzlies are very legitimate contenders this year. They’re both top-5 teams in defensive rating and have 9-10 players providing meaningful minutes on any given night. Both teams have had their core together for most of the season. They’ll avoid the play-in tournament and should both have home-court advantage for [at least] the first round of the playoffs. The Grizzlies – playing without Ja Morant – beat the Nets, despite Irving and Durant combining to score 78 of the Nets’ 120 points. Granted, Curry sat out the Memphis game, but his presence alone probably wouldn’t have been enough to alter the outcome. 

Can the Nets Win an NBA Championship This Season? 

Durant and Irving are unbelievably captivating when they’re doing their thing together on the court. There’s not a team that would look forward to facing the Nets’ star duo in a 7 game series. 

Still, the road ahead isn’t an easy one for the Nets. And that’s assuming both Irving and Durant can stay healthy in the postseason despite a track record that suggests otherwise. Apart from their two superstars, the Nets roster is void of players with deep playoff experience.

Irving may now be able to play in the Barclays Center, but the Nets haven’t had an overwhelming amount of success on their home court this season. They have the fewest home wins among the East’s playoff teams. 

With 9 games remaining in the regular season, the Nets sit 3.5 games behind the 6th seed Cleveland Cavaliers. Unless they essentially win all of their remaining games and get some help from Cleveland, the Nets will need to win [at least] 1 play-in game just to advance to the first round of the playoffs. Let’s not assume this is a lock to happen.

The Eastern Conference is the deepest it’s been in over a decade. The top 4 teams in the East – the Heat, Sixers, Bucks, and Celtics – are extremely tough outs with home-court advantage. Prior to the vaccine mandate being lifted, it could be argued that the Nets were actually better off without home-court advantage in the playoffs so Irving could play in potential game 7’s on the road. Irving’s availability certainly increases the Nets’ chances at making a run, but not having a home-court advantage will catch up to them.  

There’s one additional potential playoff matchup to keep an eye on – The Toronto Raptors. Irving remains unable to play in games in Toronto due to Canada’s vaccine mandate. Whether in the play-in tournament or playoffs, any game the Nets have to play without Irving puts them at a massive disadvantage. 

The Nets may make a surprising title run, but that’s what it would be – surprising. Kyrie Irving’s magic aside, the Nets don’t appear to have enough depth or continuity to compete for an NBA title this year.

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