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Despite few minutes together on court, the Nets' Big 3 expects to be a cohesive group

Nets guard James Harden (13) high-fives forward Kevin

Nets guard James Harden (13) high-fives forward Kevin Durant during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls on Saturday, May 15, 2021. Credit: AP/Adam Hunger

Finally, the time is at hand for the Nets’ Big 3 of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden to begin their much-anticipated — and in some quarters, much-criticized — quest to bring an NBA title to Brooklyn after forming a "superteam" that one recent survey labeled as the "most hated" in America, even ahead of the defending-champion Lakers.

It starts with Game 1 of the Nets’ first-round series against the Celtics Saturday night at Barclays Center. That will mark only the ninth game Durant, Irving and Harden have played together all season.

According to a survey by the "FiveThirtyEight" website that looked at the previous 24 seasons before this one, the eight games and 202.3 minutes the Big 3 have shared the court, which represents only 5.8% of the season, all would represent the least time any such lead trio had played together before winning a title.

Since there is nothing they can do to change those circumstances, Durant said after practice on Friday that the Nets can’t take the floor for Game 1 with a worried mindset, but must trust their talent. "We understand that we haven’t played a lot of games together, but we have been on the court together in practices, we have been around each other in the training facility, on the bus, on the plane," Durant said.

"So if we can’t get on the floor, we’ve been trying to fill in the blanks with other stuff as far as watching film, communicating, just talking out what we see among each other. Once we all got healthy and were able to get out on the floor and get some reps in, having these few days of practice has been cool for us.

"Everybody in this league has been going through protocols and injuries and not having a lot of continuity with their lineups. So that’s just the name of the game this year, and I think we’ll do our best to adapt. But we all are going to have to lean on each other."

Durant and Irving arrived two years ago as free agents and were joined by Harden via a trade in January. Despite their limited playing time, Harden earlier this week said they have become a tight-knit group that is in constant communication. Durant echoed that sentiment.

"We love the game so much and we love the NBA," Durant said. "It’s always good to talk about the game of basketball, whether it’s with us, whether it’s around the league or there’s schemes and different players that we like. It’s always good to have that constant dialogue. That shows that basketball is in our DNA.

"James texts me, Kyrie texts me and vice versa all hours of the day just talking about anything under the sun, especially when it comes to basketball. We’re always in that constant communication, but there is another level you’ve got to go to when you’re transferring that onto the floor and actually putting that into action. So that’s our next step."

It’s a big challenge to develop chemistry and continuity in a playoff setting against teams, such as the Celtics, that have a core that has been together for several seasons. But the Nets have no choice.

Making a joking reference to a well-known movie that ran three-and-a-half hours, coach Steve Nash said, "Someone said to me yesterday the amount of minutes they’ve played on the floor together is shorter than ‘The Irishman.’ So that’s our gap. We know it, we accept it, we recognize it.

"Connectivity and cohesion is something that’s going to come in time. How can we be good enough to survive until it becomes more well-rounded? That’s as much as challenge as anything."

Notes & quotes: The Nets listed guard Landry Shamet (left ankle sprain) as probable. No other active player is on the report, and Nash said Harden and Joe Harris, both of whom recently came off the report, face no minutes restrictions.

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