Nets’ James Harden out with hyperextended left knee

PORTLAND, Ore. — Right when the Nets head out on the road — and get Kyrie Irving back as a result — they lose James Harden.

Harden was ruled out of Monday’s game in Portland with a left knee hyperextension. LaMarcus Aldridge also sat against the Trail Blazers with right foot soreness.

The Nets have played just once all season with their Big 3 together, in Irving’s season debut at Indiana last week. Monday was expected to be the second time, after coach Steve Nash said both Harden and Kevin Durant were expected to play despite having logged major minutes in Sunday’s home victory over San Antonio.

The Nets were in first place two weeks ago, but forgot what got them there. It wasn’t the benefit of having three stars and last season’s brilliant offense. It was blue-collar defense.

“We’re just trying to re-identify ourselves after the COVID interruption. Having everyone back we’ve taken a step down defensively,” Nash said.

James Harden
Corey Sipkin/New York Post

“It’s different because we come into the season as last year is historically one of the best offensive teams. We come into this season and that’s not the case. To try to identify with the other side of the ball which has brought us success, although it’s brought success, do we clearly identify with that? Not quite.

“So we have to build that identity where we recognize and we admit we’re a defensive team. We win with our defense. That’s the process we’re going through. We’re reintroducing right now. Let’s not forget how we won all these games in the first part of the season.”

Playing Monday in Portland after Sunday’s home win marked logistically one of the toughest back-to-backs Nash had ever seen.

“Yeah, I guess. I can’t remember all the back-to-backs ever played, but I don’t remember any six-hour flights in between the back-to-back and three-hour time zones and all that stuff. So it’s different,” Nash said. “But we got to take it as an opportunity, an opportunity to succeed under adversity. This moment where we’re trying to find ourselves again, to have a tough back-to-back. So let’s embrace it … maybe that gives us a spark.”

Monday was the second leg of a brutal four games in five days, with games at Chicago on Wednesday and at home versus the Thunder on Thursday also scheduled. It’s 4,892 miles logged, but Nash didn’t want to use that as an alibi.

“I’m very hesitant to make excuses. We’ve got to attack this,” he said. “We’ll try to figure out the best way to be rejuvenated, regenerated and ready to have another good performance. So I’m very skeptical, especially as we face a little adversity here, to have any sort of excuses or any sort of ‘woe is me.’

“We’ve got to get down to business and play hard and play well and play together and build day by day.”

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