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James Harden’s 25 points, 17 assists lead shorthanded Nets past Blazers, 116-112

Brooklyn Nets v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

Steve Nash wanted his shorthanded team to play scrappy and his players certainly did.

Without Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving, the Nets escaped Portland, defeating the Trail Blazers, 116-112. With the win, the Nets extend their road winning streak to nine against Western Conference teams. They improve to 30-14 on the season and have now won 16 of their last 18. They remain one game behind the 76ers in the East. Philly beat the Warriors in San Francisco Tuesday night.

“I think when somebody’s down, somebody’s out, we’re just rising to the occasion. Next man up, opportunity for other guys, and we’re making it a collective effort too,” said Joe Harris about the shorthanded win.

Brooklyn weathered Portland’s three-point barrage well in the win, holding the Trail Blazers to 34.5 percent (19-of-55) from deep, which he credited his players effort in that category postgame.

“It was a lot better than the final three quarters. We struggled defensively in the first quarter. I thought we were a little undecisive, made too many errors - mental errors. The last three quarters 25, 25 21 points was very good. We kept telling them during the game ‘our defense is getting better. Stick with it. Keep getting better’ and they did,” Nash said postgame. “They did a great job. They battled. They fought. Our rebounding got better and we got the stops.”

James Harden led the charge with a monstrous double-double of 25 points and 17 assists to go along with seven rebounds in 40 minutes while dealing with neck soreness. The 17 assists were his most as a Net and matched his career high. While Harden displayed his usual greatness, the Nets got huge boosts from their role players in the win.

Harden admitted he was “very close to sitting out Tuesday’s game as he is dealing with neck soreness but looking ahead, the Nets superstar wants to play against the Utah Jazz Wednesday if he is feeling good.

“Tomorrow when I wake up, if I feel like I can go, I will go,” Harden said postgame. “It’s that simple.”

Nicolas Claxton continued his emerging play as his chemistry with Harden keeps improving. The second-year Net finished with 16 points and nine rebounds in 22 minutes off the bench while shooting 8-of-10 overall as his stock continues to rise.

“Nic was huge. He’s such a versatile player defensively with his length, athleticism, and his mobility. He can guard pretty much 1-through-5 so yeah, he is going to struggle at times but much of that was coming out of rotations,” Nash said. “He’s a threat offensively around the basket and he’s developing every day. Proud of him. His defensive effort is outstanding and very valuable for us.”

Jeff Green gave the Nets an early boost, scoring 10 points in the first, then hitting the two free throws that sealed the deal. The 34-year-old finished with 20 points on 7-of-14 shooting.

Joe Harris had a strong performance as he mixed his lethal 3-point shooting (3-of-6) with his mid-range game, ending with 17 points in 32 minutes. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot contributed a good punch off the bench, displaying his cutting ability and shooting. He finished with 11 points in 27 minutes, his first playing time in eight games.

As a team, Brooklyn finished the win shooting 49.4 percent from the field and 30.0 percent from deep.

The Trail Blazers, who were also shorthanded dealing with injuries and contact tracing, were led by Damian Lillard, who finished with 22 points in 38 minutes followed by Enes Kanter, who embellished his Nets killer reputation with 19 points and 19 rebounds.

The shorthanded Nets faced an early scare. Bruce Brown suffered a left eye poke and remained on the sidelines for the remainder of the play and requested to be subbed out with 8:51 left in the first. Brown was replaced by TLC who was the first man off the bench and played well. TLC, who continued to play well after not seeing rotation minutes, scored eight points in nine minutes off the bench. Still, with Brown on the bench, Portland jumped on a 7-0 run to extend their lead to five but Brooklyn quickly responded and a high-scoring affair begun as the defense was optional.

Green had his shots falling early as he went 4-of-5 overall and 2-of-3 from deep in 10 minutes to lead Brooklyn in scoring after one with 10 points. Despite Brooklyn shooting 61.9 percent overall, Portland had the edge heading into the second as the Trail Blazers led 41-37.

The Nets opened up the second with that scrappy mentality Nash stressed his team to have for the road trip. Brooklyn battled on the boards and the grittiness was evident as Griffin, who took a charge in the first, followed with a superman dive to save a loose ball to complement their hot shooting. The Nets took the lead with 6:35 remaining off a crafty and-one from Harden. Brooklyn struggled to defend the arc as Portland not only put up 29 threes but made 12 of them to end the half shooting 41.4 percent to close the first half but the Nets entered the locker room up 67-66.

While Brooklyn’s offense was very effective early, turnovers allowed Portland to keep the game within one possession as the Trail Blazers finished the first half scoring 10 points off turnovers and capitalizing off second-chance opportunities.

The two teams opened the third on a quiet note after a high-scoring second quarter. The tempo quickly rose midway through the third as Portland picked apart the Nets defense as Brooklyn’s offense kept them within reach on the back of Harden, who scored 18 in the period. Griffin provided a big boost for Brooklyn, contributing four points and off the box score, he sacrificed his body, taking a series of big hits and setting subtle screens.

Brooklyn concluded the third with a nifty alley-oop from Harden to Claxton, who scored 10 points and eight rebounds in the quarter, as the Nets entered the final 12 minutes holding a 92-91 lead, shooting 50.7 percent overall and 34.8 percent from deep.

The Nets, behind the energy and scoring from Claxton, added to their scoring run (15-6) to boost their lead to 100-91 in the opening minutes of the fourth. Portland’s parking lot shooting cobbled together a strong response with an 11-8 run as the game came down to the final seconds. After a couple of tight inbounds passes Green iced the game with two free throws to push Brooklyn to the win.

