So the Nets are saying there’s a chance.
When their injury status report was issued Thursday afternoon, the Nets listed superstar Kevin Durant (left thigh contusion) as "questionable" to face the Celtics Friday night at Barclays Center.
In Nets World, the "questionable" designation comes with a heavy dose of caution after Durant was ruled out completely for their previous two games after suffering his injury just four minutes into Sunday’s loss at Miami. But it does show he is progressing, as coach Steve Nash said when he recently suggested Durant might return against either the Celtics or the Suns on Sunday afternoon at Barclays Center.
Whatever the case, Durant’s presence can’t come soon enough for the Nets (39-20), who are 5-5 in their past 10 games but were 3-1 in the ones Durant was able to start and finish.
"I think just having him back, it will be a world of difference," Joe Harris said after the Nets lost to the Raptors Wednesday night in Tampa while playing their third game in four nights. "Obviously, we’re extremely limited right now with (10 healthy) guys. So having another body, especially somebody like Kevin, will be huge."
The Celtics (31-27) have had their share of injuries and revolving lineups this season, but they are much healthier now and their 8-2 record the past 10 games reflects that. Harris said the sixth-place Celtics likely will be highly motivated because they are a half-game ahead of the Heat for the last playoff position that would not be involved in a play-in series.
"At this juncture of the season, guys are all competing…for position, especially now with play-in scenarios," Harris said. "You’re ideally not playing in the play-in games, so this is a big stretch here to close out the season for a lot of different teams. You can’t take anybody lightly, you can’t look too far ahead, you’ve got to focus and prepare for the game at hand."
The 76ers (39-20) lost to the Bucks Thursday night in Milwaukee, so the Nets regained a first-place tie in the Eastern Conference. With 13 regular-season games remaining, the Nets are in position to earn the No. 1 seed despite their recent struggles. Harris said neither the Nets’ players nor coaches have placed any emphasis on finishing No. 1 but are trying to stay focused game to game.
"Anytime you can lock up the No. 1 seed, it is a good thing," veteran Blake Griffin said. "It’s not out of our reach. It is not the end-all, be-all either. We’re going to be smart. We’re not going to force guys to play injured. We want to be healthy for the playoffs. So it’s the goal, but there’s bigger goals along with that as well."
Notes & quotes: The Nets manpower shortage in the backcourt will improve Friday, a source confirmed to Newsday, when they announce the signing of 30-year-old point guard Mike James, who recently was released by CSKA Moscow, after averaging 19.7 points, 3.1 rebounds and 5.7 assists in 27 games. James, of Amityville, has 36 games of NBA experience with the Suns and Pelicans in 2017-18.