Shorthanded Nets prove no match for NBA-best Jazz
When the Nets ruled James Harden out over his own objections more than two hours before tipoff against the NBA-best Jazz Wednesday night at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City, it effectively was game over at that point.
Superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are not on the three-game road trip nor is injured Landry Shamet, and Blake Griffin also was rested.
That left the Nets with a skeleton crew of a lineup, and the results were predictable. The Jazz led by as much as 38 points on their way to a 118-88 blowout as the Nets were held to their lowest point totals of the season in the first half (38), through three quarters (61) and for a game (previous low 96).
On Tuesday night in Portland, Harden played through the pain of a recent neck injury that resulted from a blow to the head last Sunday against the Wizards. But after leading the Nets to a gritty 116-112 win over the Trail Blazers, the pain on the day after was not worth the risk of aggravating the injury.
It marked just the second time since Harden was acquired by the Nets that he missed a game. They have gone 23-7 in the 30 games he has played, and Harden is leading the NBA in both assists (11.2) and minutes played (38.0) while averaging 25.3 points and 7.9 rebounds.
"To be honest I’m sure James would have wanted to play tonight," Nash said. "But I don’t think it’s safe for him to play tonight, and I think sometimes, you have to protect him from himself. He was questionable for last night, played a ton of minutes, you could see it was tough for him shooting the ball, but he still obviously dominated in other ways.
"Tonight, it was the smartest and safest decision to protect him from himself and take him out of the lineup because he’s struggling. It’s pretty sore. I hope that he’ll be back next game, but we’ll have to see day by day."
Nash noted Harden has struggled with his shooting since returning from the All-Star break, and he worried the neck injury might exacerbate those problems. In seven games since the break, Harden has shot 38.8% overall (54 of 139), and he has shot just 15.4% from three-point range (8 of 52).
"He’s still played great and been dominant, but I think the neck hasn’t helped that in anyway," Nash said.
"We had to kind of protect him from himself. He still wants to try to play. I’m telling you he’s sore. The problem with playing when you’re not right is what else can go wrong. So it’s just a dangerous situation, he’s been struggling with this thing and it’s really important that we protect him because we’re going to need him and he’s got a lot of demands on him."
Alize Johnson, who is on a 10-day contract, led the Nets (30-15) with 23 points and 15 rebounds, and they got 14 points from Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, 12 from Reggie Perry and 10 points and 11 assists from Chris Chiozza. But they shot only 36.1% from the field and 20.0% from three-point range. Donovan Mitchell topped the Jazz (32-11) with 27 points, and they got 18 each from Mike Conley and former Net Bogdan Bogdanovic.
Utah ran up a 38-17 first-quarter lead, and Nash effectively ran up the white flag when he pulled Joe Harris after just five minutes to save him for the Detroit game. Utah held a 63-38 halftime lead, so Nash sat veterans Jeff Green and DeAndre Johnson in the second half.