Just when it appeared as though the Nets were on their way to playing a game with their full All Star-studded roster, they hit another snag.
James Harden left Monday’s 114-112 win over the Knicks with right hamstring tightness after having missed the previous two games with the same injury. Harden was scoreless in four minutes, but he did have three assists and a rebound before leaving.
It is unclear how long Harden will be out of the lineup, and his injury comes as the Nets expect Kevin Durant to return at some point this week. The Nets have home games Wednesday against the New Orleans Pelicans and Saturday against the Los Angeles Lakers. Durant has not played since sustaining a hamstring injury in his Feb. 13 return to San Francisco.
Durant shot around before the Monday game, and Nets coach Steve Nash has said Durant will return to the Nets’ lineup this week. “But it’s definitely not set in stone,” Nash said.
Durant has played just seven games with Kyrie Irving and Harden since Harden was acquired nearly three months ago.
The Nets have managed just fine without him. They were 16-12 when he left the lineup. They are 35-16 after Monday’s win, jumping to the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference.
Part of that is due to Irving. Against the Knicks, Irving put on a dazzling dribbling display and finished with 40 points — his 12th 30-point game of the season and second against the Knicks. Irving has averaged more than 38 points in games where he’s played without Harden and Durant.
Like father, like son (almost)
Gary Trent Jr. is having a star turn since being sent to the Toronto Raptors from Portland at the trade deadline last month.
Trent played the savior role for the Raptors on Monday. Trent beat the buzzer with a long 3-pointer, helping the Raptors rally from a 19-point second-half deficit to beat the Washington Wizards 103-101.
Trent has averaged 21.5 points and shot 51.5% from 3-point territory in the past four games with the Raptors.
Fun fact: The Raptors acquired Gary Trent Sr. in a trade with the Portland Trail Blazers at the trade deadline in 1998. The elder Trent averaged 7.75 in the first four games he played with the Raptors, shooting 32.5% from the field.
Following the leader
In their two previous meetings before Monday, the Utah Jazz beat the Dallas Mavericks by 12 and 19 points in back-to-back games in late January. At that point in the season, the Mavericks were 8-11 on their way to an 8-13 start.
A lot has changed for the Mavericks since then. The Jazz can attest. The Mavericks beat the Jazz 111-103 on Monday, stopping Utah’s nine-game win streak.
After finishing a five-game road trip with a 4-1 record, the Mavericks are now 28-21.
They have followed the lead of All-Star guard Luka Doncic, who is averaging 29 points, 7.6 rebounds, 4.2 assists and shooting 42% on 3-pointers in games he’s played since the start of March. The Mavs are 12-2 in that span.
The rising of the Suns
Since losing to the Lakers in the Western Conference finals in 2010, the once-proud Phoenix Suns lost their way. They have had a winning record only once since that season, and they have not advanced to the playoffs.
The Suns, who went a franchise-worst 19-63 during the 2018-19 season, started showing signs that things were changing last season, when they went 8-0 in the NBA bubble at the end of last season to finish the season at 34-39. The Suns have already surpassed that win total this season with 23 games remaining. The Suns are 35-14 after Monday’s 133-130 win over the Houston.
They improved their roster through the draft, getting Devin Booker in 2015 and Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges in 2018. They accelerated their rebuild during the offseason by acquiring Chris Paul in a trade and signing free agent Jae Crowder. The result: The Suns have the NBA’s second-best record behind Utah (38-12).
It’s a virtual lock that they’ll make the playoffs. They are now just 2½ games behind the Jazz in the West heading into their Wednesday showdown against Utah in Phoenix.
Game of the night
Joel Embiid has returned just in time to help the Philadelphia 76ers navigate a tough stretch. The Sixers face the Boston Celtics on Tuesday as they continue their battle for the top seed in the East.
The Sixers are in the midst of their roughest part of the schedule. They returned overnight Friday after a 12-day road trip only to come home and play a back-to-back games over the weekend. The game against the Celtics begins a four-game road swing that also includes games at New Orleans, Oklahoma City and Dallas.
Embiid, who had been a frontrunner for the league’s MVP award, returned to the lineup in a 122-113 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday after missing 10 games with a bone bruise in his left knee.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: James Harden injury puts strain in Nets’ hopeful return to full health