Seth Curry's 23-point arrival helped the Brooklyn Nets snap their 11-game skid in a 109-85 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Monday.

Curry landed four three-pointers with seven rebounds and five assists while fellow debutant Andre Drummond added 11 points, with Ben Simmons still out despite being present for the pre-game shootaround.

The Nets led from start to finish but were propelled by a 54-37 second half with LaMarcus Aldridge scoring 19 points with eight rebounds off the bench.

Bruce Brown had season-high returns with 19 points, six assists and five steals for the new-look Nets who improved to 30-27.

De'Andre Fox had a game-high 26 points for the Kings who were limited to 34.4 per cent shooting (31-of-90) overall.

 

Steph stars but Warriors lose

Stephen Curry made eight three-pointers in a 33-point haul but it was not enough to get the Golden State Warriors past the Los Angeles Clippers who won 119-104. Terance Mann scored 25 points with seven rebounds and six assists for the triumphant Clippers.

Julius Randle had a triple-double with 30 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists but he was overshadowed by Rookie of the Year contender Josh Giddey as the Oklahoma City Thunder won 127-123 in overtime. Giddey also had a triple-double with 28 points including three triples along with 11 rebounds and 12 assists.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic starred with 26 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists as the Denver Nuggets brushed aside the Orlando Magic 121-111, while Donovan Mitchell had 30 points with six rebounds and seven assists in the Utah Jazz's 135-101 victory over the Houston Rockets.

 

Middleton loses radar as Bucks go down

Khris Middleton almost had a triple-double but shot poorly, going three-of-15 from the field and one-of-eight from beyond the arc as the Milwaukee Bucks went down 122-107 to the Portland Trail Blazers. Anfernee Simons scored 31 points for the Blazers, while Middleton had 16 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists as the Bucks lost in Giannis Antetokounmpo's absence due to a sore ankle.

Clear your schedule. There's some appointment viewing in the NBA this week as the Milwaukee Bucks visit the Brooklyn Nets.

The defending NBA champion Bucks renew acquaintances at Barclays Center on Friday with the team they edged in an engrossing Eastern Conference semi-final series last year.

Both Milwaukee and Brooklyn are looking up at the Chicago Bulls, with the Eastern Conference's surprise package continuing to lead the way.

Yet the Bucks and the Nets remain favourites to contest the Conference Finals this season, and their second meeting of the campaign will provide another measuring stick as to who has the edge.

The Nets will not have the unvaccinated Kyrie Irving, who made his season debut against the Indiana Pacers but cannot play in home games due to New York's vaccine mandate.

However, in Kevin Durant they have the NBA's leader in points per game (30.0), and his tussle with Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo - himself averaging 27.9 - promises to be unmissable.

Durant, team-mate James Harden and Antetokounmpo will be the star attractions in Brooklyn, yet some supposed lesser lights could have a decisive say in this marquee matchup.

 

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Milwaukee Bucks - Jrue Holiday

Holiday has been key to the Bucks' recent surge, scoring at least 20 points in five of their last eight games, registering three double-doubles in that span.

Excelling as both a scorer and facilitator, the Bucks will likely need Holiday firing on all cylinders for the offense to perform at its best against the Nets.

Brooklyn Nets - LaMarcus Aldridge

Veteran big Aldridge recently revealed he is still suffering from coronavirus symptoms despite clearing the NBA's protocols.

The Nets could certainly use Aldridge at full strength given what he has offered on the defensive end this season. His 4.3 defensive rebounds per game trail only Durant and Harden among Nets players, and he is second on the team in blocked shots with an average of 1.11.

KEY BATTLE - Can Nets bridge three-point gap?

The Bucks were among the most prolific teams in the NBA from the three-point line last month, attempting the second most (603) shots from beyond the arc and converting the third most (217).

Their three-point field goal percentage of 36 was only good enough for 14th. However, with the Nets shooting 32 per cent from deep in December, there is something of a disparity for the home side to make up.

