The Nets rebounded from a demoralizing blowout loss to NBA-best Golden State with a win over the Cavaliers in the second part of a home back-to-back on Wednesday. That was good as far as it went.
But the fact is that the Nets (11-5) are in a tough stretch of their schedule. They were scheduled to play their ninth game in 15 nights against the Magic (4-11) on Friday night at Barclays Center. Then they get two days off before a Monday night game in Cleveland.
"I knew we were playing a lot, but I guess that’s kind of what they gave us," James Harden said of the NBA schedule. "Obviously, Joe [Harris] going down with an ankle sprain and [Paul Millsap] with his family, it’s been difficult just because we are limited on bodies.
"When we do get really good starts and go on really good runs, it’s more important to finish games off the right way so we can get our proper rest when needed."
Harris is expected to miss a few more games. There is no timetable for the return of Millsap, who has played limited minutes despite his All-Star resume.
For the Nets, it still comes down to Harden and Kevin Durant, the two superstars who are eligible to play on a roster missing Kyrie Irving, who is out because he has not complied with the New York City vaccine mandate.
Harden had to laugh after a 37-minute outing against the Cavaliers, which was only his fourth-highest output this season.
"You’re playing all the damn time," Harden said. "I think if Kevin or I don’t play, it’s not like we’re already down numbers … We just got to continue fighting, man. Find ways to come away with wins, find ways to keep improving on both ends of the ball.
"It’s a long season. There will be a lot of ups and downs, but I feel like we’re in a little bit of a funk right now in a sense of just everything. But we win and keep going."
Nash was asked if the challenge at this point in a grueling schedule is mental or physical, and he boiled it down. "It’s both," he said.
At the same time. The Nets with Durant and Harden have enough firepower to prevail in a tough stretch of schedule. The 33-year-old Durant is averaging 28.6 points, the third-best of his career and second in the NBA this season, and his 34.7 minutes per game is only the eighth-most of his career.
The 32-year-old Harden has played 34.4 minutes per game, but that ranks 10th in his 13-year career, and he’s shooting a career-high 39.5% from three-point range. On the other hand, his 20.3 scoring average is only 10th in his career and his 4.9 turnovers is third-worst in his career.
Harden was happy the Nets came back to beat the Cavaliers after getting blown out by Golden State the previous night, but he faulted the Nets for a poor third quarter that let the Cavs back in the game.
"Second half, we just had a meltdown," Harden said. "They capitalized, they made shots. The good thing is we come away with the win, and we’ve just got to continue to keep improving. No excuses.
"We just have to figure out what was working, what’s been going good for us and continue to do that to the best of our ability. It wasn’t a good showing for four quarters, but we came away with the win, and we just got to keep pushing forward."