Despite all their star power and having one of the most talented group of players ever assembled on an NBA roster, the Brooklyn Nets were bounced in the second round of the 2021 playoffs.
The primary culprit? Injuries, especially ones that affected star players.
James Harden, for example, dealt with a hamstring strain throughout the second round that prevented him from suiting up in Games 2, 3 and 4 of that Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Even when Harden returned for Game 5, the nine-time All-Star was operating at something well below 100%. And with Kyrie Irving also plagued by an injury – an ankle sprain – the Nets were undone, falling to the Bucks in seven games.
Flash forward about three months and Harden is still dealing with some lingering effects from his hamstring injury. He said as much while giving a pep talk to young hoopers at T.J. Ford’s basketball academy in Houston earlier this week.
Harden explained to the young crowd that they should be dripping with sweat before leaving the gym as he encouraged them to work hard. As for why Harden wasn’t sweating himself?
“This was a light day for me,” Harden said in a video that was posted to Twitter, “(because) I’m still in rehab.”
And with that, Nets Twitter began to sweat.
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Harden Still Progressing
Harden’s revelation that he’s still in rehab indicates he’s not fully past his hamstring injury. Still, it shouldn’t necessarily be cause for panic for Nets fans, either. The Beard, after all, has even recently said that he’s progressing well.
“Conditioning is my main focus,” Harden said in August, per CBS Sports. “I’m still trying to basically get healthy from my hamstring injury, which I was dealing with for a few months. So I want to make sure I’m completely healed and strong enough so I can go out there and completely be myself. My rehab is going very, very well, and my getting my conditioning right is a big part of that.”
Harden averaged 24.6 points, 10.9 assists, and 8.5 rebounds in 36 games with the Nets this past season, even winning back-to-back Eastern Conference Player of the Month Awards in March and February. Still, it’s clear that his hamstring strain significantly impacted his on-court ability even after he returned to play in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Harden shot a combined 11-for-36 from the field and 5-for-26 from 3-point range over the final three games of the series.
Nets general manager Sean Marks said earlier this summer that Harden should be ready for training camp, per NetsDaily.
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Harden Confident That Nets Are League’s Best When Healthy
In addition to Harden and Irving, Kevin Durant gives Brooklyn a bona fide Big Three. Throw in a supporting cast that includes players like Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, Paul Millsap and Patty Mills, and the Nets are the odds-on favorite to make a championship run this upcoming season.
All they have to do is stay healthy.
“At full strength, nobody can beat us. I’m just going to leave it at that,” Harden said in an interview with Sports Illustrated. “There’s no chip at all, no chip for us. We’re just excited. We’re focused. We know what we have to do. The biggest thing is us being healthy, which we will be. Honestly, we’re just excited to play a whole season together. That’s the exciting part.”