Only one of Nets’ two stars likely will face Knicks

Kevin Durant is expected to play in the second game of a back-to-back set for the first time this season when the Brooklyn Nets visit the New York Knicks on Wednesday in a clash of Big Apple rivals.

The Nets’ other star player, Kyrie Irving, likely will sit out again, and it’s unclear when he might return to action.

Durant finished one rebound short of a triple-double Tuesday night, when the Nets overcame an 18-point, third-quarter deficit to beat the visiting Denver Nuggets 122-116.

The Knicks took their third consecutive loss Monday when they fell 109-88 to the host Charlotte Hornets.

On Tuesday, Durant scored 20 of his 34 points in the second half for the Nets, who trailed 79-61 before mounting a 29-4 run. The win might have averted a crisis on multiple fronts for Brooklyn, which snapped a two-game losing streak and is 4-6 since a 2-0 start that raised the already-high expectations surrounding the team in its first season with Durant and Irving as the focal points.

“(With) a new group like this, you’re looking to build that connectivity and that resolve, that ability to fight through adversity,” coach Steve Nash said after the Nets improved to 2-4 in games decided by six points or fewer. “You can’t cheat that process. So these (are) opportunities for us to say, ‘Hey, we’ve been there and survived, we’ve been there and it hurt and we built through it and here we are tonight, coming out on the other side.'”

The Nets prevailed against Denver despite the absence of Irving, who missed his fourth consecutive game due to personal reasons. ESPN reported Tuesday there is video making the social-media rounds of a maskless Irving attending a family birthday party, prompting an NBA investigation into whether he violated the league’s COVID-19 protocols.

Later in the evening, as the Nets and Nuggets played, Tahanie Aboushi, a candidate for Manhattan district attorney, posted a screen-grab of a Zoom call with volunteers, one of whom appeared to be Irving with the screen name “Kai Irving.”

Irving is expected to miss at least the next two games.

Nash, at his pregame press conference Tuesday, said the team was communicating with Irving but didn’t provide details of any conversations.

As for Durant, the superstar said he planned to play Wednesday night. He hasn’t played both ends of a back-to-back since tearing his right Achilles tendon while playing for the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals in June 2019, weeks before he and Irving signed with the Nets.

The Knicks, who haven’t made the playoffs since the 2012-13 season, cleared salary-cap room prior to and throughout the 2018-19 season in hopes of luring Durant and Irving. New York has since committed to another rebuilding project, one that seemed to be progressing faster than expected under first-year head coach Tom Thibodeau during a 5-3 start.

However, the Knicks have dropped the past three games by a combined 58 points while failing to reach 90 points in any of the defeats. Thibodeau said he hoped a little bit of hard work would help fix the club’s problems.

“Right now we’re not playing well defensively,” Thibodeau said, “and part of that is when you’re not making shots, you’re playing low energy. And if you lack confidence, where do you get confidence from? You get confidence from your preparation.”