And then there was one.
The "one" being James Harden, the sole member of the Nets' Big 3 to take the court against the Pacers Wednesday evening after it was announced that Kyrie Irving would have to sit out with a sore right groin. Kevin Durant, recovering from a strained left hamstring, missed his 13th straight game, and it’s possible he may not return for weeks, Steve Nash said.
Irving’s injury appears to be much less severe, Nash said, and he was mostly held out as a precautionary measure.
"Kevin had a scan and is much improved, and still needs time to continue to heal and to ramp up," Nash said. "But we're monitoring it and we expect him to make a full recovery and hopefully it won't be too long. But he's probably got a couple weeks of ramp-up left."
He added that Durant and the newly acquired Blake Griffin made the trip to Indiana, and both are doing rehab work with the Nets’ performance team.
Nash clarified that he likely shouldn’t have put a timeline on Durant, but indicated there were still some significant steps he needed to take.
"He's been playing a little bit of one-on-one, two-on-two, so he's continuing to advance his level of fitness and adaptation," Nash said. "And if he continues to improve and closes the gap on the healing and also puts himself in a position to return safely to play, he'll be back out. So, we'll see. That's kind of up to his body and however long that takes."
That does, though, put a significant burden on Harden, who nonetheless has been up to the challenge. It does get hairier, though, when he inevitably has to be subbed out of the game.
"Well, when James is off the floor, I think we’ve really got to work together, move the ball, move bodies, play with pace, make them make a lot of decisions covering space," Nash said. "[They have to] try to push it, and just be relentless with our pace and our ball movement. I think if we do that, we’ll create opportunity for one another, we'll get them into . . . decision-making situations where we can capitalize."
And though this wasn’t exactly the scenario Sean Marks dreamed up when he went about collecting three jewels of the NBA, the Nets have proved surprisingly resilient to these hiccups. The Big 3 have started only six games together, and though Harden wasn’t a Net at the beginning of the season, and Irving was out for seven games, first for personal reasons and then for violating COVID-19 restrictions, the team is still second in the Eastern Conference and entered Wednesday’s game winners of 13 of their last 14.
"We definitely want our guys to not get complacent, to not be bored of winning," Nash said. "We reminded them today that we haven’t played our best the last couple of games and were able to win, so let’s not think that’s just the way this goes. We need to continue to get clean with our defensive assignments, connectivity, all the little details, go through it with them, and we want to get back to a level pre-All-Star break [production] . . . We want to see them succeed and perform and do it collectively and individually and that takes perseverance."