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James Harden ruled out of Nets' matchup with Trail Blazers

Nets guard James Harden looks on against the

Nets guard James Harden looks on against the San Antonio Spurs in the first half of an NBA basketball game at Barclays Center on Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The Nets had to literally work overtime to pull out a two-point win over the Spurs on Sunday afternoon at Barclays Center to end their five-game home losing streak. Then, they flew to Portland for a Monday night game that would complete an extremely rare coast-to-coast back-to-back set.

Nets coach Steve Nash said everyone on the roster would make the trip, and even though he sometimes prefers to rest Kevin Durant and James Harden in the second game of a back-to-back, both would be available.

But just when the Big 3 were scheduled to play together for the second time in Portland, James Harden was ruled out Monday afternoon with a hyperextended left knee.

Following the Nets’ 121-119 overtime win over the Spurs, Durant was asked why he might want to play against the Trail Blazers on the opposite coast. "I want to play," Durant said. "They pay me money to play basketball."

Good point. James Harden played 44 minutes against the Spurs and Durant played 43. That was the start of a stretch of four games in five days and five games in seven days. And the Nets are going coast-to-coast. After the Portland game, they play Wednesday in Chicago followed by home games the next night against Oklahoma City and then Saturday against New Orleans.

But the good thing that helps them in that stretch is that Kyrie Irving will join them in Portland and Chicago. Irving is ineligible to play games in New York City because he is in violation of the city’s vaccine mandate. But he can play in road games and had a successful season debut last Wednesday at Indiana with a 22-point performance in a comeback win from a 19-point deficit. Irving was tough down the stretch.

Asked how Irving’s return might help the Nets in Portland, Durant said, "We’re definitely a better team, a way better team, and he’s definitely going to give us a lift. So I’m looking forward to it. We’ve got a couple games on the road and an opportunity for us to build our chemistry. So I’m looking forward to it."

During the win over the Spurs, Nash tipped his hand regarding his strategy for how to survive the difficult four-games-in-five-nights stretch. He expanded his rotation to 11 players by using all four rookies on the roster.

Cam Thomas hit the game-winning shot against the Spurs, and Kessler Edwards, Day’Ron Sharpe and David Duke Jr. all made valuable contributions. Duke actually started his third straight game and scored six points. In total, the four rookies scored 30 points, including 11 by Thomas.

"I thought they all did a good job," Nash said of the rookies. "We’re in that position where we believe in those guys, but they need time to really develop and play. We’ve got other guys that are deserving of minutes, too, so we’ve got so many guys that are at a similar level of ability and play. It’s a tough road to work through, but we’re trying to give those guys a little bit of an opportunity and they did well."

Thomas said the young guys are looking forward to being involved during the condensed schedule in the coming week. "It’s huge because it’s like five games in seven days and this was the first one," Thomas said after the win over the Spurs. "So, of course, everybody’s going to be used during this week because it’s a long week, a lot of games in a whole week. We’ve got to stay ready, and whoever’s called on, we’re going to make it happen."

Center Nic Claxton, who had 16 points and 14 rebounds against the Spurs, agreed. "We’re definitely going to need everybody," Claxton said. "Day’Ron came in and played some good minutes, Kess came in, and it will be great to have Kyrie on this road stretch as well."

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