NBA

Harden delight at Brooklyn Nets chemistry despite absence of Durant and Irving

By Sports Desk March 24, 2021

James Harden believes Brooklyn Nets have found good chemistry on the court despite the absence of key men Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Brooklyn Nets coach Steve Nash said Durant will not be risked for road games against Utah Jazz and Detroit Pistons this week but is the final phase of rehabilitation.

Durant has been sidelined by a hamstring strain since mid-February and was absent from the team that topped the Portland Trail Blazers 116-112 on Tuesday.

The 32-year-old averages 29 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists from 19 games, but Nash said he will be absent again for the trips to Utah and Detroit on Wednesday and Friday respectively.

Harden led the way for the Nets against the Trail Blazers with a double-double as they go toe-to-toe with Philadelphia 76ers the Eastern Conference.

He posted 25 points and a career high-tying 17 assists to fuel the Nets in Portland as they won without Durant and fellow superstar Irving, who was absent for personal reasons.

Harden claimed the Nets have clicked into gear ahead of meeting with the Jazz on Wednesday.

"The team chemistry, it's there. It's right where we need it to be," the 31-year-old told NBA.com

"Obviously missing Kevin and Kyrie, I think everyone else has a sense of what their roles are, and they're doing it to the best of their ability every single night. 

"I'm really proud of the guys. In order to be a special team like we're more than capable of being, we've got to have a sense of urgency every possession.

"Our sense of urgency in the way we play and our effort and our intensity on the defensive end, has to be there no matter what."

On the Jazz's recent improvements Harden added: "I think they're healthy. They're healthy and they finally have clicked.

"I think that loss in the playoffs in the bubble last year got to them a little bit and so they have a fully healthy team that's well coached and everybody knows their role and they have a great system and it works for them."

The Nets (30-14) remain within a game of the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers (31-13) who held on to beat the Golden State Warriors 108-98 on Tuesday.

Behind Tobias Harris' 25 points and 13 rebounds and Ben Simmons' 22 points, the 76ers earned their fifth consecutive road victory – the team's longest winning streak away from home since winning seven straight in 2018.

76ers coach Doc Rivers was pleased with the natural rhythm to the way in which Harris performed as he turns his attention to Thursday's game with the LA Lakers.

Rivers said: ''What I liked about his game, he didn't force it, he kind of just let the game come to him. And he made plays, not just with his shot but with the pass.

''As a group, we've won nine out of 10 games, the guys are playing good basketball - no need to talk about it."

Related items

  • Lukaku-Haaland partnership talk a 'joke' – Chelsea boss Tuchel Lukaku-Haaland partnership talk a 'joke' – Chelsea boss Tuchel

    Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel insisted his comments about a possible Romelu Lukaku-Erling Haaland partnership were a "joke" as he tried to play down speculation linking the European champions with the Borussia Dortmund star.

    Tuchel this week said Chelsea had discussed a move for Haaland and did not rule out partnering the in-demand Norwegian forward with Lukaku at Stamford Bridge.

    However, Tuchel backtracked on those comments as Chelsea prepare to host Norwich City in the Premier League on Saturday.

    "I fell into a trap," Tuchel told reporters, referencing his Bild interview. "I got an award in Germany. I got an award from a newspaper and they asked me about a player.

    "Normally I never, never speak about other players because simply I never, ever do.

    "Then we were making more or less fun about it. I should have known better because [I was] making fun about it and being a nice guy and answering a question instead of 'no, I don't want to answer a question'.

    "Getting this award and I joke about a double striker with Romelu in October and then it gets like we put in an offer. That was the context but OK, I should have known better."

    Haaland has 70 goals in 69 games for Dortmund since his arrival in January last year, only Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski (89 goals in 74 games) has a better return among players from Europe's top-five leagues.

    In this season's Bundesliga, Haaland surpassed his expected goal (xG)-value by 2.9 (nine goals, 6.1 xG) – only Bayer Leverkusen sensation Florian Wirtz eclipsed his value (3.0), per Opta.

    Since Haaland joined Dortmund, he exceeded his xG-value (38.7) in the Bundesliga by 10.3. It is the highest value of a player in Europe's top-five leagues in this time.

    Since Haaland's arrival in Dortmund, he has scored 13 Bundesliga goals after carries – in Europe's top-five leagues, it is only bettered by six-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi (15).

    In the 2021-22 league campaign, Haaland is one of four players who has been involved on 10 open-play sequences which ended in a goal – together with Hoffenheim's Andrej Kramaric, Bayern veteran Thomas Muller and Wirtz.

    "It is interesting that we as German staff, we become very humble when we see the difference in performance in the Bundesliga and obviously how much harder it is to produce the same numbers in the Premier League," Tuchel added.

    "It is, by the way, the big question in every transfer you do. This player performs in Germany, Spain, Italy or the other way around in England, can he also perform in the other country, the other culture, in the other team, in the other style of football? That is for me one of the big questions because you can scout them on any physical, mental level, do tests with them and observe them, how they behave.

    "On social media, they let you observe their lives so you know pretty much everything except for the fact what does it mean if you perform in club A in country B, what does it mean for your club C in country D? This will be the question.

    "Every player is different so to make it a general rule, it is maybe not possible but it seems it is the toughest league here and to produce outstanding stats. This cannot be a surprise. You are proud to have this league in England and you should be. It is big fun to watch and maybe bigger fun to work in it. That's the way it is."