Steve Nash's team are not short of the talent to bridge the gap, though, with Durant, Harden and Co. more than capable of going blow for blow with the Bucks should they get hot from deep.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Having lost to the Bucks back in October, the Nets will be hoping to avoid a fourth straight regular-season defeat in games against Milwaukee.

The Brooklyn Nets can count on Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge again after they were cleared to return from NBA health and safety protocols.

Durant, who was in a rich vein of form, has sat out the Nets' previous three games, while Aldridge has not featured in the past five.

They could be back on court for Thursday's game against the Philadelphia 76ers at Barclays Center, the first of a run of three at home for the Nets.

Kyrie Irving has also been released from the shackles of the same COVID-19 protocols, the NBA said on its official website.

Because Irving is unvaccinated and cannot play home games due to local restrictions in New York City, his return to action must wait.

Irving has not played all season but could be in the frame to be involved in the trip to the Indiana Pacers on January 5 or at the Chicago Bulls a week later.

The Nets lead the way in the Eastern Conference with a 23-9 record, after following up a Christmas Day win over the Los Angeles Lakers by beating the Clippers on Monday.

 

James Harden, freshly out of protocols, played lead roles in both those wins with hauls of 36 and 39 points, and now he is set to have elite support.

Durant leads the Nets in scoring this season with an average of 29.7 points per game, alongside 7.9 rebounds and 5.9 assists. 

The Nets have had three recent games postponed due to their roster being hard hit by absentees.

James Harden will not feature in Tuesday's clash with the Toronto Raptors after becoming the latest Brooklyn Nets player to enter the NBA's health and safety protocols.

Harden entered COVID-19 protocols alongside team-mate Bruce Brown prior to the game against the Raptors, the Eastern Conference-leading Nets announced.

Brooklyn now have seven players sidelined due to those protocols, including LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre' Bembry, James Johnson, Jevon Carter and Paul Millsap.

Kevin Durant was in doubt for the matchup because of right ankle soreness, however, the superstar has been cleared to face the Raptors.

The Nets have scored 100 or more points in 12 straight games, only the Minnesota Timberwolves have a longer active streak in the NBA (14), according to Stats Perform.

Brooklyn are 18-4 this season when hitting the century mark and 1-4 when they do not reach 100 points.

Durant scored a season-high 51 points against the Detroit Pistons on Sunday, which is the most by any player this season.

The former MVP has seven career 50-point games with the haul in the win over the Pistons being his first for Brooklyn. Kyrie Irving is the only Nets player with multiple 50-point games all-time (two).

The Brooklyn Nets listed Kevin Durant as questionable for Tuesday's game against the Toronto Raptors – and COVID-19 protocols have seen five others ruled out.

Durant has 'right ankle soreness', the Nets said, and that comes two days after he scored a season-high 51 points in the Nets' 116-104 win over the Detroit Pistons.

Kyrie Irving remains away from the team and unavailable having refused to be vaccinated, and Joe Harris is another confirmed absentee after undergoing ankle surgery.

The NBA's strict protocols in pandemic times mean the Nets also must cope without five more members of Steve Nash's squad.

It had been previously announced that Paul Millsap was on that list, before the Nets added LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre' Bembry, James Johnson and Jevon Carter on Tuesday.

Aldridge, Johnson and Bembry were starters, alongside Durant, in Sunday's clash with Detroit.

The clash with Toronto is due to be the first of five games in eight days at Barclays Center for the Nets, whose 19-8 record sees them lead the way in the Eastern Conference.

James Harden has reiterated patience is required for him to return to his point-scoring best despite a season-high 29 points in the Brooklyn Nets' 105-98 win over the Indiana Pacers on Friday.

Harden had only averaged 16.6 points across the first five games of the new season as he struggled in his recovery from a hamstring injury as well as adapting to the NBA's new officiating rules which have impacted his ability to draw fouls.

