Durant eager for Suns debut vs. Hornets after knee injury

Phoenix Suns' Kevin Durant, middle, talks with teammate Chris Paul during the first half of an...
Phoenix Suns' Kevin Durant, middle, talks with teammate Chris Paul during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Milwaukee Bucks Sunday, Feb. 26, 2023, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)(Jeffrey Phelps | AP)
Published: Mar. 1, 2023 at 1:15 PM MST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Kevin Durant has been through quite a bit during his 15-year NBA career — but joining a new team midway through the season is a new one for the 13-time All-Star.

The 34-year-old Durant doesn’t seem all that worried.

Durant makes his highly anticipated Phoenix Suns debut on Wednesday night against the Charlotte Hornets. It comes 20 days after Phoenix completed a blockbuster deal that sent Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and four first-round picks to the Brooklyn Nets, delivering shockwaves throughout the basketball world.

This is Durant’s fourth different team in seven seasons, but he doesn’t feel like joining the Suns midseason will be a huge adjustment.

“I have a lot of experience in the league, so the transition was a little easier than it would have been 10 years ago,” Durant said following practice Tuesday. “It’s a quick turnaround and everything happened so fast. But the game is the constant thing.”

The Suns are hoping that Durant’s addition gets them over the hump after losing to the Milwaukee Bucks in six games in the 2021 NBA Finals.

The Suns were in fourth place in the Western Conference at 33-29 entering Wednesday night’s game — one game ahead of another of his former teams, the Golden State Warriors, with 20 remaining. Phoenix was 10 1/2 games behind the West-leading Denver Nuggets.

Durant has spent the past couple of weeks getting to know his new teammates on a personal level, as well as how they operate on the floor while mostly watching from the sideline as he recovers from a sprained knee that has kept him out since Jan. 8.

The knee has been pain-free for the last couple of weeks, according to Durant, and now it’s a matter of working his body into game shape.

He said going through a full practice with teammates on Tuesday helped.

“I feel great. I am looking forward to getting this opportunity to play again,” Durant said. “It’s been a long time. I was having fun out there before I got injured. I’m looking forward to going out there and picking up where I left off. I know it will take me some time to get used to everything early on.”

His first game back comes against a Hornets team that has won a season-best five straight games but lost star point guard LaMelo Ball to broken ankle on Monday night. Charlotte also is expected to be without P.J. Washington (knee soreness) for a third straight game, meaning second-year forward JT Thor would have the unenviable task of guarding Durant.

Durant remains at the top of his game, averaging 29 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game while shooting 55.9% from the field and 37.6% from 3-point range this season.

He has been trying to visualize where he fits into the Suns’ system and how he can have the biggest impact while learning the team’s plays.

“I know my versatility can help me a lot of different areas on both ends of the court,” Durant said. “Being able to shoot the ball from different areas of the floor can help me, even if I don’t know every small subtlety in a play I can still try to figure out just by movement and stuff.”

He said his new teammates have been eager to integrate him into offensive sets.

“Having a long practice helped, and we were able to figure some stuff out,” Durant said. “So it’s been fun. I’m looking forward to trying to translate over to the floor and see how we can keep building.”

Durant is clearly embracing his new surroundings and the idea of playing with Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton and contending for another NBA title. Durant said he likes the energy of his new team and sees plenty of chemistry.

“There is an enthusiasm for the game and if a problem arises everyone is talking about it,” Durant said. “It’s not simmering or lingering over for too long and that’s always a good thing.”

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