Durant returns, but Harden falls: a ‘big three’ who resists

The Nets are being the steamroller expected in content, but not in form. Currently, they are second in the East, with the same winning percentage as Philadelphia and three games away over Milwaukee, the three great franchises of the conference this season. Behind them, the abyss: to find the fourth classified, some Hawks grown by the hand of Nate McMillan, it is necessary to descend another five games. Much difference in a table that misses Boston at the top and has surprises from Charlotte or Knicks. In Miami, meanwhile, in a season in which injuries and protocols have affected them like few others, they are going about their business. Nobody is going to like to meet them in the playoffs. This is the panorama and this is how it has been drawing: with some Bucks that, unlike the last two years, allow themselves, from time to time, to use the regular season as a laboratory; some Sixers who, with the help of Daryl Morey, already have tools to avoid monotony and some Nets that are where the entity of their big-three forces them to be. Although, on the track, there is no big-three.

This morning, in front of New Orleans Pelicans and after 23 games of absence, Kevin Durant will have minutes again. Great news for basketball and even better for the Big Apple, which He had not enjoyed his big star, with permission from Harden and Irving, since last February 12, when he was forced to brake. The forecasts were not alarming, but the annoyances ended up lengthening. Initially, even his presence was not ruled out for the all-star game, in which he also served as captain; but, in the end, he had to reject their presence. Behind all this, a strain in the hamstrings of the left leg. A problem that, at last, he has left behind. The most important of all, but not the only one. And it is that, throughout this course, the 11 times All Star is not finding the desired continuity. A problem that acquires greater dimensions when one takes into account that it comes after a tear in the Achilles tendon that kept him 552 days away from basketball. In January, he had to miss three games due to close contact with covid and, a month later, he was forced to leave the court against the Toronto Raptors. due, again, to sanitary protocols. A surreal situation that also preceded his last game before injury: 20 points and 5 rebounds and assists against Golden State Warriors.

The news, however, comes accompanied by another, of totally opposite meaning. As ESPN’s Malika Andrews confirmed today, James Harden will miss at least the next 10 days’ games due to the same injury his teammate just overcame. That is, he will not be against the Pelicans today, but, in principle, neither against Lakers, Timberwoles, Sixers or Hornets. A streak without his presence that will be added to the two previous to the last game, against the Knicks, in which he could only endure four minutes on the court. Bad news for Steve Nash, who will lose what, surely, was being the most important player on the team: 25.4 points, 11 assists, 8.7 rebounds and MVP candidate. At least so far.

The concatenation of events, however, has been the usual trend. So far, the fearsome ‘big-three’ has only been able to share minutes in seven games. The last time he did, in fact, neither Blake Griffin nor LaMarcus Aldridge had joined the team yet. A situation that could seem like a puzzle for Nash, but that, for the moment, is being solved in an excellent way, as shown by the position of the franchise in the table. The issue, however, is not without its importance in the face of the ‘playoffs’. Despite the fact that, as it has been seen, the fit between the players has developed in a fluid way, the little time shared is still a fact to take into account in the face of group chemistry. Harden has already found his place alongside Irving, the former clearly serving as a base and the latter as an escort. And both are in brilliant numbers. Kyrie’s highest scoring season (28 points and 6.2 assists) is added to those of ‘La Barba’, already mentioned. A combo that could be explosive in many directions and has been in the right one. Durant, for his part, in the 19 games he has been able to play, is averages above those of his career (29 + 7.3 + 5.3). Everything fits on the table of numbers and, predictably, it will still improve with the presence of the three riders; But, going into the playoffs, accumulating minutes together is always positive, and he is resisting.