Nets keep on Blazin’ without Irving
Kick Kyrie-less road trip off with victory in Portland
While Kevin Durant continues to work his way back from a hamstring strain and Kyrie Irving takes a break to deal with a family matter, James Harden keeps playing every game like its his very last in a Brooklyn uniform.
“That’s just who I am, that’s just how I’m built,” Harden said after amassing 25 points, 17 assists and seven rebounds in the Nets’ 116-112 victory over the Trail Blazers at Portland’s Moda Center.
Though Harden thought about sitting out the opener of Brooklyn’s three-game road trip due to a sore neck, he opted instead to further bolster his candidacy for league Most Valuable Player honors.
Harden’s latest virtuoso performance — he already has 11 triple-doubles in 29 games with the Nets — lifted Brooklyn (30-14) to its 16th win in the last 18 contests and kept our borough’s NBA franchise one game behind Philadelphia for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
It also reminded those watching that Harden is consistently making the players around him better, both with his formidable skills of facilitation and his attitude.
“If this thing was done tomorrow, I know I gave everything I had,” he said of playing through the nagging injury, which may keep him out of Wednesday night’s game in Utah.
“I know I didn’t shortcut at any point,” he added. “It will be over one day, but me in the back of my mind knowing, I have peace knowing I did that. I can live with that.”
And thanks to Harden and company, the Nets are doing a good job of not only living, but thriving without Durant and Irving.
“We have a bunch of guys that are willing to come in and fight for the group and play together and play the right way and play selfless basketball,” said Brooklyn head coach Steve Nash.
“Proud of all the guys that have stepped into bigger roles while guys are out.”
Jeff Green poured in 20 points, including two clutch free throws down the stretch, and Joe Harris added 17 for Brooklyn, which surrendered 41 first-quarter points before smothering the high-scoring Blazers the rest of the way.
“I think just over the course of today’s game we showed a level of resilience that good teams show,” said Harris. “For us to give up 41 points in the first quarter and then we kind of steadily take it down each quarter following, that’s huge.”
Durant, who has missed 18 straight games dating to Feb. 13, may be back in the lineup by the time the Nets return to Barclays Center on Monday to host the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“He has to close that critical last stage of his rehab. He is on the court every day and looks great,” Nash noted.
“But he’s making sure that strength is there. We need to make sure he’s coming back to play safely. If this was the playoffs, there’s a chance he would be back very soon. But there’s no point in taking a big risk at this point in the season.“
Irving, who took a well-chronicled two-week “pause” from playing in January, did not join his teammates on this trip, which wraps up Friday night in Detroit.
It hardly mattered, thanks to contributions from the bench and from Brooklyn’s assortment of role players.
Fast-emerging second-year center Nic Claxton had 16 points and nine rebounds and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot added 11 off the bench for the Nets, who have won nine of their last 10 road contests.
“We’ve formed a great cohesion I think and tonight it really came down to just fighting and wanting it,” Nash said.
“They’re a tough team to guard. We told them we’ve just got to stick with it and keep fighting and good things happen.”
They’ve been happening quite regularly for the Nets since a humbling loss at league-worst Detroit on Feb. 9.
Beginning next week in Brooklyn, we should be getting another look at just how good things can get when the Nets have all three of their superstars back in the fold.
But for now, Harden and his supporting cast aren’t exactly looking desperate for help.
“We have to have the intensity to be as great as we can be,” he insisted.
NOTHING BUT NET: Blake Griffin, acquired earlier this month to bolster Brooklyn’s bench, had eight points and five boards while playing just under 20 minutes vs. Portland in his second game with the Nets. “I definitely don’t want to get excited,” Nash said of Griffin, who has been on a minutes limit since arriving in Downtown Brooklyn. “We have to remember he’s played one game in basically a month. He could play more minutes but I don’t want to jeopardize his long term health.” … The Nets’ win over the Blazers Wednesday gave them consecutive wins in Portland for the first time in franchise history. Brooklyn topped the Blazers here during its last visit, pulling out a 119-115 triumph on Nov. 8, 2019. … Brooklyn is shooting for its 10th straight road win against a Western Conference opponent Wednesday night in Utah.
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