Brooklyn Boro

Harden helps Nets complete L.A. sweep

Superstars Durant and Irving could be back soon as well

December 28, 2021 John Torenli, Sports Editor
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James Harden returned from the COVID-19 list with a flourish.

Fellow superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving hope to do the same.

Harden scored 39 points and handed out 15 assists Monday night as the Brooklyn Nets rolled to a 124-108 rout of the Los Angeles Clippers in front of 17,128 fans at Arena.

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“He set the tone for us,” Brooklyn head coach Steve Nash said of Harden, who also lifted the COVID-ravaged Nets to a victory over LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers on Christmas Day. “Really great tonight.”

Harden, who amassed 36 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists against the Lakers, went 15-of-25 from the floor vs. L.A.’s other team, including 4-of-9 from 3-point range.

He also grabbed eight rebounds in a team-high 40 minutes while finishing the night with a game-best plus-17 rating.

But rather than dwell on his eye-popping numbers, Harden spoke effusively of his teammates, many of whom are filling the gaps left by Durant, Irving, LaMarcus Aldridge and the rest of the players still awaiting a negative test.

“I see resiliency,” Harden noted. “Maybe when we get back home, we’ll have a full roster.”

They just might, according to Nash, who intimated prior to tipoff that both Durant and Aldridge could be ready when the Nets return to Barclays Center Thursday to host the Philadelphia 76ers.

“I think there’s a good chance Kevin will be (back),” Nash said. “With Kyrie, I’m not so sure, but it’s coming. He’s already been [in protocols for 10 days]. He’s got to be getting close.”

The Nets might have Kevin Durant (right) back as soon as Thursday, while previously exiled Kyrie Irving is ramping up for a return in the new year. AP Photo by Adam Hunger

Irving, who had been in COVID exile due to his lack of adherence with New York City’s vaccination mandate for players, staff and workers at Barclays, is likely aiming at an early January return date.

Though he is still not eligible to play in Brooklyn, Irving will be allowed to make his season debut when the Nets head back out on the road Jan. 5 in Indiana.

At worst, the mercurial points guard should be in action by the time the Nets visit the Chicago Bulls on Jan. 12.

“It’s hard to say, but I would say probably somewhere between a week and two weeks,” Nash told ESPN of Irving’s much-anticipated return.

“He’s obviously been isolating so that kind of puts another layer to the ramp-up. It’s not like he’s been working out so probably I’d imagine it’s going to be closer to two weeks once he comes out of protocols. We’ll just have to see how it goes, though, because we have to evaluate him from a physical and performance standpoint and a basketball standpoint as well.”

Nic Claxton and Patty Mills scored 18 points apiece and DeAndre Bembry and Blake Griffin each had 12 for the Eastern Conference-leading Nets (23-9), who had three straight games postponed before their sweep in the City of Angels.

Marcus Morris Sr. had a team-high 24 points for the Clippers (17-17), who have dropped five of their last six contests.

Nic Claxton has been filling in admirably while the Nets wait to get their full complement of players back following their recent COVID outbreak. AP Photo by Jae C. Hong

Whether they have a full roster or not when they get back to the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush, the Nets can at least take heart in knowing that “The Beard” is usually enough to help them compete with any team in the league.

“He’s one of the best players of his generation,” Nash said of Harden.

The Nets hope to have two more generational players back in the lineup, one as soon as Thursday and the other shortly after the turn of the new year.

Because three superstars are still better than one.

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