Hi, Kevin Durant. Goodbye, James Harden.
One superstar is set to join the Nets, just as another is heading for extended absence of injury. Really, what could be more appropriate for this incoherent season?
Durant, who has missed the last 23 games with a left hamstring strain, is “likely” to play alongside Kyrie Irving on Wednesday against the Pelicans. But the big three will not be whole for at least a week because Harden is sidelined with a right hamstring strain revealed Tuesday at an MRI exam. According to the team, he will continue to rehabilitate and be reassessed in about 10 days.
The Nets have been preaching, “There̵
Seventeen games have come off the schedule since then, and messages did not change when Durant’s schedule was pushed back, or when Irving missed three games due to family reasons, or when LaMarcus Aldridge debuted in a lineup without an injured Harden.
Now there are 21 games left, Harden, Landry Shamet (ankle sprain) and Tyler Johnson (knee pain) are out and Blake Griffin (knee) does not plan to play in both games when scheduled back-to-back nights.
So here’s the question to ask when it comes to the notion that the fully assembled networks are all recovering from injuries and developing chemistry before the playoffs. Is there still time?
The best case scenario – unlikely if Durant’s recovery is any goal for Harden’s – is 16 games to be treated as a playoff warm – up plan.
“Just hope these guys rest, heal strong, and they come back and we’re ready to go,” Jeff Green said after Harden fell in Tuesday’s win over the Knicks.
Nets may not have an alternative strategy to “hope” after using 25 different combinations of starting lines and 16 different starters. The longest row in the same starting lineup is four straight matches.
“I felt like we were just starting to find out about each other – James, Kyrie, myself and different lineups on the floor,” Durant said in last week’s chemistry before his injury. “That’s more what I’m worried about.”
Even when the team is finally healthy, can they stay long enough to find a rhythm before the playoffs begin on May 22nd? With a top-three seed in the Eastern Conference, anything but safe, Nets has the margin for error.
But Harden expressed urgency before his injury, saying, “On paper, it looks good, but we actually have to get out and get started.”
The Mets’ “hopes” for a dream of five aces – Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler – were intact in three innings through rotation over four seasons.
The Giants ‘hopes for a complete complement of offensive playmakers – Saquon Barkley, Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard, Golden Tate and Evan Engram – manifested themselves for a quarter of a game of the 32 played during quarterback Daniel Jones’ first two seasons.
Sometimes it’s not meant to be.
“You control what you can control, and that’s unfortunate,” said Nets sniper Joe Harris.
The Bucks (Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holliday) and 76ers (Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris and Ben Simmons) do not learn each other’s tendencies on the pitch in the playoffs. And Net’s cast of over-the-top damage fillers is no match for going toe-to-toe when competitors shorten their rotation.
Harden, Irving and Durant have played seven games together since they went together. Harden, Irving and Griffin have played three together. Irving, Griffin and Aldridge have played one together. Harden, Irving and Aldridge lasted a quarter of a game together. Harden, Irving, Griffin and Aldridge have not played together yet.
An expected playoff starting lineup of Harden, Irving, Aldridge, Durant and Harris has not played a minute together.
It’s possible that the Nets’ cautious approach is the magic touch, and a fully healthy lineup only requires a few games to beat the right chord. There is enough pure talent – 41 career-All-Star picks – on the list to make the lack of intimacy a hard point.
“It’s the regular season,” Irving said, “so we do the best we can to find some motivation to play every game at a high level. … I think we have been able to learn a lot about each other. ”
There is more to learn. Quickly.