The 32-year-old guard had a season-high 20 points in those five games but he blew that out of the water with 21 by half-time in Friday's win over the Pacers.

Harden finished with 29 points, including three from six from beyond the arc and 16 points from the free-throw line.

"It wasn't 30, obviously," Harden said during a post-game news conference. "I keep saying it - every single game, I feel good, I feel better today, I continue to work on off days and non-game days, and on game days continue to be aggressive, get to the basket and shoot my shots.

"Nothing's gonna change. Eventually things are gonna happen where it's consistent and I'm up there playing like myself."

Harden's 19 free-throw attempts were the most he has had since moving to the Nets and usurped his season total in one game.

"It was just me being aggressive," Harden said. "The first couple of games I wasn't aggressive. I was aggressive in spurts, but just trying to be aggressive for four quarters.

"I had that burst, that speed of getting to my spots, whether I was getting to the basket or shooting my shots. I felt pretty good out there for an entire game."

Harden and Kevin Durant combined for 39 points in the first half, which is the most together since becoming team-mates after the former's trade from the Houston Rockets in January.

Durant finished with 22 points, along with 11 rebounds and seven assists, with LaMarcus Aldridge reached 20,000 career NBA points with his 21 off the bench.

Aldridge had joined the Nets in March but retired in April after citing health concerns from an irregular heartbeat before he received medical clearance to return this season.

"It feels good, man," Aldridge said. "A true blessing. Definitely didn't think it was going to happen after what happened last year.

"Stuck with it, fall back and definitely felt good to get it done and be back out there. Just feel blessed."

LaMarcus Aldridge will make a dramatic comeback to the NBA after doctors cleared him to rejoin the Brooklyn Nets, it was revealed on Friday.

Seven-time All-Star Aldridge announced his immediate retirement in April after experiencing a major health scare.

Aldridge revealed that he played against the Los Angeles Lakers while dealing with an irregular heartbeat – an issue that became worse following the 126-101 defeat for the Nets.

Now he is reported to have agreed a one-year deal worth $2.6million, with the 36-year-old eager to get back into action.

In a statement to ESPN, Aldridge said: "I retired in April based on what I believed was the wisest precautionary decision for my personal health at the time, but further testing and evaluation by several top physicians has convinced the doctors, myself and the Nets that I'm fully cleared and able to return to the rigours of the NBA.

"I loved my brief time with Brooklyn and am excited to rejoin the team in pursuit of a championship."

There was no immediate comment from the Nets, who earlier in the day requested waivers on forward Alize Johnson.

The about-turn in Aldridge's plans was not quite as surprising as his initial announcement that his career was over, with recent reports having suggested it was in the offing.

Aldridge only joined the Nets at the end of March as a free agent, averaging 12.8 points in five games after agreeing a contract buyout with the San Antonio Spurs.

He said at the time of his retirement that, despite doctors dealing effectively with his immediate health concern, the aftermath of the Lakers game "was still one of the scariest things I've experienced".

He added, back in April: "For 15 years, I've put basketball first, and now it is time to put my health and family first."

Aldridge, drafted second in the 2006 draft by the Chicago Bulls, was swiftly traded to the Portland Trail Blazers and had nine seasons in Oregon before moving on to San Antonio.

He has career per-game averages of 19.4 points and 8.2 rebounds, with a game high of 56 points, hitting 352 double-doubles.

He stands 49 points short of reaching 20,000, an early target for when he gets back on the court.

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich described LaMarcus Aldridge as a "consummate professional" after the veteran retired due to a health issue.

Aldridge played while dealing with an irregular heartbeat in the Brooklyn Nets' 126-101 defeat to the Los Angeles Lakers last Saturday, a problem that became worse after the game.

The seven-time All-Star was listed as out with a non-COVID related illness for the Nets' next two games against the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Philadelphia 76ers.

