The Brooklyn Nets have the most intimidating star trio in the league, but having them all healthy at the same time has been an ongoing issue this season. The star currently on the shelf is James Harden, who's been out with a strained hamstring since March 31. He missed two games and then returned for an April 5 battle against the New York Knicks, but re-aggravated the injury in the game and has been out since. On Tuesday, head coach Steve Nash said Harden is still not close to a return.
"He's shooting and doing all his strength and rehabilitation work," said Nash, via the New York Daily News. "So positive signs there, but still I think a ways to go."
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Harden traveled with the team on its current two-game road trip that started with a win over the Raptors and concludes Thursday against the Pacers, but he has yet to be cleared for full practices. The former league MVP was on track to return to the lineup sooner, but he experienced a setback during a rehab session, which put him back to the starting point of his recovery process. With just 10 games left on Brooklyn's schedule, time is running out for him to make an appearance before the postseason.
"He'll be back when he's back. That may not be until the playoffs. It may be sooner. I don't know," Nash said. "We have no control over that other than working as hard as we can to support him and getting back to full health to play again. We're prepared for whenever that may be."
It may be a little eyebrow-raising for Nash to throw in there that he may not be back until the playoffs, but it just speaks to how complicated a hamstring injury can be and the unknown timeline the Nets are working with. Still, though, it would be ideal for Brooklyn to get Harden back before the postseason starts so he can get re-acclimated on the floor without being thrown into a playoff environment where the stakes and pressure are much higher.
Getting Harden back would also help the chemistry between him and the squad's other two stars in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Those three have only played seven games and 186 minutes together since Harden was acquired from Houston earlier this season. When they've played together they've been incredibly efficient on offense, but with the limited sample size it's difficult to gauge how well they can really coexist.
With just a handful of games left, and the uncertainty surrounding Harden's timeline, it sounds as though the Nets will be building chemistry on the fly when the playoffs start, which won't be ideal for a team with championship aspirations. On the bright side, Brooklyn managed to take over the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference largely on the back of Irving's play as both Harden and Durant have been in and out of the lineup over the past month.
The Nets roster was always built on the idea that talent beats all. Now that idea will be put to the ultimate test entering the postseason. No championship team has ever had less time to develop together than this one. They'll not only need to get healthy to win it all, but figure out how to play together on the fly.