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Pelicans face daunting task of slowing down Nets in Kevin Durant’s expected return from injury

First ever Zion vs KD matchup!

NBA: Washington Wizards at Brooklyn Nets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

After missing 23 straight games due to a right hamstring strain, Kevin Durant is expected to make his return against ... New Orleans.

The Pelicans seemingly have a long history of big names circling upcoming dates in matchups against them for their returns from injury and the Nets’ superstar is the latest.

Prior to this hamstring issue, Durant was in the midst of writing a great comeback story. 29.0 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 5.3 APG, 1.4 BPG and a stellar shooting line (52.4 FG%, 43.4 3PT%, 86.9 FT%) for a 32-year-old coming off a torn Achilles is unprecedented. He’s looked like Kevin Durant through 19 games this season, moving comparably similar to his days while with the Thunder and Warriors.

Although James Harden is out for at least the next ten days with his own right hamstring strain, the Pelicans will also have to contend with Kyrie Irving. The point guard is averaging career-bests in points (28.0), field goal percentage (51.4%) and blocks (0.6) — all his shiftiness, athleticism and deadeye shooting remains. When he’s been out on the court, Irving has looked the part of one of the best guards in the league who is in his prime.

Fortunately for the Pelicans, Zion Williamson returned from a three-game absence due to a sprained right thumb and looked his usual self last night against the Hawks.

New Orleans dropped the game to Atlanta, though, and could be without Brandon Ingram and Kira Lewis Jr. again. Both players are listed as questionable on today’s injury report. Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Josh Hart are out for the foreseeable future.

While the Pelicans have dropped three of their last four games, the Nets have won 5 of 6 — but they’ve been on a roll for some time. Turns out James Harden should still very much be considered an MVP candidate, carrying the team while Durant was sidelined and Irving was in and out of the lineup. Since the second week of February, Brooklyn has dropped just four contests while winning 21.

What’s the game plan for New Orleans? In addition to forcing Brooklyn players not named Irving or Durant to shoot the basketball, mimic Atlanta’s hot perimeter shooting from Tuesday. The Nets are a mediocre 14-12 on the season when an opponent has made 36.4% or more of their three-point attempts. That’s not the highest of bars, right?

Betting on the Pelicans straight up isn’t advisable, but lets not forget that their talent level has risen to the level necessary in beating some really good teams (Bucks, Suns, Clippers, Nuggets). After losing to the Magic and Hawks (2X) over the last six days, things wouldn’t be any more Pelican than seeing New Orleans pull off the upset in Brooklyn tonight.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (22-28) at Brooklyn Nets (35-16)

When: April 7, 6:30 p.m. Central

Where to watch: Bally Sports NOLA, ESPN

Where to listen: ESPN 100.3 FM

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @OlehKosel.