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 — their last one standing at home, James Harden, was a late scratch with hamstring tightness — 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.

“Details, just details,” coach Steve Nash said after the Nets dropped their third straight. “But proud of the guys for the activity. The response 24 hours later [after losing to the Lakers on Tuesday] was great. But details [hurt us]. Some of that is we have a bunch of guys playing together that haven’t played many minutes together all year, so there’s some cohesion that is lacking.”

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.

The Nets lost to the Nuggets without James Harden on Wednesday.
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg

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 Harden because of left hamstring tightness that he reported after Tuesday’s loss to the Lakers.

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.

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 (26-21).

Jokic and Will Barton (21 points) got the Nuggets off to a strong start before the Nets found their footing. After getting a spark from Thomas and Jevon Carter, the Nets closed out the second quarter on a 17-4 run to take a 65-54 lead into the break.

LaMarcus Aldridge dunks the ball against the Nuggets.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

“It just shows we have other guys that can play,” Thomas said. “For us to compete with a team like that that’s a playoff team … in this kind of setting, it shows a lot. We just want to keep improving. We don’t want to stop there.”

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

Nash said the Nets will reevaluate Durant’s knee injury within the next week.

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