The bad news just keeps coming for the Nets.
Less than two hours before the tipoff of Tuesday night’s game against New Orleans, the Nets announced that James Harden would be out "indefinitely." Harden, who was rehabilitating a hamstring injury, suffered a setback during an on-court rehab session on Monday. He underwent a MRI and other tests on Tuesday before the team made its announcement.
"Back to square one," Nets coach Steve Nash said. "He’ll be back when he’s back. That may not be until the playoffs. It may be sooner. I don’t know."
Harden, who had been averaging 25.2 points, 8.0 rebounds and 10.9 assists per game for the Nets, first began suffering from tightness in his hamstring in a game against his former team, the Houston Rockets, on March 31. After missing two games, he returned to play the Knicks on April 5. He played just four minutes before suffering a strain.
Initially, it was thought that Harden could be back in 7-10 days. He appeared to be making progress until Monday.
"He just felt it. He didn’t fall or stumble or anything out of the ordinary. He just felt something maybe in the ballpark of a strain," Nash said. "So . . . the scan revealed that he did he did suffer a setback. . . . not much more to it other than just disappointment and that we have to rebuild and get him going again."
Before the injury, Harden had been a workhorse for the Nets as they dealt with injuries to other players. Since coming to the team in mid-January, Harden had been averaging 37.3 minutes per game.
Harden was far from the only player not available Tuesday night. The Nets only suited up nine players for the game. Also out were Kevin Durant (left thigh contusion), Tyler Johnson (sore knee) Chris Chiozza (fractured hand), Nicolas Claxton and Reggie Perry, who were both being held out for COVID health and safety protocols.
That meant Kyrie Irving was the only member of the Big 3 to take the court in New Orleans.
Due to an assortment of injuries, medical protocols and personal absences, the Nets’ Big 3 of Durant, Harden and Irving has shared the court exactly seven times since the Jan. 14 trade for Harden. Entering the game against the Pelicans, Durant had missed 33 of 57 games, Irving had missed 16 of 57 and Harden had missed 10 of his 44 with the Nets.
Nash was more confident about Durant’s return than Harden’s during the regular season.
After Tuesday night’s game, the Nets have only 14 regular-season games left. Nash is in the difficult position of having to try to keep the team’s playoff positioning while not putting too much pressure on the players who aren’t injured.
"I think the number one priority in some respects has to be survival," Nash said. "We have to not overburden the rest of the roster. Everyone is going to have more responsibility theoretically than they have had in the past. Sometimes that can be too much exposure, physically, when you haven’t been used to that type of adaptation. You have to be careful but at the same time you don’t have a lot of options.
"How you navigate that is going to be tricky. Just staying positive and demanding that we are a competitive group and are connected and play together and play for one another and have this fighting spirit and keep moving this thing along and see what we can build out of this adversity that will serve us down the road."