Kevin Durant thrives in return but Nets lose to Heat to fall to .500

Kevin Durant did not want the title, even if it fits.

“I don’t look at myself as that — as a savior,” Durant said before playing like one.

But even a savior needs able disciples.

In his first game in more than six weeks, Durant often looked like the superstar the Nets remembered, but Brooklyn still watched a 16-point first-half lead disappear in a 113-107 loss to the first-place (but depleted) Heat at Barclays Center on Thursday night.

Durant may be back, but he did not immediately slow the free fall. Brooklyn went 5-16 without the face of the franchise, plummeting all the way to eighth in the Eastern Conference and likely destined for a spot in the play-in tournament. The Nets (32-32) are .500 for the first time since they were 3-3.

Durant cannot be blamed after going off for 31 points on 10 of 21 shooting while grinding through 35 minutes in his first game in a month and a half. But with a new-look Nets roster, the Heat looked more composed and shot better in the second half.

Bam Adebayo (30 points) far outplayed Andre Drummond, Max Strus and Caleb Martin (a combined 9 of 17 from 3) were more potent than Seth Curry and Patty Mills, and one superstar wasn’t enough for the Nets.

Kevin Durant, who scored 31 points in his return from injury, drives past Tyler Herro during the Nets’ 133-107 loss to the Heat.
NY Post: Charles Wenzelberg

The Nets dominated the first half, and Miami dominated the third quarter, setting the stage for a seesaw fourth.

Brooklyn rested Durant for the first five minutes of the period, during which Miami built an eight-point lead that featured a spectacular lob from Tyler Herro, who was at the arc, to a streaking Adebayo, throwing it down in Drummond’s face.

Durant subbed back in with 6:58 left and led an inspired run in which the Nets cut the gap to two with 2 ¹/₂ minutes left with a Durant jumper followed by his free throws. Bruce Brown (21 points) rejected Gabe Vincent’s 3, but Curry and Durant then missed their own, killing the rally.

Kevin Durant shoots over Duncan Robinson during the Nets' loss to the Heat.
Kevin Durant shoots over Duncan Robinson during the Nets’ loss to the Heat.
NY Post: Charles Wenzelberg

After building what felt like a comfortable advantage on the back of Durant’s 17 first-half points, the Nets were sloppy against Miami’s zone defense in the game-changing third quarter.

The Heat — playing without three-fifths of their starting lineup — used a 21-8 burst, which included a 14-0 run, out of the halftime break to take control.

The Nets could not get enough stops in a game Miami shot 51.9 percent from the floor.

The Heat (42-22) didn’t seem to miss Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry or PJ Tucker, who were dealing with various issues on the second night of a back-to-back.

The second-half collapse wiped away so much of the first-half good feeling around Durant.

Durant watched Miami’s Omer Yurtseven back off him, so he launched a deep two for his first points in 47 days. He followed those up with a turnaround before connecting on a fadeaway. He could overpower or he could finesse.

In the second, he watched the defense key on him and saw Brown rolling to the hoop for an easy layup to make it 44-32. Miami did not slack off to help on Drummond underneath, who was able to bruise his way for a layup.

Bruce Brown, who score 21 points, goes up for a layup during the Nets' loss to the Heat.
Bruce Brown, who score 21 points, goes up for a layup during the Nets’ loss to the Heat.
NY Post: Charles Wenzelberg

Durant’s presence was felt everywhere and he seemed to be everywhere — including in the refs’ ear as he earned a technical in the second.

The struggling Mills knocked down his first four 3s, and the Nets began 9 of 18 from deep before they cooled.

The roles of Mills and Curry became even more important Thursday, when the Nets announced sharpshooter Joe Harris needs a second surgery that will knock him out for the season.

The Nets have preached their own version of The Process all season — heavy on “ramp-ups” and “progress” and light on results — but that may change over the next 18 games. They can’t afford many more good-but-not-good-enough efforts.

“We want to win every game. But we just have to take it a day at a time,” Durant said in his first public comments since Feb. 12. “I know what the standings are. Everybody is telling us every day how far we have dropped and where we may end up — constantly telling us the situation we are in.

“We understand that, and we know that each day is important.”

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