The Nets are the ultimate good news-bad news story in the NBA. On Tuesday afternoon, they listed superstar Kevin Durant as probable against the Pelicans Wednesday night at Barclays Center, but at the same time, they ruled superstar James Harden out for a minimum of 10 days.
Durant missed 23 straight games with a strained left hamstring, last played on Feb. 13 and actually missed 26 of the past 27 games because of three prior absences related to COVID-19 medical protocols. Durant most certainly will be available unless he suffers a setback in the Wednesday morning shootaround.
Harden, who attempted to play Monday against the Knicks after missing two games with right hamstring tightness, removed himself after just four minutes and then underwent an MRI exam on Tuesday that revealed a full-blown strain. He was ruled out for at least 10 days before undergoing another examination to determine his rehab progress.
And that was just scratching the surface of the Nets’ injury report. Tyler Johnson (right knee soreness) and Landry Shamet (sprained right ankle) will miss their second straight games. On the plus side, Blake Griffin returns from a one-game absence for injury management of his left knee that prevents him from playing both games of a back-to-back set.
Coach Steve Nash never can determine his player rotations without an injury report, but he was pleased with a 114-112 win over the Knicks that featured a 40-point performance by Kyrie Irving. Nash had to dig deep into his bench to lean on the likes of Alize Johnson, who is on his second 10-day contract, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Chris Chiozza, and they provided just enough support for Irving.
"I’m proud of the amount of guys that contributed," Nash said. "We have a positive attitude in our locker room, a winning mentality, and regardless of who’s out there or not, we’re going to go for it. We’re going to find a way to come together and win."
The Nets are 22-4 in their past 26 games, and are tied with the 76ers for first place in the Eastern Conference. They have 21 regular-season games remaining, which doesn’t afford much time to develop chemistry between Durant, Irving and Harden, who only have played seven games together since Harden was acquired in a Jan. 14 trade.
But in the throes of adversity, they have developed some mental toughness, resiliency and confidence that should serve them well. To Irving, it was important to bounce back from a Sunday loss in Chicago to beat the Knicks.
"I think we've been able to learn a lot about one another, and a lot about us as a team of being resilient down the stretch and locking in on a defensive end and trusting that," Irving said. "We learn a lot about each other down the stretch, when we have to earn those wins. It is gritty, and also divisional game."
When Harden exited Monday night, Irving responded in brilliant fashion even though the Knicks double-teamed him relentlessly.
"He was obviously sensational," Nash said. "He’s just an amazing basketball player. He found a way to keep our team in it for big stretches, and our guys played really well when he was out and gave us a lift. Then he was able to come in and close. A brilliant performance and really gutsy from everybody."