The Nets are entering the final week of the regular season, which includes two back-to-backs for a total of four games. Although the schedule is dense, Brooklyn is hopeful, positive even, that James Harden will return at some level before the postseason rolls around on May 19.
“It’s all possible but we are still going to monitor it day-to-day,” said Nash on Harden’s return. “He’s putting in his consecutive high-intensity workloads. He’s responded, so it’s all positive. It’s just a matter of monitoring it from today to tomorrow to Wednesday and figuring out what’s the best plan of attack.
“We can’t commit to anything right now because we’re not committed to anything. We are just trying to get a good picture from one day to the next where we’re trending, where we’re heading and then make a sound decision based off that, but definitely possible that he plays one or more of these last four games.”
Nash also disclosed that Harden has been on the court.
“He’s scrimmaging and he’s playing. He’s there, but it's about how does he respond, how many days in a row does he go where he’s moving in the right direction, how does he feel. There’s the scans and the clinical and medical report, then there’s his objective feeling of how he’s going,” Nash said. “We’re going through that process right now, but it’s all trending in a really positive direction and he is playing.”
Later Monday, Adrian Wojnarowski reported on ESPN that Harden may return to the court on Wednesday vs. the Bulls.
As @wojespn reported on SportsCenter, the earliest date that James Harden may return for the Nets is Wednesday against the Spurs — that isn’t a certainty, but Harden is getting close to returning.— Malika Andrews (@malika_andrews) May 10, 2021
Aside from Chris Chiozza, who is rehabbing a fractured right hand and is out for the regular season, and Spencer Dinwiddie, whose return to the team — playing or not — is still up in the air, Harden’s return is the light at the end of the Nets tunnel: having a fully healthy roster. (Bruce Brown is questionable Tuesday with facial contusions.)
Indeed, the Nets head coach is grateful to have most of his players available in the final week of the regular season.
“We know what this season has been like, so we’ll be grateful if we can have a full complement of players available, start building and be prepared for the playoffs,” said Nash. “We still aren’t one-hundred percent. It’s just the nature of this league and there was, in the back of your mind, a thought of what if this doesn’t come together in the fear of that event. We feel pretty positive and optimistic that we’re close and in a good place.”
Nash, who has been very conscious of prioritizing health in the season’s home stretch, didn’t reveal his top priority in the final four games of the regular season explaining that there are several factors that will play into that approach.
“I couldn’t commit to anything because we want to consider various factors. Various factors within our group, playoff prep, our health, and just the big picture,” said Nash on the approach to the final games of the regular season. “We’re going to have to monitor and decide and assess as we go here with what the plan is. Right now, we haven’t decided. We got different contingencies but we haven’t decided with what we are going with.”
The Nets head coach made it clear the team is still putting health over playoff seeding. Brooklyn (44-24) is likely out of the running for the No. 1 seed, trailing the Sixers (47-21) by three games. One rung down the ladder, the surging Bucks (43-24) — who own the tiebreaker over Brooklyn — are only a half-game back of the Nets for the second seed.
“I think the number one thought and priority is health over seeding, but that doesn’t mean we’re one-thousand percent in on health over seeding. It’s just how these games play out, how our team responds, how guys look and feel, and what our guys want to do,” Nash said. “What makes them feel confident and what they need out of these last games. There’s a lot of factors and a lot of variables and right now, we’re just monitoring the situation - assessing day-to-day and makes some decisions by tomorrow night and thereafter.”
Joe Harris, who is one of two Nets that have been a part of Brooklyn’s last three playoff runs —and the only player who’s suited up for every game, explained how seeding will simply take care of itself.
“It’s not really a topic or discussion. We’re really just focused on finishing these last four games out the right way,” said Harris on seeding. “Seeding will take care of itself.”
Beyond seeding, Brooklyn’s first-round playoff opponent might be based on the outcome of the newly established play-in tournament — which will run May 17-to-21. If they finish with first or second seed, their first round opponent will come out of the play-in tournament. In any case, the Nets will have six days to rest and watch the three-day tournament and those days off will provide value. The team will be practicing as well as resting.
“That week is important for us with so little common history,” added Nash. “A lot of these teams we’re going to face are running it back for three or four years when they’ve had deep playoff runs. That’s where our unique challenge is that this is not only a new team, new group, new coaching staff, but it’s also a season that’s been so unusual in that respect.”
“Those days are important for us to hone in and get more familiar with what we are doing and get us a little closer to the same page and prepare for our opponents.”
Beyond the three-headed monster — who’ve played a total of seven games and 187 minutes together, it’s the Nets other weapons that make them even more of a challenge to scout.
“A lot of people will be focused on what we have. I think it would be hard for them to scout because we haven’t had a full roster pretty much all season,” said Jeff Green on the challenges for other teams scouting the Nets.
“I think that would be the hard part and figuring out how we’ll play. I’m pretty sure they’ll be long nights of finding out how to stop those guys. We got a lot of weapons though,” Green added. “It’s going to be tough to hone down on certain things they’re going to want to take away. That’s the greatness of our team and what we bring.”
The Nets remaining four-game schedule is combination of an away game against the Bulls on Tuesday and a three-game homestand of the Spurs, Bulls and Cavs. The first round of the playoff is scheduled to begin on May 22.
- James Harden gearing up for Nets return with playoffs near - Ryan Dunleavy - New York Post
- James Harden might return during Nets’ final week of regular season - Ryan Dunleavy - New York Post
- James Harden might return during Nets’ final week of regular season - Greg Logan - Newsday
- James Harden will be available for Nets final games. Here are his options to play - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News