The Brooklyn Nets will seek to pick up where they left off as the NBA’s hottest team when they open the second half of the season Thursday against the Boston Celtics at Barclays Center. In the final three weeks before the All-Star break, Brooklyn won 10 off 11 games to move within a half-game first place in the Eastern Conference, with a 24-13 record that is the fourth-best in the NBA.
They’ve done this while they’re still working on getting whole, with Kevin Durant missing nine of those 10 wins. Durant will remain out against Boston, while Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot is doubtful and Jeff Green — who missed four of the final five games before the break — is questionable.
Durant, out with a hamstring strain, has been working out on the court, but not doing any five-on-five or full speed work, said Nets head coach Steve Nash.
“Kevin is getting better all the time, has a scan next week, and we’ll assess him then,” said Nash. “But he hasn’t played in a month, so no matter what the scan says, there will still be an appropriate ramp up, trying to make sure we put him in a position to finish the season strong.”
In addition, newly acquired Blake Griffin will wait to make his Brooklyn debut as he took part in his first Nets practice on Wednesday night, but he’ll be out against Boston as well. Griffin last played on Feb. 12 for Detroit.
“That comes down to assessing him and having a plan in the coming days to give him the best opportunity to finish the season strong as well,” said Nash. “He hasn’t played in a while either, so although he’s been working out individually, we want to be cautious and make sure that our plan is comprehensive for him to succeed as well. So a similar answer to Kevin, but we just want to make sure we take a good, hard look and come up with a plan that everyone agrees upon and gives him a great chance to have an impact.
The addition of Blake Griffin, once he’s ready to play for Brooklyn, will stretch the flexibility for a Nets frontcourt that has been playing thin for much of the season, due to injuries and the trade for James Harden.
But the Nets got Nic Claxton back from injury shortly before the break, and soon they’ll plug in Griffin and welcome back Kevin Durant and Jeff Green.
“It’s funny, we now all of a sudden, we have DJ, Blake, Jeff, Nic, and Reggie Perry back,” said Nash. “So we went from trying to scrape together a roster to now we have tons of guys and options. So it's a much better position to be in, and as we know, and as we've said from the start, and what's become a reality is that this season is gonna throw a lot at us. Who knows what tomorrow brings, so we’ve just got to continue to be adaptable. And it's a great position coming out of the break to have options.
“But as we said, you know, a lot of them are just coming back from injuries, and you look at like Kevin, Jeff Green, there's a lot of — even Nic has recently returned from a long layoff — so we just go slowly, and we go day by day, we try to incorporate guys to meet their best level and to find a safe landing spot for the rest of the season, but also where they can thrive and find a role. So lots to figure out. And lots more will be thrown at us, I predict. So we’ve just got to stick with it. And right now we have a chance to look at a bunch of guys and progress and start to hopefully get a fuller picture of our squad in the coming weeks.”
The Nets begin the second half of the season leading the NBA in points per game (121.1), offensive rating (118.2), field goal percentage (50.0) and effective field goal percentage (58.8). They’re second in 3-point percentage (40.7), third in 3-pointers made per game (15.3) and seventh in 3-pointers attempted per game (37.7).
HISTORIC SHOOTING FROM JOE HARRIS
Joe Harris begins the second half of the season leading the NBA in field goal percentage (50.6). Only eight players in NBA history have finished the season shooting 50 percent from 3-point range. None of those eight have averaged even half as many 3-point attempts per game as Harris, who is taking a career-high 6.7 3-pointers per game.
ABOUT THE CELTICS
The Celtics are 19-17 and won their last four games before the All-Star break, but before that they had struggled through a 7-14 stretch dating back to Jan. 15. The Nets won the one previous matchup this season, 123-95 on Christmas. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown both played in the All-Star Game, but Boston has been without Marcus Smart for the last 18 games, dating back to Jan. 30. Tatum leads Boston with 24.9 points and 4.5 assists per game, plus 7.1 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game. Brown is averaging 24.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 3.9 assists while shooting 49.5 percent overall and 38.8 percent from 3-point range.