Harden hurting as Nets rise to top of East
MVP candidate's hamstring puts damper on comeback win
James Harden has spent the past two and a half months helping the Brooklyn Nets push past Kevin Durant’s hamstring injury, Kyrie Irving’s occasional absences and a bevy of roster additions and alterations.
Wednesday night at Downtown’s Barclays Center, the Nets were confronted with the grim reality that they might have to return the favor by picking up the slack for their Most Valuable Player candidate for a while.
Though the Nets rallied from an early 18-point deficit to beat the visiting Houston Rockets 120-108 and climbed into the top spot in the Eastern Conference for the first time this season, they spent most of the fourth quarter worrying about “The Beard” and his tight right hamstring.
“Any time someone goes down it’s very concerning,” admitted Irving, who led Brooklyn’s charge against Harden’s former team, scoring a game-high 31 points and handing out a season-best 12 assists.
“Any time someone doesn’t play we definitely have to have that mentality that we’re still going to play at a very high level.”
Harden did play three solid quarters, amassing 17 points, eight rebounds and six assists before informing head coach Steve Nash of his discomfort.
The Nets responded almost immediately to their best all-around player’s departure.
Trailing by six five minutes into the fourth quarter, Brooklyn put up 12 consecutive points and finished off a 22-2 run when Blake Griffin and Joe Harris knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Nets a 117-103 cushion with just over a minute left to play.
While Nash intimated that he would check Harden’s status before Thursday night’s game here vs. Charlotte, it is highly unlikely that the Nets would risk the three-time scoring champion’s recovery by playing him on back-to-back nights with an injury, even if it isn’t considered to be severe.
The first-year coach did, however, compliment his team on its continued resilience in the face of injuries and roster and lineup shuffles.
“First and foremost, really proud of our guys. They’ve had a lot thrown at them this year,” noted Nash after being informed that this was the latest the Nets have been atop the East since April 2003.
“We’ve had a lot of different lineups, tough schedule, and a new group. We’ve had three new groups in a sense, so for them to stick together, to continue to pursue what we’re asking them to pursue, big picture and in the short term with the details, it’s impressive.”
The Nets looked anything but during the first quarter Wednesday. Houston stormed out to a 24-6 lead and put up 42 points in the first 12 minutes.
But Brooklyn reeled the Rockets in slowly before passing them by in the fourth without Harden, who has been one of the most efficient clutch time players in the league since arriving in our borough.
“We talked it over. They took the challenge and that’s what matters. You can talk until you’re blue in the face, if they don’t take the challenge it doesn’t matter,” Nash said of his squad, which has won 19 of its last 22 games despite missing Durant since mid-February.
“So our guys, they had pride and they had respect for each other and went out and competed and were unbelievable in the second half.”
Harris finished with 28 points, second-year center Nic Claxton added 12 and Griffin added 11 for the Nets (33-15), who moved one-half game past second-place Philadelphia in the standings.
“We played catchup and we got away with this one,” Irving ceded. “But against the great teams we know we’ve gotta bring it from minute one.”
They might also have to learn how to “bring it” without Harden beginning Thursday night.
NOTHING BUT NET: Brooklyn is 26-9 overall since acquiring Harden from the Rockets in a four-team deal on Jan. 14. … The Nets’ 11-2 record in March matched the best mark in any month in franchise history. While based in New Jersey, the Nets went 11-2 in February of 2004. … After hosting the Hornets on Thursday, Brooklyn will visit Chicago on Sunday afternoon before kicking off a three-game homestand Monday night vs. the Knicks.
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