Basketball

James Harden-less Nets run out of gas late in loss to Nuggets

The Nets went from a Big 3 to a Big 1 to a rag-tag group of the only nine healthy bodies on their roster Wednesday night.

The group without a superstar held its own and even led by 11 at halftime before succumbing to the Nuggets, 124-118, in the second half of a back-to-back at Barclays Center.

The game was tied 99-99 early in the fourth quarter and the Nets were still as close as 116-113 with under four minutes to go, but they ran out of gas late and missed key free throws while Nikola Jokic sank his to ice the game.

Rookie Cam Thomas led the Nets (29-19) with a career-high 25 points. Patty Mills added 21 points while James Johnson chipped in 12 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.

Already missing Kevin Durant (sprained MCL) and Kyrie Irving (local COVID-19 mandates), the Nets got even more shorthanded before Wednesday’s game when they ruled out James Harden because of left hamstring tightness that he reported after Tuesday’s loss to the Lakers.

James Johnson
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

The Nets also sat centers Nic Claxton (left hamstring tightness, injury management) and Day’Ron Sharpe (non-COVID illness), which looked like brutal timing as they went up against Jokic, arguably the best center in the NBA.

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Veteran center LaMarcus Aldridge stepped back into the Nets’ starting lineup for the first time since Jan. 1 and delivered a strong effort against Jokic in addition to 18 points.

The Nets held Jokic to seven points in the first half — all of them coming in the opening minutes of the game — but the reigning MVP finished with 26 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists to power the Nuggets.

The Nuggets came out with a strong start featuring a heavy dose of Jokic and Will Barton. The two combined for the Nuggets’ 15-4 lead just under five minutes into the game, at which point the Nets were shooting just 2-for-12 from the field.

The Nets clawed their way back into the game before the first quarter was over, though, taking advantage of Jokic being on the bench. An alley-oop to DeAndre’ Bembry tied the game before a Thomas bucket gave the Nets a 24-22 lead.

Nets
James Harden sits on the bench during the Net’s loss to the Nuggets.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

While the Nuggets brought a 29-28 lead into the second quarter, the Nets soon found their groove, getting a spark from Thomas and Jevon Carter. Even after Jokic got back on the court, he was held scoreless the rest of the half as the Nets closed out the second quarter on a 17-4 run to take a 65-54 lead into the break.

But the Nuggets imposed their will in the third quarter, dropping 42 points on the Nets to go up 96-91 entering the fourth.

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