The Charlotte Hornets were the Brooklyn Nets' opponent when Kyrie Irving was first ineligible to appear in home games due to the New York City mandate against unvaccinated private sector employees on Oct. 24.
On Thursday, an exemption was granted for athletes and performers, a move that allows Irving to appear in home games. The guard makes his home debut Sunday night when Brooklyn hosts Charlotte in a pivotal matchup for seeding in the Eastern Conference.
Irving will play his 22nd game of the season but first at home since Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Milwaukee Bucks on June 7. He injured his ankle in Game 4 in Milwaukee and was deemed ineligible for home games due to the mandate.
As for the Nets (39-35) they are 7-2 in their past nine games and 9-12 in games Irving has appeared in since his season debut Jan. 5. On Saturday, they cruised to a 110-95 win over the Miami Heat and did not need much from Irving, who scored 11 points and played 30 minutes.
Irving's contribution to Brooklyn's latest win occurred hours afterward. He said he plans on re-signing with the Nets and remaining teammates with Kevin Durant, who scored 23 points Saturday.
"I love it here," Irving said. "Once summertime hits, I know that we'll have some conversations but there's no way I can leave my man 7 (Durant) anywhere."
Those are conversations the Nets hope occur after a deep playoff run, but first, they are hoping to work their way out of a play-in spot. With eight games to go, the Nets are two games behind the seventh-place Cleveland Cavaliers and three behind the sixth-place Toronto Raptors.
Six of Brooklyn's remaining games at home, where it is 3-1 in its past four games and a pedestrian 16-19 overall.
"If we can have a crowd that's ready to go and our guys will be excited to have them at home, that would give us a lift as well," Brooklyn coach Steve Nash said.
Charlotte (38-36) is a game behind Brooklyn and leads the 10th-place Atlanta Hawks by one game.
The Hornets are 6-1 in their past seven games and 8-3 over their past 11 games in a stretch that includes wins over Cleveland, Dallas and Utah.
On Friday, the Hornets survived allowing 17 3-pointers and earned a 107-101 win over the visiting Jazz. Charlotte bounced back from allowing 20 3-pointers in a 15-point loss to the New York Knicks on Wednesday by forcing six turnovers and allowing 23 points in the fourth quarter.
"When we play defense, we are in every game and competing in every game," Charlotte forward Miles Bridges said. "So overall we have been doing a good job of just staying focused."
Bridges, who has torched the Nets for 62 points in the first two meetings, scored 26 points Friday. Terry Rozier, who scored 30 in the last meeting with Brooklyn on March 8, added 25 against Utah.
"Tonight we had everybody from the beginning," Rozier said. "And when we're playing like that we're a tough team to beat. That's just what it is."