Brooklyn’s Big Three was pared down to a Big Zero, with the Nets ruling James Harden out of Wednesday’s game in Utah largely to protect him from himself.
After suffering a neck injury Sunday, Harden had been very much in doubt right through pregame warm-ups Tuesday in Portland before eventually suiting up. But questionable again a day later against the Jazz, the Nets sat him in hopes of keeping him healthy for Friday in Detroit — and beyond.
“I’m hoping it’s short term,” coach Steve Nash said. “To be honest, I’m sure James would’ve wanted to play [in Utah]. But he’s not. I don’t think it’s safe for him to play, and I think sometimes you have to protect him from himself. He’s such a warrior and competitor and loves to play.
“But he was questionable for [Tuesday], played a ton of minutes. You could see it was tough for him shooting the ball, but he still obviously dominated in other ways. But I think [Wednesday] it was the smartest and safest decision to protect him from himself and take him out of the lineup because he’s struggling. It’s pretty sore. I hope that he’ll be back next game, but we’ll have to see day by day here.”
Harden dominated Portland with 25 points and 17 assists Tuesday, but shot just 7 of 24 — and 0 of 7 from deep. It continued a worsening trend. Harden shot 48.4 percent in the first half of the season, and 40.1 percent from 3, but he has seen those dip to 38.8 percent and 15.4 percent in the second. It begs the question of whether fatigue and the neck injury have taken their toll on his shot.
“I’m sure it’s affected it a little. … He hasn’t shot the ball well since the break,” Nash said. “He’s still played great and been dominant, but the neck hasn’t helped that in any way. But we had to protect him from himself. He still wants to try to play.
“I’m telling you, he’s sore. The problem with playing when you’re not right is what else can go wrong. So it’s just a dangerous situation. He’s been struggling with this thing, and it’s really important that we protect him, because we’re going to need him and he’s got a lot of demands on him.”
Both Harden’s history and his comments lend credence to the conservative Nets having to protect him from himself.
“[Wednesday] when I wake up, if I feel like I can go, I’ll go. It’s that simple,” Harden had said, citing the fact the Nets needed him while playing shorthanded without Kevin Durant (hamstring) and Kyrie Irving (family matter).
“Everything isn’t going to be perfect, whether it’s playing through injuries or playing banged up. … Obviously when you’re hurt, you’re hurt; you sit out. I try to go out there, make an impact and play if I’m able to if it’s not risking anything.”
Brooklyn opted not to let Harden put himself at risk. Clearly his desire to play can’t be questioned. Harden’s 870 games played are the most in the NBA since his 2009 debut, and his 38.0 minutes averaged this season are tops in the league.
With Durant and Irving in and out of the lineup, Harden has put together an MVP-worthy campaign that had Charles Barkley — who loudly doubted the trade when it happened — saying he might be the best player in the world.
“He’s got to be up there. That guy’s brilliant,” Nash said. “He’s loves to play, incredible passion for the game, great competitor, durable, and you see the way he manipulates the game. He runs the show, he makes his teammates better. He’s a historically elite playmaker. And he’s also a historically elite scorer and shotmaker.
“The other things is that he’s got great hands, and gets steals. He is a great rebounder, incredible rebounder for a guard. He’s also a highly intelligent defender and quarterbacks our defense a lot of the time. So, James is brilliant. And I could go on and on. He’s just an incredible basketball player. And it’s just a joy to be able to coach him and watch him every day.”
ESPN painted the Lakers as a favorite to land potential Nets buyout target Andre Drummond. Pelicans guard JJ Redick is more likely to land in Brooklyn with the 36-year-old having a condo in DUMBO and his wife preferring Brooklyn as a destination.
Steve Nash deemed it “doubtful” that Landry Shamet (ankle) would join the Nets on Friday in Detroit.