  • Embiid asks 76ers fans to support Simmons: He's still our brother Embiid asks 76ers fans to support Simmons: He's still our brother

    Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid made an impassioned plea for fans to support team-mate Ben Simmons amid his continued absence.

    Simmons is yet to feature for the 76ers this NBA season, sitting out Friday's clash with Eastern Conference rivals the Brooklyn Nets, having been suspended for Wednesday's opener against the New Orleans Pelicans due to "conduct detrimental to the team".

    The three-time All-Star has sought a trade away from the 76ers following last season's shock playoff exit to the Atlanta Hawks, while he was reportedly ejected from Tuesday's practice as head coach Doc Rivers grew frustrated with his lack of engagement.

    After a meeting between Simmons, Embiid and the rest of the team, last season's MVP runner-up threw his support behind the former number one pick prior to tip-off against the Nets in Philadelphia.

    "I urge you guys to continue to support us and our team-mate Ben, because he's still our brother," Embiid said as he grabbed the microphone on court.

    Following the meeting, ESPN reported Simmons notified the 76ers he was not mentally ready to play and needed time to step away.

    "I felt good up and down throughout and I kept saying that, things do change," Rivers told reporters pre-game.

    "That still doesn't mean it's gonna work out perfect or it could, but I always believed that. I've never wavered from that. I've said that 100 times and I still stick with it."

    Rivers added: "It was a productive day, but it's a start. That's the only way you can get going, you gotta start, and today was a start."

    Simmons – an elite defender who signed a five-year, $177.2million contract extension in 2019 – and his shooting problems were laid bare during the 2021 postseason with the top-seeded 76ers, who were eliminated in the semi-finals.

    The 25-year-old had no fourth-quarter field-goal attempts in his last four games of the playoffs against the Hawks last season. He is the only NBA player in the last 20 seasons to have four consecutive postseason games with no field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter during a season in which he was an All-Star, according to Stats Perform.

    Simmons averaged just 10.1 field-goal attempts in 2020-21 – a career low, which dropped to 7.9 in the playoffs. It was the same story with his scoring as it dropped to a career-worst 14.3 points per game and 11.9 in the postseason – both career lows.

    Then there is Simmons and free throws. He was exposed by rival teams as they regularly sent him to the line, with the Melbourne-born guard making just 25 of 73 shots in the 2020-21 playoffs. His 34.2 free-throw percentage is the lowest ever in a single postseason.

    "He is part of the team," he continued. "We have certain rules, obviously, the other day, that didn't happen, but today was a good day.

    "Most people, we look at problems instead of the possibilities and I think if we focus on the possibilities, just in life in general, you have a pretty good chance of going to a good place. If you focus on the problems, you're probably gonna continue to have problems."

  • Cristiano Ronaldo criticism wrong – Solskjaer backs Man Utd superstar's work ethic Cristiano Ronaldo criticism wrong – Solskjaer backs Man Utd superstar's work ethic

    Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer insisted it is wrong to criticise Cristiano Ronaldo's work ethic as he launched a staunch defence of the Red Devils superstar.

    Ronaldo was the hero again on Wednesday, scoring the match-winning goal in a thrilling 3-2 Champions League win over Atalanta, having trailed 2-0 at half-time.

    The five-time Ballon d'Or winner has scored six goals in eight matches across all competitions since returning to United from Juventus, though there has been some scrutiny of the 36-year-old amid the club's struggle for form.

    Ronaldo has been criticised for not working hard or defending enough and as United prepare to host bitter Premier League rivals Liverpool on Sunday, Solskjaer backed the all-time leading scorer in men's international football.

    "First of all, he's fit enough to do it still. But he's played this game 500 times before," Solskjaer told Sky Sports.

    "He's been in that situation so many times, and it's one of them: 'I know what [team-mate Luke Shaw] is going to do, I know where I need to be and I'm still capable of doing it'. That's key.

    "He's changed his position from being a wide forward into more of a box centre forward because he knows how to score a goal, he wants to score goals. When he first came, with all the tricks and the pace, he had the hunger - and he's still got the hunger.

    "He's done what every player has to do throughout his career, you have to evolve."

    Solskjaer added: "When Cristiano came to us, he'd not had a proper pre-season at Juventus and you can see he's gradually getting fitter and fitter.

    "Now he feels: 'I'm getting towards the level I know I can be'. Wednesday night, the focus, the physical effort, the run… he had the highest amount of sprints, the longest sprint distance, the longest high-intensity distance.

    "We talk about players who run a lot, he does as much as them. If people want to criticise his work ethic, that's completely wrong. You see him running down the channels, which he has to do as a centre forward.

    "He does the work that we want him to do for the team. Of course, the team, when you have a player like him, you've got to get the best out of him, but he knows he's part of the jigsaw of that team and he's been brilliant."

    United – sixth in the table and four points behind second-placed Liverpool – have won just one of their last 10 Premier League meetings against the Reds (D6 L3), losing this exact fixture 4-2 last season.

    Solskjaer's United shipped four goals in a home Premier League game for only the fifth time in last season's encounter with Liverpool. The last team to score four-plus goals in consecutive top-flight visits to Old Trafford was Burnley in 1961-62 (won 4-1) and 1962-63 (won 5-2).

    United are without a clean sheet in any of their last nine home league matches, their longest streak without one since a run of 10 between September 1970 and February 1971.

    Meanwhile, United have only picked up eight points from their last seven home Premier League matches (W2 D2 L3), winning twice as many points in their previous seven at Old Trafford (16 – W5 D1 L1).

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.