The return of Kyrie Irving from his right shoulder impingement, an injury that sidelined him for 26 straight games, has given the Nets an interesting past week.
After the star point guard's career-high outing in his first game back, last Sunday's 108-86 win over the Atlanta Hawks, the days that ensued ensued with losses on the court and outside criticism off it.
Following Saturday's 117-97 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, which marked the Nets' third straight and 10 in their past 13 games, Irving kept a positive outlook on Brooklyn's 2019-20 season -- one he believes still includes the playoffs.
"That's a successful season -- that's still a goal is to make the playoffs," Irving said of the Nets, who are 18-23 overall and eighth in the Eastern Conference standings, one game behind the Orlando Magic (20-23). "That's not like we're going to pack it in and just say, 'Hey, let's see what,' no. See where we end up. It's in that six, seven, eight spot. Put a realistic goal in front of you and then really go after it. And you're able to have a focus on the big picture long term.
"So heading into All-Star break, you want to have these great games, these great tests, see what we can learn from them and move forward. And after All-Star break, we get everybody back and I feel like we'll be in a better place."
Beyond the Magic, the Nets have an immediate chance to make up ground for that sixth seed Irving mentioned. Brooklyn hosts the Philadelphia 76ers (28-16) Monday at Barclays Center, providing an opportunity to get back on track and chip away into the All-Star break like Irving hoped. Including the Sixers, the Nets have 12 more games until the Feb. 16 All-Star Game at United Center in Chicago.
While the Nets are holding out hope for the returns of hobbled players such as Joe Harris (lower back soreness), DeAndre Jordan (right middle finger dislocation) and Garrett Temple (right knee contusion), Irving is also looking forward to the eventual comeback by Kevin Durant (right Achilles rehab), whose debut is likely to come during the 2020-21 season.
"I think the most important thing is we have the same intent, we have the same goal and that's to win a championship here together as well as -- when I say together, the whole entire group," Irving said. "Just so everyone knows, when I say the guys -- got to make that as clear. But no, me and K, when we're talking about that stuff, it really comes with a very passionate energy because we just want to play well and I know he wants to be back out there and he's seeing things that I can improve on out there. And just as leading a team out there, getting guys involved, being more aggressive.
"We also bring up the future and how we can implement each other and where he sees he can be implemented and when he's healthy and how he's feeling. It's just more of these 'best friend' conversations that you just want to have with a guy who loves the game as much as I do. He probably loves it a little more than I do. Honestly, like, he's next level. And I miss him. And at the same time, we all do. But we're just talking, just going back and forth, throwing ideas out. And it's good to have a best friend in the league."