Nets facing trouble as James Harden blow masks Kevin Durant breakthrough

Hello, Kevin Durant. Goodbye, James Harden. One superstar is set to rejoin the Nets just as another is headed to an extended injury absence. Really, what could be more fitting of this disjointed

Hello, Kevin Durant. Goodbye, James Harden.

One superstar is set to rejoin the Nets just as another is headed to an extended injury absence. Really, what could be more fitting of this disjointed season?

Durant, who has missed the past 23 games with a left hamstring strain, is “probable” to play alongside Kyrie Irving on Wednesday against the Pelicans. But the Big Three won’t be whole for at least another week because Harden is sidelined with a right hamstring strain revealed Tuesday by an MRI exam. He will continue to rehab and be re-evaluated in about 10 days, according to the team.

The Nets have preached, “There’s still time” for the full team to be healthy at once and jell before the playoffs at every turn since late February, when Durant’s absence was extended through the NBA All-Star break. He averaged 29 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists in 19 games and handed off the MVP candidate torch to Harden.

Seventeen games have come off the schedule since then, and the messaging didn’t change whenever Durant’s timetable 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 remaining, Harden, Landry Shamet (ankle sprain) and Tyler Johnson (knee soreness) are out, and Blake Griffin (knee) isn’t planning to play in both games when scheduled back-to-back nights.

So, here’s the question to ask when it comes to the notion of the fully assembled Nets 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 measure for Harden’s — is 16 games to treat like a playoffs warm-up schedule.

Kevin Durant (l) and James Harden
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

“Just hope those guys rest up, heal up strong and they come back and we’re ready to go,” forward Jeff Green said after Harden went down in Tuesday’s win against the Knicks.

The Nets might not have an alternative strategy to “hope” after using 25 different starting lineup combinations and 16 different starters. The longest streak of the same starting lineup is four straight games.

“I felt like we were just starting to figure each other out — James, Kyrie, myself and different lineups on the floor,” Durant said last week of the chemistry before his injury. “That’s more so what I’m concerned about.”

Even when the group is finally all healthy, can they remain so long enough to find a rhythm before the playoffs begin on May 22? With a top-three seed in the Eastern Conference all but secure, the Nets have margin for error.

But Harden expressed an urgency before his injury, saying, “On paper it looks good, but we’ve got to actually get out there and get going.”

The Mets’ “hope” for a dream of five aces — Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler — was intact for three turns through the rotation over four seasons.

The Giants’ hope for a full complement of offensive playmakers — Saquon Barkley, Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard, Golden Tate and Evan Engram — manifested for one quarter of one 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 it’s unfortunate,” Nets sharpshooter Joe Harris said.

The nucleuses of the Bucks (Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holliday) and 76ers (Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris and Ben Simmons) won’t be learning each other’s on-court tendencies in the playoffs. And the Nets’ cast of overachieving injury fill-ins are no match to go toe-for-toe when contenders shorten their rotations.

Harden, Irving and Durant have played seven games together since joining forces. Harden, Irving and Griffin have played three together. Irving, Griffin and Aldridge have played one together. Harden, Irving and Aldridge lasted one quarter of one game together. Harden, Irving, Griffin and Aldridge haven’t played together yet.

A projected playoff starting lineup of Harden, Irving, Aldridge, Durant and Harris has not played a minute together.

It’s possible the Nets’ cautious approach is the magic touch and a fully healthy lineup needs just a few games to strike the right chord. There is enough pure talent — 41 career All-Star selections — on the roster to render the lack of familiarity a moot point.

“It’s the regular season,” Irving said, “so we do the best we can in finding some motivation to play every game at a high level. … I think we’ve been able to learn a lot about one another.”

There’s more to learn. Quickly.

This story originally appeared on: NyPost - Author:Ryan Dunleavy

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