On Thursday, the 35-year-old announced he was putting his health and family first and calling it a day.

Aldridge had only joined the Nets as a free agent in March and averaged 12.8 points in five games after agreeing a contract buyout with the Spurs.

He was signed by the Spurs ahead of the 2015-16 season, helping San Antonio reach the Western Conference Finals in 2017 where they were swept by the Golden State Warriors.

"LaMarcus Aldridge enjoyed a wonderful NBA career. He was a consummate professional with a unique skill set and a deep respect for the game," Popovich said in a Spurs statement.

"We're grateful for his contributions, both on and off the court, during his time here in San Antonio.

"I'm proud of him for making this difficult decision and we wish him and his family all of the best in the future."

Selected second overall by the Chicago Bulls in the 2006 draft, Aldridge spent the majority of his career with the Portland Trail Blazers, scoring 12,562 points to sit third on the franchise's all-time list.

Aldridge played in 1,029 NBA games and finishes up averaging 19.4 points and 8.2 rebounds.

LaMarcus Aldridge has announced his immediate retirement after experiencing a health scare in what turned out to be his final NBA game.

Aldridge revealed that he played against the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday while dealing with an irregular heartbeat – an issue that became worse following the 126-101 defeat for the Brooklyn Nets.

The seven-time All-Star was listed as out due to a non-COVID-related illness for the Nets' next two outings in the regular season, against the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Philadelphia 76ers.

Now the full extent of the issue has been revealed by the 35-year-old in a statement posted on social media, during which he made clear the time has come to put his health – and also his family – first.

"Today, I write this letter with a heavy heart. My last game, I played while dealing with an irregular heartbeat. Later on that night, my rhythm got even worse, which really worried me even more," Aldridge explained.

"The next morning, I told the team what was going on and they were great getting me to the hospital and getting me checked out. Though I’m better now, what I felt with my heart that night was still one of the scariest things I’ve experienced.

"With that being said, I've made the difficult decision to retire from the NBA. For 15 years, I've put basketball first, and now it is time to put my health and family first."

Aldridge had only joined the Nets at the end of March as a free agent, averaging 12.8 points in five games after agreeing a contract buyout with the San Antonio Spurs.

However, the second overall pick by the Chicago Bulls in the 2006 draft spent the majority of his career with the Portland Trail Blazers, scoring 12,562 points to sit third on the franchise's all-time list.

Signed by the Spurs ahead of the 2015-16 season, Aldridge helped San Antonio reach the Western Conference Finals in 2017, though they were swept by the Golden State Warriors in that series.

"I'm thankful for everything this game has given me: the great memories, including all the ups and downs, and the friendships I've made and will keep with me forever," Aldridge continued.

"I thank Portland for drafting a skinny Texas kid and giving him a chance. The city of Portland has given me some unforgettable years.

"They will always remain in my heart. I want to thank the Spurs for letting me into the family and giving me five fun years.

"Last but not least, I want to thank Brooklyn. You wanted me for me. In a game that's changing so much, you asked me to come and just do what I do, which was good to hear. I’m sorry it didn't get to last long, but I've definitely had fun being a part of this special group.

"You never know when something will come to an end, so make sure you enjoy it every day. I can truly say I did just that."

Aldridge played in 1,029 NBA games and finishes up averaging 19.4 points and 8.2 rebounds. 

The Brooklyn Nets will be undermanned for Wednesday's blockbuster NBA matchup with Eastern Conference rivals the Philadelphia 76ers after Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin were ruled out.

Brooklyn and Philadelphia are set to do battle in a first-place showdown midweek – the two championship hopefuls share 37-17 win-loss records atop the east.

But the Nets will be without superstar Durant (hamstring – injury management) and former All-Stars Aldridge (illness – non-covid related) and Griffin (knee – injury management) as the trio join James Harden (hamstring) on the sidelines.

The star-studded Nets, however, do welcome back Kyrie Irving after he missed Tuesday's 127-97 rout of the Minnesota Timberwolves due to personal reasons.

