The Nets came into their game against the Mavericks Thursday night in Dallas on a three-game losing streak that matched their season-worst stretch back in February. But they still were second in the Eastern Conference, two games behind the 76ers and one game ahead of the third-place Bucks.
Coach Steve Nash said he would be satisfied with the No. 2 seed. "It would be great to have the two seed, to even climb up to the one," Nash said. "I don’t know that it’s more of a priority than us growing. We obviously are a team that hasn’t had a lot of time together, hasn’t had a lot of time with healthy bodies. We don’t just want to think short-term here. We want to think how can we get better.
"I think there is a balance to be struck there. We want to make sure that, although we’d love to finish as high as possible, we aren’t limiting our growth potential in the short term and an ability to clean up and improve so we’re more prepared when the playoffs begin."
Earlier on Thursday, James Harden spoke to the media and indicated he definitely expects to be available at playoff time and might even return in time to play a couple of the last four regular-season games, which include two back-to-back sets.
Asked if he believes Harden might return before the playoffs, Nash said, "It would be ideal if we feel that’s a safe opportunity for him to return in the regular season and get some minutes, get his rhythm back and also start that process of jelling. Our Big 3 has been months since they played together and they’ve only played seven games together.
"A lineup with them and Joe (Harris) and Blake (Griffin) and Nic Claxton has never played together. We need time, and if we can get a little bit of extra time, that would be great. But if we can’t, we can’t. That is the challenge for this group is that we don’t have a common history. This isn’t our third, fourth year running it back.
"It’s all brand new, so new that we haven’t even played some of our best lineups together because it’s just not been available. If he’s able, it would be great to start that process. If he’s not and we feel unsure about it, then it’s better to be safe. But it looks really good right now. He’s worked really hard, and he’s put himself in position to return before the playoffs."
Harden went through a high-intensity workout Thursday morning in Dallas and needs to complete a couple more similar sessions before he returns to action. Nash said he likes to use Harden with both the starters and the second unit and hopes to get him some more reps with both before the regular season ends.
Harden suggested the talent possessed by the Nets’ Big 3 should make up for the lack of continuity. But Nash believes they only will benefit from more time together before the postseason.
"The reality is that the amount of time together isn’t as necessary in the traditional sense because they are so gifted," Nash said. "But it’s not just how they jell offensively, it’s understanding each other defensively. It’s understanding different rotations and how we’re going to generate offense with different groups, how we’re going to get stops.
"James obviously makes us a lot better, but we also need time to find chemistry and the continuity – not just how many points they score and how skilled they are. How can we manage different stretches of the game? A big part of that is chemistry, common history and continuity. Any chance for that to be furthered before the playoffs is really pivotal for us."