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Good News, Bad News: Nets plan to play on Christmas but with 10 players in protocols

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2021 NBA Playoffs - Milwaukee Bucks v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Two days till Christmas and it’s a case of good news, bad news for Brooklyn.

The good news: Steve Nash disclosed Thursday morning that James Harden, Jevon Carter and Paul Millsap are out of protocols. The bad news: David Duke Jr., Cam Thomas and Kessler Edwards have entered protocols. So the Nets still have only 10 players available for the Christmas Day extravaganza in Los Angeles vs. the Lakers.

So, two days out from Christmas Day, Nash said the plan is for the team to fly Friday and play Saturday.

“The plan is to fly to Los Angeles tomorrow and play Christmas,” Nash said.

The silver lining of the heavy toll of the protocols — Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, LaMarcus Aldridge, James Johnson, Day’Ron Sharpe, Bruce Brown, DeAndre’ Bembry, Duke Jr., Thomas and Edwards — is that the large majority are asymptomatic, but the few that are have experienced symptoms Nash described as “very mild.” That presumably would include the unvaccinated Irving.

“Largely asymptomatic. I think there have probably been some symptoms but very mild,” Nash told reporters Thursday morning. “Nothing to report really. Kind of a non-issue as far as symptoms go.”

All 10 need to register two negative tests 24 hours apart to return to play or practice, but , the Nets head coach said he doesn’t expect any additions the list of the cleared.

“It’s possible. We’re not expecting anyone else to come out of protocols, but it’s possible,” Nash said. “You have to do two negative tests about 24 hours apart. I guess that gives us tonight and tomorrow night to return two negatives, but we’re not predicting anyone to come out necessarily.”

Christmas Day with a skeleton crew

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

Heading into Saturday’s game, Brooklyn has nine, maybe 10 players, available at the moment: Harden, Carter, Millsap, Mills, Blake Griffin, Shaq Harrison, James Ennis III, Langston Galloway and the newly signed Wenyen Gabriel. The question mark is Nick Claxton, who injured his wrist in the Nets game vs. the Sixers. Teams have to have eight players available to play an NBA contest.

Still, Nash said he doesn’t think the team will add any additional players on 10-day contracts. The Nets can add up to 10 hardship players. That would seem to be an indicator that the worst, hopefully, is over.

“It’s tricky. I’m not the one to ask, but I don’t think we’re going to sign any more players,” Nash said. “It’s probably a question for Sean.”

In a hectic week that included three postponed games — Nuggets (Sunday), Wizards (Tuesday) and Trail Blazers (Thursday), the Nets weren’t able to practice even in a limited capacity until Wednesday and Thursday. HSS Training Center was temporarily shuttered due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

So, despite being able to practice, the eight healthy players have been limited to isolation workouts. Nash added it’s TBA whether the team can forge a single group workout session ahead of the Lakers game.

“What we’ve been able to do was there were a couple of days we had to shut everything down just out of precaution. Once we got back to a cadence, healthy guys could do one-on-O workouts but no group workouts,” the Nets head coach said. “It basically started up yesterday and today that guys are back on the court in isolation. We haven’t been able to do a lot but we do what we can and we’ll continue to adapt as the rules and mandates come in.”

“I think it’s to be determined. The guys that are healthy can do one-on-O workouts, so we’re hopeful there can potentially be a group session but not certain yet with all the cases. It’s to be determined,” Nash said. “We’re hopeful we can have one but like I said, that’s to be seen.”

When Nash was asked about the emphasis the league has put on getting through Christmas then continuing play instead of suspending it, he explained his stance on the matter.

“The league is in a tough position. Do you shut it down and extend it, or what do you do because you can shut it down and still the West Coast theoretically can get hit by the virus later and then what? We shut it down again?” Nash said. “I can understand it’s tricky to navigate and there’s no right answer. There’s a lot of things to consider, so it’s something they spend way more time thinking about than I have and have the reasons. I think I should leave it to them and all the parameters they have to deal with.”

The plan for Kyrie Irving and his ramp-up

Wagner v Seton Hall Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Kyrie Irving, who remains in the league’s health and safety protocols after registering a positive test on December 18, will have undergo a ramp-up whenever he’s eligible to return to play. The Nets head coach did not detail how long the ramp-up will be.

“He’s got to do some sort of ramp-up playing,” said Nash on Irving. “When you’re at home working out by yourself, it’s a lot different. It depends on what they’re doing but usually individual workouts are halfcourt and one-on-0, one-on-one, and maybe get a little bit of pick-up basketball, but that probably was out the window once everyone starts playing again whether they’re pros, high school, college kids whatever.

“There is a ramp-up and an opportunity for him to play a little bit whether it’s with our group or the stay-ready group. Whenever he’s out of protocols, I think there’s a ramp-up, for sure.”

When Irving finishes his ramp-up and returns to the NBA hardwood in a Nets uniform, he’ll only be able to play away games due to New York City’s vaccination mandate on indoor arenas. The Nets guard is currently ineligible for Knicks games at Madison Square Garden on February 16 and April 6 as well as the Raptors game on March 1. Canada recently banned unvaccinated individuals from the country.

Kevin Durant and James Harden’s minutes not to change when they return to play

Brooklyn Nets v Detroit Pistons Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Nash explained that both Durant and Harden’s minutes will not be limited after clearing the league’s health and safety protocols.

“Definitely getting them that rest, regeneration and recuperation is a silver lining to this,” said Nash on Durant and Harden. “They’re still going to be leaned on a lot. We’ll see. It would be nice at the end of this at some point if we can have a full roster, reset and continue that experimentation, and at the same time, keep improving.”

Durant is second in the league in minutes per game (37.0) while Harden ranks sixth (36.2).

Updates on Nic Claxton and Joe Harris

Brooklyn Nets v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Nash also provided updates on Claxton (left wrist soreness) and Joe Harris (ankle surgery) Thursday morning.

Claxton, who suffered the left wrist injury during a scary fall in Thursday’s win over the Sixers is putting himself in a position to possibly play Saturday. The Nets head coach added that he’s not certain or hopeful he’ll play on the two-game trip on the West Coast which also includes a game vs. the Clippers on Monday.

“We’re not certain or hopeful that he’ll play on this trip,” Nash said. “It’s something that’ll play itself out today, tomorrow and on Saturday. We’ll see if he’s available Saturday or Monday. It just depends on how he progresses, but he is progressing and he’s put himself in a position to have a chance to play on this trip. Hopefully, he can come back and not miss too much of his rhythm, timing and impact.”

The 22-year-old has struggled to stay healthy throughout his three years in the league — playing in only 58 games. Nash doesn’t believe his left wrist injury will mark another setback for Claxton.

“I don’t think this is super serious so hopefully he can pick up where he left off and we won’t remember this as one of those setbacks,” added Nash on Claxton. “But you never know. You never know how he responds or how durable he is when he returns. He has been playing well. He has made an impact for us and we’re excited he’s close to returning and hopefully, it’s on this trip.”

Harris, who underwent successful arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle on November 29, is progressing well, according to Nash. The sharpshooter doesn’t have a timetable to return.

“He’s improving, for sure but he won’t be playing on this trip. That’s for sure. I’m not really sure when he’ll return,” said Nash on Harris. “He’s definitely getting better, working out and doing more on the court, but limited. Everything is in the right place. It just depends when that moment is to play.”