James Harden has missed all but 43 seconds of the first four games of the Brooklyn Nets’ second-round playoff series against the Milwaukee Bucks. After losing the past two games — and now Kyrie Irving to an ankle injury — head coach Steve Nash says he will play it extra safe when it comes to bringing Harden back for the Nets.
“I don’t want James rushed back,” Nash said after the Nets’ Game 4 loss Sunday. “If he’s able to play next game or the game after, that’s fantastic. If he’s not, I don’t want to rush him back and jeopardize something worse.”
Through the first three games of the series, Irving and Durant have been shouldering a bulk of the offensive workload for the Nets, but it was only Durant who was healthy to play the entirety of Game 4 after Irving left in the second quarter. Brooklyn hasn’t provided much detail or a timeline for Harden’s return, but head coach Steve Nash said the guard is “progressing” in his rehab. When asked to expand on that, Nash provided a bit more detail, saying he’s been doing on-court work but that there’s still a “gap to make up” before we see him in a game again. The coach wants to see Harden involved in multiple “high-intensity loads” before the star guard can be cleared to play, per the New York Post’s Brian Lewis.
The combination of Harden, Durant and Irving played only eight games and 202 minutes together during the regular season, but after a quick 4-1 series win over the Boston Celtics in the first round, it looked like the star trio was finally starting to coalesce.
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Unfortunately, the injury gods just won’t leave the Nets alone. Less than one minute into Game 1 of their second-round series against the Bucks, Harden left and went to the locker room. He was seen reaching for his right hamstring on Brooklyn’s first offensive possession, a drive and kick attempt. He was then ruled out for the remainder of the game, and has been out since.
“Yeah. I mean you know to be honest with you, tightness, and most importantly is he’s out for the next game,” Nets coach Steve Nash said after Game 1. “… For James, we obviously are desperate for him to return and he’s a huge piece of what we do and our team, but at this point I think it would be all guesswork to really understand — he’s had such an up-and-down recent history with it and it’s really hard to predict, so let’s hope for the best. But we can’t really say anything too predictive or too definitive right now.”
While Nash said that the Nets would have to consider taking some risks given it is playoff time, Brooklyn isn’t going to risk further injury to Harden, who missed 21 games during the regular season because of this same hamstring, by rushing him back.
“All I’m aware of is tightness,” Nash said. “I think James, he has high hopes. And wants to be back ASAP. Now I think we want to protect James, too. We want to make sure he’s right. This is playoff time, this is time to take some risks, but it has to be right to take those risks. We’re not going to take any old risk. So we hope he’s back. I think he believes he can be back. But we gotta see what happens, and only time can tell how he responds.”
This series already has a number of injuries weakening both sides. The Nets played the first three games of the series without forward Jeff Green, but he returned for Game 4, which would be the first time he’s played since May 25. The Bucks lost guard Donte DiVincenzo for the postseason during their first-round series against the Miami Heat. Spencer Dinwiddie tore his ACL earlier in the season and has been out ever since.
Injuries have sadly been a constant feature of this condensed season, but as Nash said, Brooklyn is built to withstand them as well as any other team. Having three All-Star shot creators helps protect them against an injury to any one of them. The duo of Irving and Durant was still more than enough to keep the offense afloat for a short period, but now Irving’s status is uncertain. In order to win the championship, the Nets will likely need all three of their stars contributing.