Sports

Harden back for Nets, but Big 3 missing Kyrie

NEW YORK — James Harden returned to the Brooklyn Nets‘ lineup on Wednesday against the San Antonio Spurs after missing more than a month with a hamstring strain.

Still, the Nets will have to wait, once again, to see their Big Three in action. Kyrie Irving was not playing in Wednesday’s game because of a facial contusion.

The decision for Harden to play was made minutes before he warmed up in Barclays Center on Wednesday evening. Harden did not start and was on a minutes restriction, coach Steve Nash said. It was the first time that Harden has come off the bench for a regular-season game since April 2012.

Nash has done this before with stars coming back from extended absences. Kevin Durant came off the bench earlier this season when he returned from a hamstring strain. At the time, Nash said that because Durant was on a minutes restriction, he wanted to ensure that Durant would be available to close the game in the event the Nets needed him to pull out a win in a close contest.

“I think he wants to get his rhythm and prepare for the playoffs,” Nash said of Irving before the game. “For us, we can go either way. We support him in that he’s cleared to play and he wants to play.”

Irving, meanwhile, was injured in the third quarter of the Nets’ game against Chicago on Tuesday night when he went up for a rebound and Nikola Vucevic inadvertently elbowed Irving in the face. Irving has been cleared of a concussion, Nash said.

Nash added that because he has been cleared, Irving will be able to play in the Nets’ remaining two games if he is feeling well enough.

“It’s a matter of how comfortable he is playing,” Nash said. “And if they get that time together, it would be great. If they don’t, they don’t.”

The Nets’ three stars — Irving, Harden and Durant — have played in just seven games together this season. Harden, who last played on April 5, has missed the Nets’ past 18 games. After making progress on the injury, Harden suffered a setback in his rehab on April 19, further delaying his return.

The Nets also on Wednesday were without Joe Harris, who has a sore left hip. It was the first game Harris has missed this season.

The Nets have played 38 total games with two of their three superstars — and only two of those are with just Durant and Harden. Wednesday marks the second time that Durant has played in both games of a back-to-back this season.

Nash said that while health is the most important thing to him heading into the playoffs, he added that if all three All-Stars get a chance to play together, it could aid the team down the line.

“If they can form any sort of cohesion or speed up that process, that’s great,” Nash said. “But we recognize there’s no perfect solution here. They’re not going to be totally formed and cohesive on one or two games. But could it help? Sure. But I think more than anything, it’s about them continuing to build their level and their confidence and their rhythm going into the playoffs.”

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