As damage reports go, the initial assessment of the right hamstring injury that knocked James Harden out 43 seconds into Game 1 of the Nets’ second-round playoff series against the Bucks Saturday contained at least an element of hope that he has not been ruled out of this series, or the rest of the postseason.
Harden will sit out Game 2 Monday night at Barclays Center with what officially was described as right hamstring tightness. It was similar to what happened in April when Harden missed two games for the same reason. In that situation, he lasted barely four minutes when he returned against the Knicks and subsequently missed the next 18 games with a strained right hamstring.
Nets coach Steve Nash said the MRI showed no structural damage that could yet be characterized as a strain. "For James, we obviously are desperate for him to return, and he's a huge piece of what we do in our team," Nash said. "But at this point, I think it would be all guesswork to really understand.
"Let's hope for the best, but we can't really say anything too predictive, or too definitive right now…We just focus on the next game and understanding he won’t be with us."
Harden took part in the Nets’ film session on Sunday and was said to be a vocal contributor. Clearly, he hasn’t given up on the notion of returning in this series or certainly later in the postseason if the Nets advance.
"James has high hopes and he wants to be back ASAP," Nash said. "I think we want to protect James, too. We want to make sure he's right. This is playoff time. This is time to take some risks, but it has to be right to take those risks.
"So, we hope he's back. He believes he can be back. But, we've got to see what happens and only can time can tell how he responds and where he's at in the coming days."
The Nets also will be without veteran forward Jeff Green (right plantar fascia strain), who will miss his fifth straight game. "Jeff is out for Game 2 but progressing nicely," Nash said. "I think we’ll see him in the series, and hopefully, it’s Game 3. But who knows?"
In the absence of Harden, some have wondered if guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who underwent reconstructive right knee surgery in early January and is doing very well in his rehab in Los Angeles, might rejoin the Nets.
"I have had no conversations about him returning to the team or even returning to play at this point," Nash said.
When Harden went down, Nash turned to lightly used Mike James to pick up his minutes, and he responded with 12 points and seven rebounds in their Game 1 victory. Nash said a season filled with injuries that led to 38 different starting lineups helped prepare the Nets to adjust on the fly.
Even without Harden, they still have Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving — the other two members of their Big 3 — to lead them, and they responded with 54 combined points in Game 1. "We try not to be too emotional out there, but losing one of your leaders like that on the first play of the game, we had to regroup for a few minutes and figure out what was next," Durant said.
"I think the coaching staff did a great job of moving forward, and guys just came in and tried to play extremely hard, executing the game plan and leaving it all out there. We’re definitely going to be thinking about James . . . It’s a bad situation. I hate that it had to happen."
At least, the news the Nets received Sunday suggested it might not be the worst-case scenario they feared.