There was a big addition and a big subtraction in the Nets starting lineup Wednesday night.
Kevin Durant, who had missed 23 straight games with a left hamstring strain, was cleared to the court in the game against New Orleans. Unfortunately for Nets fans who have been hoping to see their Big 3 play together for more than a handful of games, James Harden was out of the lineup with his own left hamstring injury.
Harden, who left Monday night’s game in the first quarter, will be re-evaluated in 10 days. The Nets play five games in that span, and there is no guarantee that he will be ready to return after that given that no one thought that Durant would be out for nearly two months when he injured himself during a game against the Golden State Warriors on Feb. 13.
Prior to that injury, Durant was putting up MVP-like numbers, averaging 29 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.4 blocks in 19 games.
The Nets posted a video Wednesday morning with Durant getting some extra shots in at shoot around. "It’s been too long. I’m excited to get back out there," Durant said in the video.
Nets guard Bruce Brown said Durant looked like his old self at the shoot around.
"Still looks great. Still looks like KD, still can score the ball and do whatever he wants to do on the floor," Brown said. "He just makes the offensive game look so easy.
"He just draws so much attention, he lets everybody kind of else kind of eat. He can score over five players if he wants to. Seven feet, no one is blocking his shot. He doesn’t miss shots in mid-range or three. So really when he’s out there he makes it easier for everyone."
During the time Durant was out with an injury, the Nets went 19-4. That was the best record in the league over that time frame and vaulted them into first place in the Eastern Conference. They entered Wednesday night’s game against New Orleans tied for first place in the East with a 35-16 record.
A big reason that the Nets were able to win so many games without Durant is the high level of play they got from the other two-thirds of their Big 3. Harden has averaged 25.4 points, 11 assists and 8.7 rebounds since he was traded from Houston to Brooklyn. Kyrie Irving has made a surprisingly smooth adjustment to playing off the ball and entered Wednesday night’s game averaging 28 points and doing just about everything they need to help the Nets win big games.
The Nets were heralded as the league’s newest super team when the Harden trade went down. Because of injuries, COVID and other personal absences, the Big 3 have started just seven games together, going 6-1.
"As far as time and chemistry, it’s not ideal," Nets coach Steve Nash said about the lack of time the Big 3 have had together. "At the same time, it’s not a concern that we worry about. We worry about the things we can control. When (Harden) is healthy and ready to go is kind of out of our hands. It’s up to when that hamstring is ready, so we’re not gonna spend a ton of time worrying about the negative ramifications. We’re gonna spend time adapting in the interim and excited for when he does return."
Brown, however, doesn’t think it will take long to get everyone on the same page.
"Maybe a few games, a few practices," Brown said. "Everybody knows how to play basketball. Everybody knows each other’s strengths and what everybody likes to do on the floor. I don’t think it will take much time."