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James Harden returns to Houston as Nets take on Rockets

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NBA: Playoffs-Golden State Warriors at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

New rules. It took a weird turn at the end of regulation, but the Brooklyn Nets needed five extra minutes to beat the San Antonio Spurs on Monday night and exert some franchise demons along the way. It was the team’s first regular season win there since 2002 and win their since Game Two of the 2003 NBA Finals. Make it happen.

The opponent tonight will be the Houston Rockets. It’s been a rough, rough year for Stephen Silas’ club as they find themselves squarely on the outside of the playoff picture. They’ve been mired in a losing streak and they took their twelfth straight loss on Monday night, this time at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Times are hard on the boulevard.

Where to follow the game

YES Network and ESPN on TV. WFAN 101.9 FM on radio. Tip off after 8 PM.

Injuries

Spencer Dinwiddie and Kevin Durant are out. Jeff Green is doubtful with his shoulder injury. Same for Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot with his knee injury.

Christian Wood is out and will return after the All Star Break. Dante Exum is out with a calf injury. Eric Gordon is out with a knee injury. Former Net David Nwaba is out with a wrist injury (which will require surgery.) Former Net Rodions Kurucs is out with an oblique injury. Danuel House Jr. is out with a knee injury. Houston will have EIGHT players available, the minimum.

The game

A few days ago, the team waived DeMarcus Cousins. Boogie had been trying to make his way back from the ACL injury that cost him the entire 2019-2020 season. Who knows what Boogie has left to bring to the table, but he has built enough of a track record over the years that a team will almost certainly give him a call. We’ll see what happens next.

There is a lefthanded player coming off of an amazing game that will be looking to follow up tonight. As I’m sure you can all tell...

We’re talking about Nicolas Claxton!!! I don’t think we have a nickname for him yet, but either way he was astounding on Monday night. He put forth the best game of his young career as his finishes at the rim on offense, rim protection on defense, and overall energy + flashes of brilliance had Nets Twitter ablaze. As we all know, there have been discussions about Brooklyn’s need for another big man. However, if Claxton keeps it up, we may have found the solution to an issue that’s been plaguing the Nets.

It’s been a long road back for John Wall. He’s been dealing with various injuries over the past two years and a trade from the Washington Wizards to Houston last fall. He’s played in most of the team’s games this year and has done as well as you can expect considering his injuries and the big changes the team has gone through. That said, he and the shorthanded Rockets will have their hands full with Kyrie Irving. Missed layup at the end of regulation aside, Irving has been on his game all season long. Along with his bonkers finishing abilities at the rim, he’s shooting a career best 40.9 percent from deep this year. What do you do with a guy who has A+ handles, elite shot making at the rim and top tier accuracy from deep? Good luck.

And as a perfect lead in to the next section, Irving had some thoughts about what to expect tonight...

Player to watch: James Harden

You knew where we were going here. Harden spent a shade over eight seasons in Houston as he grew from potential star to future Hall of Famer that helped change the way the NBA is played. His Rockets seasons often ended in heartbreak, but he helped give the team their most success since the days of Hakeem Olajuwon. He’s still down with the city and is stepping up for everyone in town (unlike unnamed individuals who ran off to Cancun...) after the storms that ruined water and power in the city. There are things that are bigger than basketball and it’s great to see Harden continuing being a positive presence in H-Town.

It should be a good night for Harden. He was named Player of the Month for February and the Rockets announced they’ll be retiring his number 13. It’s only right.

Back on the court, Harden cleaned up an issue he was having a bit of an issue with. In the two previous games, Harden turned it over 12 times. On Monday night? Zero. The Nets offense is tough enough to handle, but when they’re keeping the turnovers to a minimum? The difficulty gets raised a few notches. Harden has turned what was an already elite offense into a juggernaut and

It’s hard to replace a legend, and for a variety of reasons, things aren’t really looking up for Victor Oladipo these days. He’s struggled with injuries, hasn’t been playing, and news came out on Sunday evening that he turned down a two year, $45 million extension. He’s due to head into free agency this summer and is looking to cash out, but the road there has been rocky as hell. His numbers are at career lows, the team isn’t winning and the more players like Jarrett Allen (and Caris Levert when he gets back) play well, the more people will yell at the Rockets front office for bringing in Oladipo. He still has time to turn it around and things will probably be incredibly different when the Rockets come to Brooklyn on March 31, but right now, things aren’t looking up. Seeing Harden tonight will probably cause Rockets fans to yearn for better days. And maybe they’ll rethink the loss of Mike D’Antoni, too. He’s back after resigning the Rockets job at the end of the “bubble.” He’ll be coming back too, as Nets assistant coach.

From the Vault

Speaking of better days, this is still one of the wildest finishes in recent memory

More reading: The Dream Shake

One last note...

On behalf of the entire staff, I wanted to thank all the fans (old and new) who’ve been following our coverage all season long. It’s been an incredibly fun ride and we’re glad you’ve come to us for coverage of the Brooklyn Nets, New York Liberty, Long Island Nets, and so many other issues related to basketball. The second half of the season promises to be amazing, and we can’t wait to document every step of the journey. See y’all on the other side!