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Heavy Minutes Have Caught Up To Brooklyn Nets Star James Harden

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 31: James Harden #13 of the Brooklyn Nets drives to the net against Kevin ... [+] Getty Images
Steve Nash has been playing a dangerous game with James Harden.

The Brooklyn Nets’ coach even recently acknowledged it himself.
“I’m concerned about the minutes,” Nash said. “I’m not sure what the answer is though.”

Since joining Brooklyn on Jan. 14, Harden has averaged an NBA-high 38.7 minutes. It caught up with him on Wednesday night.  
Harden left the Nets’ 120-108 victory over his former team — the Houston Rockets — with a hamstring injury. The team’s initial hope is that it’s day-to-day.

Granted, Brooklyn had hoped that was the case with Kevin Durant, too — a “mild” hamstring strain that would keep KD “at least two games.” Since then, at least two has turned into at least 20.
Throw in last season’s injury saga with Kyrie Irving, and the Nets’ batting average on recovery timetables for their star players is worse than Ron Herbel. (A quick history lesson with Opening Day on-deck — and pitchers still hitting at least for one more season — Herbel, a righty starter/reliever, batted an MLB-low .029 during his career.)  

Harden (17 points, eight rebounds, six assists, 27 minutes) has been a workhorse, giving it absolutely everything he’s got for his teammates and coaches on a nightly basis. His all-world performances have thrust him to the top of the MVP projections. Now, everyone has to hold their collective breath, hoping No. 13 doesn’t have to miss time like fellow MVP contenders LeBron James and Joel Embiid are right now. Nash, by the way, averaged 35 minutes during the three-season stretch in Phoenix in which he finished first, first and second in the MVP voting.
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Granted, there’s no reason to rush Harden back. Give him all the time he needs. Rest him. Give him a vacation. Be smart. Brooklyn can certainly afford to do so amid a 19-3 stretch. The Nets’ biggest “problem” of late — and 99.9 percent of teams would probably take it — is that few of their wins have come easy. Why? Inconsistent defense, and often playing down to their opposition.
This column was originally supposed to be about the big-man rotation, with DeAndre Jordan deserving to be the eventual odd-man out. Jordan did nothing to change that long-held opinion on Wednesday night. He had two points and a rebound in 12 minutes, and Brooklyn was outscored by 16 points with him on the court. Jordan isn’t very mobile at this stage of his career, and Christian Wood took full advantage. In fact, Houston jumped out to a 24-6 lead.

With LaMarcus Aldridge set to compete for the starting center spot, Jordan could find himself on the bench more often than not. And remember: Jordan wasn’t happy about moving into a reserve role last season. Perhaps there will be a Jordan matchup that makes sense in the playoffs. No one can guard Embiid, for example, but Jordan could try and contain him for stretches.
On the other hand, Nicolas Claxton (12 points, eight rebounds, plus-19, 21 minutes) and Blake Griffin (11 points, six rebounds, plus-23, 22 minutes) were both terrific on Wednesday night. Claxton, in particular, had to leave the Rockets wondering why he’s not playing for them. With Claxton in the fold, perhaps the Harden trade could be properly evaluated by 2025, instead of 2030.

In any case, Kyrie Irving (31 points, 12 assists, 39 minutes) carried the load with his backcourt mate out of action, leading the Nets back from a double-digit deficit. Joe Harris also rediscovered his lethal shooting stroke, going 7-for-12 from 3-point range.  
It should’ve been a good night — with Brooklyn taking sole possession of the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference for the first time since 2003. But everything hinges on James Harden’s health. When it comes to the Nets and star injuries, it’s impossible not to be skeptical.

 

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