The Film Room

There’s a lot to watch in awe during Brooklyn Nets. Uber efficient pick-and-roll sets with a variety of screeners of all shapes and sizes. A swarming switching defense that is sometimes... pretty good! LOADS of superstar talent. That’s pretty cool too.

But one of the more underrated aspects of what makes the Nets so great from a viewing perspective is the team’s usual amount of instinctive cutters. Bruce Brown is the first name that should come to mind; he’s been nailing floaters off “45 cuts” from the wing across the lane all season long.

Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot is another terrific off-ball mover. He’s especially talented at those baseline cuts, vacating the corners to jut to the basket for flashy under-the-rim finishes. The key to this possession is TLC moving in sync with Harden’s movements, faking and reversing his way to the basket right as Harden touches his foot into the paint.

Even the stars, Kyrie Irving in particular, are prolific in this regard. It’s one of the simplicities that makes you grin ear-to-ear while watching the Nets at night.

Steve Nash values Blake Griffin’s experience, intelligence and hustle

In his second game as a Net, Blake Griffin has caught the eye of his head coach,.. once again.

Griffin, who logged 19 minutes off the bench while tallying eight points and five rebounds, is continuing to make his biggest impact off-the-box score.

The six-time All-Star displayed that scrappy mentality Nash values with a series of charges along with an extended dive on the floor for a save. Nash credited the Nets latest veteran for his hustle plays but in his eyes, Griffin’s biggest impact is felt with his experience and intelligence.

“Blake’s experience and intelligence are really important. He still has the ability to play make, make threes, his rebounds, post-ups on smaller players. It’s not that he’s just a hustle player now but he is willing to dive on the floor,” Nash said. “He’s already taken a few charges. That intelligence and experience are adding to our group as he continues to get more familiarity with the group and the way we play. He is going to be more valuable.”

Looking ahead, Nash and the Nets will take a patient approach with his minutes increasing as he logged four extra minutes in Tuesday’s win. The Nets’ main focus is to avoid jeopardizing his long-term health.

“Very, very gradual,” Nash said. “I definitely don’t want to get excited and over-tax him as we try to ramp him up. We got to remember one game in basically a month so, he could play more minutes but I don’t want to jeopardize his long-term health.”

Claxton getting recognized

For the fourth straight game, Nicolas Claxton was on the floor as that buzzer sounded, but before that, the near 7-footer got a lot of credit, some of it surprising from the NBA’s national media. Here’s a sampling.

Shortly after his big performance, Clax shared his keys to success against one of the best and brightest backcourts the league has to offer.

“Portland was the first game I played last year, so I remember defending him. So I just used what I knew from guarding him last year,” said Nicolas Claxton about guarding CJ McCollum. “And Dame? You just gotta slide your feet and be ready for whatever, honestly. He’s got a lot of different stuff in his bag getting downhill. Just staying sound defensively, staying down on pump-fakes, and sticking to my principle. The outcome will be on my side most of the time.”

It’s that easy! Wouldn’t it be nice to be 7 feet tall and freakishly athletic with an unteachable work ethic, hm?

Kevin Durant progressing but no timetable

Steve Nash was questioned about Kevin Durant’s status prior to the tip-off of the 10 PM game. He stated the Nets’ best player was not traveling with the team for the road trip, a set of games featuring the likes of Portland, Utah, and Detroit.

“Kevin stayed,” said Nash. “Six-hour flight. Very little gym time. Back-to-back. Getting in in the middle of the night. At the end of the day, we just felt like it wouldn’t benefit him to travel across the country while he’s trying to get that critical last part of his rehab done.”

Even after the trip is completed, Nash did not commit to a timeline for KD’s return, though he appeared very pleased with Durant’s progress in his rehab.

“I think it’s still up in the air,” said Nash about Durant’s timeline. “He just has to close that kinda critical last stage of his rehab. He’s working out on the court pretty much every day, looks great. Just trying to make sure that functional strength is there and that he’s more confident that he can re-enter playing safely. That’s the thing, right? Kevin is doing very well. If this was the playoffs, there’s a chance he’d be back very soon. But there’s no point in taking a big risk with him when the most important thing is to get him back for the remainder of the season.”

Can’t find fault in that! This team is building for something bigger.

Landry Shamet could rejoin Nets in Detroit, dealing with right ankle sprain

Landry Shamet, who underwent a scan and imaging for his right ankle sprain on Monday, did not play for the Nets tonight. Nash said there is a possibility Shamet rejoins the team for their third and final game of the road trip but did not receive an update at the time of his pregame media session.

“I haven’t got the update but there is a possibility he can join us in Detroit,” Nash said. “I haven’t got the update though.”

Alize Johnson to join Nets in Utah after being named second-team All-G League

Asked Tuesday night when he might meet the Nets newest player, Alize Johnson, Steve Nash said his understanding was that the 6’8” forward would be joining the team in Salt Lake City Wednesday.

Earlier in the day, Johnson, who led the G League in rebounding and efficiency, was named second team All-G League. He’s on a 10-day contract.

What’s next

The Nets will return back to action Wednesday when the team travels to Utah for the second game of a three-game road trip to play the Utah Jazz. The game is set to tip at 10:00 PM ET.

For a different perspective, check out Blazer’s Edge - our sister site covering the Portland Trail Blazers for SB Nation.