Former MVP Durant was in doubt for the 76ers clash after playing 27 minutes against the Timberwolves.

Durant posted 31 points on 11-for-15 shooting in his third appearance following a 23-game injury absence.

The Nets-Timberwolves matchup was initially scheduled for Monday, but it was pushed back in the aftermath of Daunte Wright being shot and killed by a police officer in Minneapolis.

It meant Durant faced the prospect of back-to-back games, which the Nets opted to avoid as they eye their maiden NBA title.

Durant is averaging 28.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists for the star-studded Nets this season.

He is also shooting a career-high 44.8 per cent from three-point range, while the two-time NBA champion (53.5) only boasted a better field-goal percentage in 2016-17 (53.7).

The Brooklyn Nets will be without star Kyrie Irving for Monday's NBA game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Irving is set to sit out the Timberwolves clash due to personal reasons, the Nets announced on Sunday.

The 2016 champion and seven-time All-Star missed three games last month because of a family matter, with Irving playing in 38 of Brooklyn's 53 games this season.

Irving – who was ejected from Saturday's 126-101 loss to defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers – is averaging 27.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game in 2020-21.

The star-studded Nets – already missing superstar James Harden (hamstring) – will also be without LaMarcus Aldridge against the Timberwolves.

Seven-time All-Star Aldridge is listed as out for a non-coronavirus-related illness.

The Nets and Philadelphia 76ers both share 36-17 win-loss records atop the Eastern Conference.

Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash said "of course" James Harden's absence was a factor as the NBA championship hopefuls lost to the Chicago Bulls.

The Nets – already missing Kevin Durant (hamstring) – were without MVP candidate Harden due to right hamstring tightness for Sunday's 115-107 defeat against the Bulls.

Kyrie Irving led the way with 24 points and 15 assists for the short-handed Nets, who had won five consecutive games and 10 of their last 12.

Harden has been averaging 25.9 points, 11.1 assists and 8.2 rebounds per game this season and Nash told reporters: "Of course it's a factor [playing without Harden].

"I mean, you're losing an MVP candidate, you're not as potent. But we still have found a way to win a lot of games this year to win without guys in the line-up.

"So tonight I just thought we weren't quite sharp enough, we didn't move the ball enough, make quick enough decisions, get downhill and really stretch em out, so credit to them.

"They played well. We didn't play our best. I don't want to make any excuses about who wasn't here. We could have played a little bit better, a little bit sharper, a little more thrust of pace, and we'll learn from it."

The Nets used a bigger line-up against the Bulls, with former All-Stars Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge both in the starting five.

Griffin had 10 points, eight rebounds and two assists in 22 minutes, while Aldridge finished with 11 points, three rebounds and three assists.

"We'll see how they come out of this. But we experimented with a big line-up. It was very unlike us in one respect. I don't love it for us," added Nash.

"Having said that, it's hard to judge it on one performance. I think some of it we experimented with because of the availability and matchups, but going forward, that's not something I think we'll see a ton of."

The Brooklyn Nets have made it 20 wins from their past 23 matches with a 111-89 victory over the Charlotte Hornets without injured star pair Kevin Durant and James Harden on Thursday.

LaMarcus Aldridge impressed in his Nets debut, as Brooklyn blew away the Hornets, who were without the injured LaMelo Ball, in the first quarter with a 32-11 start.

Kyrie Irving had 15 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists but it was Jeff Green who top scored with 21 points including five three-pointers.

The Nets may have been missing James Harden due to hamstring tightness but improved to a 34-15 record to sit top of the Eastern Conference.

The Philadephia 76ers are still right behind them, having overcome the Cleveland Cavaliers 114-94 on Thursday.

The 76ers were also without their star man Joel Embiid, who has now missed 10 games, but they shot 40 per cent from three-point range.

