The Brooklyn Nets survived one game without star Kevin Durant and are hoping that experience remains a rare occurrence.
Durant's right shoulder injury was relatively minor, and he is expected to return Monday when Brooklyn visits the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Nets are 10-2 in their past 12 games after eking out a 115-113 win over the visiting Orlando Magic on Friday night. Durant sat out for the first time this season with a right shoulder sprain that he initially sustained Nov. 8 against the Chicago Bulls.
He played five games after the injury and produced two more 30-point games before totaling 42 points on 15-of-35 shooting last week when the Nets split a back-to-back set with the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland.
"He actually gets a few days rest on top of rest of the shoulder, so there (were) multiple factors that made it attractive for us to choose this game for him to sit," Brooklyn coach Steve Nash said.
Without Durant, the Nets had just enough to get their latest win. They trailed by 19 twice in the first half before dominating the third quarter and surviving some shaky moments in the fourth.
Brooklyn was able to survive due to James Harden getting to the free throw line often. He made 19 of 20 free throws in a 36-point night that saw him miss 18 of 25 shots. Harden also had help from Patty Mills, James Johnson and LaMarcus Aldridge, who combined for 54 points.
"I feel proud of the guys," Nash said. "For them to have 12 wins at this stage of the season amidst all that stuff, I think is a credit to their professionalism and effort."
While Durant is back, the Nets will be without Joe Harris (sprained left ankle) for at least the next two games and Bruce Brown (hamstring) after the forward was hurt Friday.
Cleveland is dealing with more significant injuries.
The Cavaliers are 0-2 since losing Evan Mobley to an elbow injury, though he appeared to make some progress during a workout following practice Saturday.
More distressing for the Cavaliers is finding out Colin Sexton, who scored 42 points last season against Brooklyn in Cleveland, will be out for the season after undergoing meniscus surgery.
The Cavaliers are on their first three-game losing streak of the season and have lost four of six, a stretch where they have been held under 100 points in each game.
The least productive game of their recent struggles was Thursday's 104-89 loss to Golden State when the Cavaliers scored eight points in the fourth quarter in a game it led for 30-plus minutes before Stephen Curry heated up.
"We're not a moral victory team," Cleveland coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. "But we take pride in the character of our guys, and they showed their character tonight. They went out and put themselves in position to beat a good team."
Darius Garland scored 25 points Thursday, and despite Cleveland's recent scoring woes, he is averaging 21.3 points in the past six games.
"We couldn't really make a shot and they held us to eight points in that fourth quarter," Garland said. "That was really bad."
Garland could have some more help if Jarrett Allen and Lauri Markkanen return. Allen has missed three straight games with an illness that is not COVID-19 related while Markkanen has missed nine games in the NBA's health and safety protocols.
--Field Level Media