We will not know until summer whether the Nets are the best team in the NBA, but they continue to make a case for being the most interesting one.
One day after Blake Griffin made his Nets debut, Monday brought another dramatic twist as the team announced Kyrie Irving will not participate in the three-game road trip that begins Tuesday in Portland. They later announced that James Harden (neck soreness) is questionable.
The Nets said Irving will be out "in order to tend to a family matter." They also will be without Landry Shamet, who sprained his right ankle against the Wizards on Sunday.
Irving, who turns 29 on Tuesday, missed two weeks in January for personal reasons, then had his return delayed because of violations of the NBA’s COVID-19 protocols. For the season, he is averaging 28.1 points, 5.7 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game. In his last five games, he has scored 40, 18, 34, 43 and 28 points.
So with Kevin Durant still sidelined by a hamstring injury, the Nets might be without three big weapons against the Trail Blazers, Jazz and Pistons. Harden suffered a blow to the head at the end of the first half Sunday against the Wizards, and he said his neck was "twitching" even though he completed the game.
Steve Nash admitted he is concerned about Harden’s high usage, saying, "I am concerned about the minutes, yes. I’m not sure what the answer is, though."
But at least they have Griffin in the fold. No, he will not turn the trio of superstars into a quartet. But even past his peak, he could make a meaningful contribution.
"I thought Blake was great," Nash said after the Nets’ 113-106 victory over the Wizards at Barclays Center. "If I look, I don’t think he stuffed the stat sheet, but just his experience, intelligence, made winning plays. In 15 minutes, he was a plus-12, so I thought Blake was great and you can see how he can help us."
Griffin, 32, a six-time All-Star with a history of knee injuries, had two points, two rebounds and one blocked shot in 14:57. The two points came on a dunk, his first since Dec. 12, 2019. He had not played since Feb. 12, when he was a Piston.
"It was great, man. Just to be back out there and sort of get a bit of a rhythm going was great," he said. "It’s tough to recreate actual game atmosphere."
Griffin expects to play more than 15 minutes moving forward but feels no need to rush it. When he does get fully integrated, defense figures to be a key part of his role. With Durant, Irving and/or Harden on the court, the offense mostly takes care of itself.
"We have a lot of guys that can score the basketball and score the basketball very efficiently," Griffin said. "So like I’ve been saying since I’ve been here, my job is to fill the voids wherever they may be."
Nash’s plans for him should become clearer on the three-games-in-four-nights trip.
"Blake is going to be very key for us, just because he’s versatile, he creates mismatch problems and he’s a very good passer," Harden said. "Once we find sets that can incorporate him and that he can look for consistently and he can be prepared for, then we’ll be that much better."
Notes & quotes: The Nets signed free-agent forward Alize Johnson to a 10-day contract. Terms of the deal were not released. The 6-8 Johnson is a favorite to be named the G League MVP.
With Greg Logan