Tuesday, October 3, 2023
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NBA Preview: Brooklyn Nets at Indiana Pacers

While the Brooklyn Nets are missing Kyrie Irving, they are also lacking the typical explosiveness from James Harden, who admitted Wednesday he is still working his way back from last season’s hamstring injuries.

Harden’s slow start is contributing to an uneven start for the Nets, who hope to see the star guard inch closer to his normal form Friday night when they host the Indiana Pacers.

Harden is averaging 16.6 points, 8.0 assists and 7.0 rebounds. He also is shooting 35.9 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from 3-point range.

On Wednesday, he was held to 14 points on 4-of-12 shooting in 36 minutes as Brooklyn dropped a 106-93 decision to the Miami Heat for its third double-digit loss of the young season.

“Just getting more confident, being aggressive. And it’s getting better every single game. As much as I want to get back to just, you know, (scoring) 30 and 40 points, I can’t do that (right now). As much as I want to, obviously I would love to.”

Harden is nearly five months removed from sustaining a hamstring injury in the opening moments of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Milwaukee Bucks. That was his second hamstring injury with the Nets, who played without him from April 7-May 11 last season.

Harden averaged 24.6 points in the regular season in 2020-21. He averaged 27.8 points when the Nets beat the Boston Celtics in the first round but shot 11 of 36 from the field in the final three games against Milwaukee after trying to play through the injury.

“I had no opportunities to play pickup or nothing this summer,” Harden said. “Everything was rehab for three months, from a Grade 2 injury that happened three times in one season. So, this is my fifth game of trying to just play with competition against somebody else. And as much as I want to rush the process and be back to hooping and killing, (have to) take your time.”

With Harden slowly working into form, the Nets are hoping to recover from an ugly showing inside that helped negate 25 points from Kevin Durant. Besides giving up 48 points in the paint and 31 second-chance points, the Nets were outrebounded 62-42 and allowed 17 offensive boards.

Indiana has four losses in its first five games for its worst start since 2014-15, when it opened by losing six of seven.

The Pacers took a pair of one-point losses at Charlotte and Washington before getting an overtime win over Miami, but are coming off double-digit losses to the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors.

On Wednesday, Indiana dropped to 0-3 on the road when it committed 23 turnovers in a 118-100 loss at Toronto.

“We have to take care of the ball,” Indiana reserve Jeremy Lamb said. “We have to be strong with the ball. We have to make the simple pass. Sometimes, we try to make the tough pass, or the home run pass, and we just have to keep it simple.”

Making matters worse is Malcom Brogdon exited with a sore left hamstring in the third quarter and the injury may keep him out Friday. He scored 18 points Wednesday and is averaging 23.4 points so far.

Domantas Sabonis also is off to a quick start by averaging 21.6 points and 11.4 rebounds to go along with three double-doubles. He is coming off his least productive game of the young season as he finished with nine points and eight rebounds and attempted a season-low four shots from the field.

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