With Brooklyn’s Big Three broken up yet again, as the clock winds down on the regular-season, the question is do they have time to jell before the postseason?
Just as Kevin Durant finally made his long-awaited return Wednesday after missing 23 straight games with a hamstring strain, James Harden was lost with a hamstring strain of his own. Between their injuries and Kyrie Irving’s multiple absences, the Nets’ terrific trio has been far more of a rotating dynamic duo.
“As far as time and chemistry, it’s not ideal,” coach Steve Nash admitted. “At the same time, it’s not a concern that we worry about the things that we can control. When he’s 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 going to spend a ton of time worrying about the negative ramifications. We’re going to spend time adapting in the interim and excited for when he does return.”
After Brooklyn hosted New Orleans on Wednesday, they have just 20 games left on the schedule. Their Big Three has shockingly played just seven times together all season, only six starts.
Granted, their 5-1 mark in those starts shows tantalizing promise – but that’s based on good health that they’ve enjoyed all too infrequently.
And with the Nets saying on Tuesday that Harden wouldn’t even be reevaluated for 10 days, there will be precious little time to get everybody on the same page before the playoffs.
Even if Harden somehow jumped right back into the lineup after 10 days, there would still be only 16 games left. Missing another five days – which certainly seems feasible considering Brooklyn’s conservative history dealing with injuries – would leave just 13 dates on the schedule.
The problem becomes obvious. Still, the Nets are quietly confident that considering the basketball IQ of their stars, that’ll be enough time.
“Maybe a few games, a few practices, not too much time,” Bruce Brown said of getting on-court cohesion built by the playoffs. “Everybody knows how to play basketball. Everybody knows each other’s strength and what everybody likes to do on the floor. So I don’t think it’ll take too much time.”
Brooklyn came into Wednesday’s tilt vs. the Pelicans having played 2,483 minutes this season. Their Big Three had been oncourt together for just 186 of those, or less than 13.3 percent of them.
With what COVID-19 has done to the schedule, teams have essentially been robbed of practice time. So whatever cohesion the Nets players build is going to have to be a crash-course on the court of through intentional bonding off it.
“Well, we don’t get to practice very often with this schedule. So we try to get teaching moments and scripting and constructive pockets wherever we can,” said Nash. “Especially with the injuries this year, you can’t add to the guys’ physical load on off days, or very rarely. It’s all about teaching, learning, collaborating, connecting. So everyone is going through this around the league.
“It’s not been ideal. But we have a lot to thankful for; our guys have given great effort. I think they’ll continue to push and come together and find our chemistry, whether it’s prohibited by injuries and the amount of practice time or not. Our guys will put the time in on the court to invest in each other, put the time in off the court when we travel to invest in each other. That’s one of the strengths of our team.”
They’ll need that strength. Considering the last time Durant had played, Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge hadn’t been signed, while Nic Claxton was still injured. This iteration of the Nets still hasn’t played a second together, although ex-Net Kerry Kittles said with stars of this magnitude, they’ll work it out.
“It’s definitely not great. You have to get some time together,” Kittles said on Fullcourt on Flatbush, the Post’s Nets podcast. “(But) I really do think a few games before the playoffs, as long as (Harden’s) hamstring is healthy before the postseason starts, that’s all I care about.”