When the Brooklyn Nets acquired James Harden from Houston in mid-Janaury, the championship odds skewed in their direction.
The new super team had Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and Harden, a three-time NBA scoring champion, after all.
But with five games left in the regular season, Brooklyn hasn’t looked like the favorite to win it all. Injuries to all three stars have contributed to the uneven play, and the Nets are three games behind Philadelphia for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
Not only is the best record in the conference getting out of reach, but Brooklyn (43-24) is locked in a battle with Milwaukee for the second seed, and the Bucks won the season series between them. Two of those losses to Milwaukee came this past week and are part of a four-game skid for the Nets.
“Losing sucks,” Durant said. “I mean, no matter what time of year it’s in, no matter who it’s against. I mean, I’ve been feeling the same way about losing since I was 8 years old, since I started playing. So, it’s always been about get up the next day and go back to work.”
Brooklyn will be trying to avoid a fifth straight loss when they play the Nuggets in Denver on Saturday night. The Nets won’t have Harden, who has been out since April 5 with a hamstring strain, but the former MVP is expected to play before the playoffs begin later this month.
“Our mindset is, if we can come to this postseason healthy, we are right there,” Harden said recently. “We have a chance.”
The Nuggets (44-23) are coming off a 127-120 loss at Utah on Friday night without much turnaround time for a game against one of the top teams in the league. Saturday is the last home game of the regular season for Denver, which will close with four road games.
The Nuggets won’t be fully healthy for the rest of the year but even as players have gone down, they’ve kept winning. Since losing Jamal Murray to a torn ACL on April 12, they are 10-3 and have stayed in the mix for a top-three seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
In addition to Murray, Denver is missing Monte Morris (hamstring), Will Barton (hamstring) and P.J. Dozier (adductor strain). Morris is closest to returning, followed by Barton, but Dozier could miss the rest of the season.
Nuggets coach Michael Malone said the condensed schedule has contributed to injuries all over the league.
“I think you see it all across the NBA, throughout the 30 teams in this association,” he said. “So, I think the NBA boxed themselves in a little bit with a hard begin date and a hard end date, with keeping the Olympics in mind. I think injuries have really ramped up somewhat because of that. It is what it is. These are not your normal times. We’re still in the middle of a pandemic … Just in general, I do think more injuries have definitely crept in because of the condensed schedule.”
–Field Level Media