Shake Mitton was the leading exponent with five threes in his match-high 27 points as the 76ers tied with the Nets for most road wins in the East with 14.

 

Curry on fire, another Westbrook triple-double

Stephen Curry scored 36 points and had 11 rebounds in his second game back but it was not enough as the Golden State Warriors lost 116-109 to the Miami Heat.

The Heat, who had Victor Oladipo debut with six points and five assists, end their four-game home losing streak.

The Los Angeles Clippers suffered their second straight defeat, going down to the Denver Nuggets 101-94 with guard Jamal Murray impressing again with 23 points and eight rebounds.

Center Nikola Jokic scored 14 points along with seven rebounds and seven assists for Denver as the Clippers were always playing catch-up after a 20-31 opening quarter.

Kawhi Leonard was a lone hand with 24 points, 12 rebounds and four assists as the Clippers slipped to a 32-18.

The Orlando Magic got past the New Orleans Pelicans 115-110 in over-time, along with the Atlanta Hawks 134-129 against the San Antonio Spurs in OT.

Russell Westbrook got another triple-double as the Washington Wizards lost 120-91 to the Detroit Pistons.

 

Wayward Clippers

It was not a good night for the Clippers, losing back-to-back games and shooting less than 30 per cent from three-point range, including two-from-seven from guard Paul George, while Reggie Jackson went at 20 per cent from beyond the arc.

 

Aldridge's delightful debut

After missing the last two games with a sore foot since his recruitment from the San Antonio Spurs, veteran LaMarcus Aldridge did a bit of everything on his Brooklyn debut with 11 points, nine rebounds, two steals and six assists.

 

Thursday's results:

Philadelphia 76ers 114-94 Cleveland Cavaliers
Detroit Pistons 120-91 Washington Wizards
Brooklyn Nets 111-89 Charlotte Hornets
Orlando Magic 115-110 New Orleans Pelicans
Miami Heat 116-109 Golden State Warriors
Atlanta Hawks 134-129 San Antonio Spurs
Denver Nuggets 101-94 Los Angeles Clippers

 

Bucks in Portland

Damian Lillard's Portland Trail Blazers (29-18) play host to the Giannis Antetokounmpo's Milwaukee Bucks (30-17) in the highlight Friday fixture.

James Harden will not play for the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday, but the Eastern Conference leaders could see LaMarcus Aldridge make his debut against the Charlotte Hornets.

Harden exited Brooklyn's 120-108 win over his former team the Houston Rockets on Wednesday due to tightness in his right hamstring.

The nine-time All-Star had contributed 17 points, eight rebounds and six assists before his departure with just under five minutes remaining in the third quarter.

"I think he told the trainer when he was on the sideline, and they went back to look at it, and they just decided that it wasn't worth risking it," Nets head coach Steve Nash said after the game.

Harden, as well as Blake Griffin, have now been ruled out for the game with the Hornets.

However, having signed for the franchise on Sunday, Aldridge is available along with Landry Shamet, who has missed the previous five games due to a sprained ankle.

Aldridge has not played since March 1 when he was still with San Antonio. He agreed a contract buyout with the Spurs having averaged 13.7 points in 21 games, making him a free agent.

The 35-year-old joined Brooklyn on a deal for the remainder of the season, adding further depth to a star-studded roster.

Following their triumph over the Rockets, the Nets own a 33-15 record to sit atop the East. They have won eight of their previous 10 outings, despite the continued absence of Kevin Durant due to a hamstring injury that has kept him out since February 13.

The Brooklyn Nets are well and truly stacked for a championship run.

If superstars James Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving were not enough, the Nets turned to the buyout market and acquired former All-Stars Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge.

The Nets now boast a combined 41 All-Star appearances on their roster – Durant (11), Harden (nine), Aldridge (seven), Irving (seven), Griffin (six) and DeAndre Jordan (one). On the all-time list, only the Boston Celtics have managed more, across three different teams in 1977-78 (42), 2011-12 (43) and 2010-11 (56).

