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Kyrie Irving scratched with a new Nets injury headache

Kyrie Irving was a late scratch from the Nets’ Martin Luther King Day matinee against Philadelphia.

After not appearing on Brooklyn’s initial injury report, he was downgraded to questionable less than three hours before tipoff with right hamstring tightness, and then ruled out about an hour later, five minutes before coach Kenny Atkinson spoke in pregame access.

“Just came in with some tightness,” Atkinson said. “We’ll play it cautious. Don’t want to lose in long-term, so that’s the plan.”

When asked if Irving hurt himself during pregame warmups, Atkinson acknowledged it’s an issue the All-Star guard had been dealing with for a few days.

“No, we looked at him (Sunday),” Atkinson said. “We knew there were some issues and then we tested it again (Monday) morning and decided collectively to not play (against Philadelphia).”

Playing it safe with Irving might be wise, considering his health history.

Irving has been dazzling when he plays, but keeping the mercurial guard on the court hasn’t been easy.

Kyrie Irving Nets injury
Kyrie IrvingCorey Sipkin

From his lone Duke campaign – when he missed 26 games with a toe injury on his right foot – up through Monday’s Sixers tilt, he’s missed 185 games.

In eight-plus NBA seasons, Irving has logged 70 games only three times. And he won’t do it this year after already having missed 27, the first 26 with a shoulder impingement and now the hamstring.

When asked if Irving and the team was simply playing it safe with some tightness or if the guard had actually suffered a legitimate pull, Atkinson replied “I’m not sure what a legitimate pull is.

“There’s hamstring tightness. I don’t think you want tightness to go to a strain or a pull. Can go down the line there,” Atkinson said. “So I think with these things you have to go on the side of caution.”

Irving – who just returned from his shoulder impingement in a Jan. 12 rout of Atlanta – has been stellar when he’s played, averaging 26.5 points, 6.9 assists and 5.3 boards, all career-highs.

Still, the Nets are just 5-10 when he plays, but came into Monday 13-13 when he didn’t.

Philadelphia coach Brett Brown praised Irving as a potent scorer, but implied the Nets won’t miss him that much.

“They don’t really change from a schematic system standpoint, a bunch of pick-and-rolls, rolling bigs and kinda that’s that,” said Brown. “They’ve got a bunch of pick-and-roll people that bother me, so with one less in Kyrie you think maybe that’s going to go in our favor. But as we learned here with just (Spencer) Dinwiddie when you give him 36 minutes you’ve still got a handful.

“Kyrie’s Kyrie: He’s an incredible scorer, can conquer a period, can take over a quarter all by himself. So without him I just feel like nothing really changes for me. The notion that they have an All-Star who’s on the bench, I’d be not truthful saying you think that might hurt them.”

Dinwiddie stayed in the starting lineup, and Atkinson gave Garrett Temple – coming back from a right knee contusion – the nod next to him in the backcourt. Caris LeVert – who hasn’t started since coming back from his own 24-game absence due to thumb surgery – continued to come off the bench as the backup point guard but was expected to take up a heavier burden.

“We’ll see,” said Atkinson. “Caris, he’s obviously built up, built himself up. He’s close to building himself up to normal minutes, so he’ll play a ton.”