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Back-to-Back with James Harden back? Nets host Spurs in Brooklyn

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Brooklyn Nets v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Good news, bad news. The Nets beat the Bulls handily but also saw their leading scorer and superstar Kyrie Irving go down with what is being described as a “facial contusion.” There’s no evidence of a concussion, which is a relief. There were more tests on Wednesday and the news is as good as can be expected. Irving is “questionable” vs. Spurs. Meanwhile, James Harden is “probable” and despite the back-to-back, Kevin Durant is “available,” as Blake Griffin. But Joe Harris a “out,” a late scratch with left soreness.

For the Spurs, it appears they’re pretty much locked in for the play-in, 10th place specifically. San Antonio is two and a half games behind the ninth place Grizzlies and two and a half games ahead of the 11th place Pelicans ... with only four games left to play Gregg Popovich’s charges are 2-4 in May but destroyed the Bucks, 146-125, Monday night, their last game.

Where to follow the game

It’s YES2 again with no national coverage. WFAN on radio, 101.9 FM. Tip after 8:00 p.m. EDT. Looks like there will be one more conflict with the Yankees on Sunday when Nets close out their season vs. Cleveland.

Join us on NetsDaily Clubhouse post-game. Details here.

Injuries

It’s a waiting game on the “Big Three,” with James Harden “probable” to play after missing 20 of the Nets last 21 games to a hamstring strain. Kevin Durant doesn’t normally play in back-to-backs but he’s available tonight. As for Kyrie Irving, he’s questionable, which means he could play. Of course, Chris Chiozza (fractured right hand) and Spencer Dinwiddie (partially torn ACL) remain out. However, Joe Harris is a late game scratch with left hip soreness. It’s his missed game of the season.

For the Spurs, both Trey Lyles and Derrick White are both out with ankle injuries. Everyone else is available.

The game

The Nets won the first game back on March 1, an overtime affair that saw James Harden save the day and end up with a triple double. It marked the end of the Spurs dominance over the Nets which had stretched all the way back to the 2002-03 NBA Finals.

With so little known at this point (Wednesday morning) about the Nets lineup, it’s probably smarter to look at the Spurs. Little was expected of them this season and then in February, they released LaMarcus Aldridge their long-time rock. But they persisted and now will get back into at least the play-in tournament.

They’ve won two of their last three, the blowout of the Bucks on Monday and an easy win over the Kings on Friday. In between, they got blown out by Portland. They averaged 120.3 points in the three games and let their opponents put up an average of 118.7 points. So we can what they can and can’t do. Still, despite those last three games, the Spurs rank 12th in defensive rating as one might expect from a Pop team. (The Spurs are also first in forcing turnovers.)

Offensively, San Antonio is anchored by DeMar DeRozan who is as steady as ever, averaging 21.5 points, 7.1 assists and 4.2 assists. They also have two neat young perimeter players, Dejounte Murray who’s averaging 15.9 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.4 assists and Lonnie Walker IV, who’s having a breakout year at age 22. He’s averaging 11 points and has shot near 40 percent from three.

There’s no Tim Duncan or David Robinson in the post, but Jakob Poeltl and Gorgui Dieng have been playing well. Poeltl will get some votes for Defensive Player of the Year and Dieng is shooting 47 percent from three since joining the Spurs.

The Spurs defense does have issues with defending skilled forwards and athletic bigs. That could work to the Nets advantage if KD plays. Will Nic Claxton see more minutes?

Player to Watch: Lonnie Walker IV

The big hair is gone and Walker, now in his third year, is starting to feel it. He is, as our sister site, Pounding the Rock, noted recently, the best pure scorer out of all the Spurs young guys. More importantly, he’s started to step up in key situations. Against the Kings late, he scored four key points in the last 90 seconds to secure the win.

Coming off the bench, there are those who think he has the potential to be something special.

“He’s coming off the bench for us, kind of like Manu did,” Popovich said recently. “He gives us that little bounce.”

Since Derrick White went down at the end of April, Walker has become the leader of the second unit, averaging 15.9 points and in the last three, Walker has been on fire. He’s averaging 17.7 points, shooting 53.7 percent overall and 38.9 percent from deep in nearly 30 minutes a game.

“Overall, I am still trying to find my niche,” Walker said earlier in the month. “I am not the first, second, third or really fourth or fifth scoring option, realistically speaking. So when I get on the court, I’m just trying to be aggressive offensively and defensively.”

Pop agrees.

“He’s somebody that is very athletic, very aggressive, and he’s fearless,” Popovich said.

From the Vault

The Nets ultimate goal is a championship, so let’s go back to the Nets first win in the NBA Finals, Game 2 in New Jersey. After being swept by the Lakers the year before and losing Game 1, the pressure was on.

The Nets Finals record is 2-8. Lets hope they can even that out a bit in July.

More reading: Pounding the Rock