Brooklyn Nets All-Star guard James Harden will miss the next ten days in hopes of recovering from a hamstring injury. He initially injured it on March 31 against Houston and missed the two games. Harden then re-aggravated his hamstring Monday vs. New York and was limited to only four minutes. On the bright side, All-Star forward Kevin Durant returned Wednesday vs. New Orleans. Durant’s hamstring kept him out for 22 games; something Harden will try to avoid. The Nets need their stars to play together before the playoff run. However, time is not on Brooklyn’s side.
The Nets have the most talented roster in the NBA by far. If they are healthy, they should cake-walk through the Eastern Conference. Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and Miami could give them problems, but I do not see any of those teams pushing them to a seventh game. There are only two teams in the West that could beat them in the NBA Finals, the two LA teams. Again, if healthy, Brooklyn would be favored against both opponents.
Health is a big if for the Brooklyn Nets. Their best player, Kevin Durant, missed all of last season with a ruptured Achilles. He has missed the majority of this season now too. Kyrie Irving has been in and out of the lineup mainly due to personal reasons. James Harden has picked up a hamstring injury at a crucial time for Brooklyn. There are only 21 regular-season games left. Brooklyn’s “big three” have only played together seven total games. Harden is supposed to miss a minimum of ten days. The Nets will have to urge on the side of caution, so it doesn’t become a season-ending type injury. If the Nets do not win the championship, there will be many similarities to the 2020 Los Angeles Clippers.
Harden could likely miss more than ten days. However, if he returns after ten days, Brooklyn will have 17 remaining games on its schedule. The maximum amount of games the Nets’ “big three” could play together is 24 before the playoffs start. Time is not on Brooklyn’s side. Since they are so talented, they can still be figuring things out in the first and second rounds of the playoffs and be just fine. They will be the first team in NBA history to win the championship on the fly like this.
Too Much Talent?
The Nets have an abundance of talent. It gives head coach Steve Nash a good problem to have. Newly acquired big man Blake Griffin has been in and out of the lineup due to injury management. Also, newly acquired big man LaMarcus Aldridge made his debut on April 1. The “big three” need to develop chemistry with Griffin and Aldridge, as they have not all played together once. The Nets also have excellent role players like Joe Harris, Jeff Green, and DeAndre Jordan, who will need minutes. They also have good reserves like Landry Shamet, Nicolas Claxton, Bruce Brown, and more. The Nets are throwing a bunch of talent together, but there is no chemistry.
How Do the Nets Compare to Last Year’s Clippers Squad?
Prior to the 2019-2020 NBA season, the Clippers pretty much claimed themselves as the eventual 2020 Champions. They thought they could throw a bunch of talent together without a leader and win. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George often missed games for rest. Patrick Beverley was out of the lineup constantly. The Clippers did not care about the regular season. They also did not have a true point guard. The Clippers thought Leonard, George, and Lou Williams would be able to handle it. They only seemed to care about beating the crosstown rival Lakers. The Clippers thought they could turn it on come playoff time.
Although Brooklyn doesn’t have the arrogance like last year’s Clippers squad, there are some similarities. They are throwing a lot of talent together but will not have much time to develop chemistry. They are more talented than the Clippers were, so it could work. The Nets have to be mentally tough, and each player will have to accept their role. Many good role players will have to deal with fewer minutes or DNPs. James Harden will have to be more of a facilitator and let KD and Kyrie handle most of the scoring. They will also have to be committed defensively, an area in which they have struggled. If they can put it all together with the limited amount of time they have, props to Steve Nash.
The Defending Champions
The defending champions, Los Angeles Lakers, have the best shot at taking down the NBA’s newest super-team. If LeBron James and Anthony Davis are healthy, they will give the Nets a run for their money. This year’s Lakers squad is better than their championship team. Dennis Schröder is another playmaker to take some of the pressure off LeBron. Andre Drummond, Montrezl Harrell, and Marc Gasol are a great big-man trio. They all have different skill sets, and head coach Frank Vogel can mix and match. They have a deeper bench, including Kyle Kuzma, Talen Horton-Tucker’s emergence, and good veterans.
The Other L.A. Team
The Los Angeles Clippers have filled their needs from last year’s team. Bringing in a good rim protector like Serge Ibaka was essential. They also added a proven point guard/leader, Rajon Rondo. Rondo was vital to the Lakers’ championship run. He will be their leader on the court, which will benefit them tremendously. Paul George will have to come through in the playoffs, and he is motivated to do so. The Clippers will be dangerous, and I would not be shocked if they went to the NBA Finals.
All season, Brooklyn has struggled with health. The Nets’ priority for the next month and a half should be getting their stars on the court together. Brooklyn is under enormous pressure to win the championship. If everyone is healthy by playoff time and firing on all cylinders, no one will beat them. If rotations are inconsistent and the stars struggle to stay healthy, it will all come crashing down like the 2020 Clippers. One thing remains constant, Kevin Durant needs a stacked deck to win a championship.