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Nets not backing down from high expectations or Celtics challenge

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San Antonio Spurs v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Top to bottom, there’s not another team in the NBA with as much talent — or playoff experience — as the Brooklyn Nets. They’ve had their issues throughout the season, as evidenced by the 27 players who wore the black-and-white and the 38 starting line-ups, but in the end, they finished with the second seed and will be at their healthiest when the post-season begins Saturday night in Brooklyn.

And so, they understand what the expectations are and know it’s all in their control.

“One-thousand percent,” James Harden said after practice Wednesday. “Some teams say, ‘We just need to do what we do best,’ and that’s just not good enough at times. But for us … if we do do that, then we definitely have a chance.”

Harden, of course, was the question mark at season’s end, having missed 20 out of 21 games to a hamstring strain. When he returned, he had a terrific outing vs. the Spurs, a stinker Saturday and then a day of rest in the team’s last game on Sunday. He isn’t worried.

Asked whether he’s 100 percent healthy, Harden laughed and said, “Yeah, I’m back. I thought winning was all that matters. When I was doing the stats and putting up numbers (with the Rockets), it wasn’t good enough. At some point, we’ve got to figure out what we’re talking about.

“It’s all about winning. I don’t care about stats. My impact doesn’t have to show up on that stat sheet for us to win. Today in practice, I had zero points. We won. My job as a leader is to make sure everyone is playing well. If I’m doing that, I can focus on myself last.”

Harden also dismissed the leading topic of punditry about the Nets, that their “Big Three” has played only eight games — and 202 minutes — together since Harden joined the club in mid-January. Only one of those games, vs. the Bulls on Saturday, came after mid-February. Again, Harden isn’t worried. Remember, this team essentially is the product of conversations among Harden, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Blake Griffin las summer in L.A.

“We’re in constant communication,” Harden said. “We basically talk all day about what we need to do, our approach to the game. Mostly, it’s not about offense. It’s about defense and things we need to get better on. We all know that, us three and the entire team and coaching staff as well. Not for one bit do I think offense is going to be a problem because you’re dealing with three of the most unselfish guys in this league, three of the most skilled and talented players in this league.

“I know what I need to do, and I know what Ky and Kevin can do scoring-wise. I don’t need to compete with them. My job is to make their lives a little bit easier, and if I can do that, then I’m doing my job.”

Steve Nash also disclosed that he sat down with the “Big Three” recently to talk about what issues might arise as a result of that lack of time on court together.

“It’s always good to check, to go over scenarios, to make sure we’re on the same page with game plans and schemes and whatnot,” Nash said. “So it’s always beneficial. I think it was productive as well.”

There’s something else too: the Nets collective experience in the playoffs. KD has played 139 post-season games (winning 88 of them) while Harden isn’t far behind with 128. Irving has 61 and the roster has a total of 577! Only rookie Reggie Perry, second year player Nic Claxton and European exile Mike James have none. Collectively, they’ve also won three championships and been to the Finals eight times. That matters.

Of course, all that experience has taught them well, that you can’t look beyond the next game and more than one Net noted that the Celtics, despite their troubled season, can’t be dismissed.

“We know how tough it is to play this game every day and we’re in here every day so we got a different vantage point than you all,” Durant said.

“I understand what that stuff on paper [says] and how teams look and how accomplished players on our team are, but for us, we respect the game and our opponents too much to come in and say, ‘Look we’re expected to win this,’ “ he added.

“We’re coming out there and understanding we can be beat if we don’t lock in. We have a good opportunity with a lot of great players on this team that mix well with each other, but we still gotta go out there and do the work.”

For the Nets, the week between games is being divided between focusing on their issues and going over scouting reports on Boston and particularly Jason Tatum, who Nash said KD would guard, anointing him as the team’s top defender.

“I know how tough it’s going to be out there,” Durant said, “and I’m looking forward to that challenge.”

As a reminder, the game will air at 8 p.m. Saturday on ABC. Expect more details on ticketing at Barclays Center Thursday.