The Brooklyn Nets came out on top in their matchup against Chicago on Tuesday night, but the victory was tainted a bit after point guard Kyrie Irving was forced into a premature exit after he took a thunderous elbow to the face from big man Nikola Vucevic.
It remains to be seen how long Irving will be sidelined, but the Nets diagnosed him with a face contusion after he cleared concussion protocol. The seven-time All-Star will receive an additional X-ray on Wednesday to determine the full extent of the injury.
To say Irving’s injury couldn’t come at a worse time would be an understatement, as the playoff-bound Nets will reportedly welcome back arguably their most important player for Wednesday night’s home showdown against the San Antonio Spurs.
Per insider Shams Charania of The Athletic, Harden, who’s been absent since April 5 due to a lingering hamstring issue, will return to action tonight. This is absolutely huge news when you consider how important it is that Harden gets his legs back under him before the playoffs.
James Harden returning before the playoffs is massive for the Nets.
Harden has been sidelined for 18 games since suffering a setback in his recovery. During that span, the Nets went just 10-8, though they’ve rattled off two impressive wins in a row.
For as important as it is that Harden works off the rust — which is to be expected for somebody who missed well over a month of the schedule — his return could actually pay huge dividends in the final playoff seeding in the Eastern Conference.
After all, the Nets currently sit in second place, just two games off the pace of the 76ers. With three games left in the regular season, they still have a puncher’s chance at finishing as the top seed in the conference, which would secure them home-court advantage in the playoffs.
Furthermore, Harden’s long-awaited clearance gives the Nets an excellent chance of fending off the Bucks, who are just one game behind them for the No. 2 seed and have fixtures remaining against the likes of Indiana, Miami and Chicago, none of which will be cakewalks.
It’s admittedly a buzzkill that Irving likely won’t be available vs San Antonio, which means the Nets’ superstar trio has still played just seven games together since Harden was acquired via trade. However, that shouldn’t take anything away from the significance of the former MVP getting potentially three games under his belt before the postseason gets underway.
That was the paramount concern about Harden’s injury over the last week or so, and him reentering the fold just in the nick of time proves fans can put those concerns aside.
All that’s left is making sure Irving’s injury isn’t all that serious and Brooklyn will be locked and loaded for the playoffs, which, if we’re being honest, is when their season really starts.