Jason Collins was part of the franchise, then known as the New Jersey Nets, that reached back-to-back NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003, and he told Stats Perform News: "I know KD and James have played together in the past [with the Oklahoma City Thunder]. Kyrie, at this point, realises this team is something special, especially when you're adding Blake and LaMarcus, and already have DeAndre Jordan.

"All of these guys recognise they are playing for a championship. They might only get one shot, these newer guys who haven't already won. This team reminds of me of the Houston Rockets from a few years ago when they had Chris Paul, who was clicking on all cylinders, and Harden. Then Chris got injured. They had a shot to beat the Golden [State] Warriors that season.

"Now, you see with the Nets – you have these tremendous playmakers. If one goes down or has an off night, oh by the way, you have two other guys who can make plays and for team-mates who are former All-Stars. They have a squad right now. I know Space Jam is coming out soon, maybe we're getting a glimpse at the Monstars."

The foundations were set last season, when Durant – recovering from an Achilles injury that meant he sat out the entire 2019-20 campaign – and Irving made the move to Brooklyn via the Golden State Warriors and Celtics respectively. But the Nets cemented 'superteam' status after trading for former MVP Harden in January.

There were question marks when first-year head coach Steve Nash and the Nets acquired Harden from the Rockets, with the three-time NBA scoring champion, Durant and Irving predominately ballhandlers.

Harden, Durant and Irving, however, have managed to make it work in the small time spent on court together – Durant has been absent since February due to a hamstring injury, having also sat out because of health and safety protocols, while Irving has also missed time this season.

Per 100 possessions, Harden – who has a franchise record-equalling 12 triple-doubles this season – has been averaging 21.1 points, 15.1 assists, 9.4 rebounds and 13.9 field-goal attempts when sharing the court with Durant and Irving.

Durant's numbers read 32.8, 3.5, 9.2 and 23.8, while Irving is averaging 31.3, 5.5, 6.7 and 21.3 at the same time.

Despite the continued absence of former MVP and two-time NBA champion Durant, the Nets have won 19 of their past 22 games to top the Eastern Conference.

Prior to Wednesday's win over the Houston Rockets, the Nets have been leading the NBA in points per game and field goal percentage this season – only the Stephen Curry-led Warriors (2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018) and the Nash-led Suns (2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010) have managed to do that in the last 30 years. As of March 30, the Nets were also leading the league in points.

In terms of effective field-goal percentage, the Nets (57.6 as of March 30) are on pace to set an NBA record, which would eclipse the 2017-18 Warriors (56.9).

"For all the injuries and the games that have been missed by one or all of those superstars, they have been doing great. Especially when you have new talent coming in, new pieces," said Collins, who spent his first seven years in the NBA with the Nets before leaving in 2008 and returning briefly in 2014. "It takes a while. Sometimes it can take half a season and in this shortened season, they're doing great. You have to tip your cap to the players, but the coaches, they are doing an excellent job making sure all the pieces are fitting.

"You're still adding the mix with LaMarcus and Blake. It seems he has found his ability to jump and dunk, it's glad to see his body is responding well. It's pretty obvious to see with this team that they're not necessarily playing for positioning in the regular season, this team is built for the postseason. That is why I think they're being so cautious with KD and his return. My hats off to Kyrie Irving for recognising that he needs to step away from time to time.

"With Harden, in his mind he is the MVP. A lot of people who follow the NBA are recognising the James Harden who started the season with the Houston Rockets, that guy is no longer in the building. The guy in the building in Brooklyn is the guy we have seen for the past several years, who is an MVP candidate."

Harden's 11.2 assists per game this season is on pace to be the most by a player averaging 25.0-plus points since Tiny Archibald averaged 11.4 in 1972-73 (as of March 30). He, Irving and Durant dominate the headlines, but the likes of Joe Harris, Nicolas Claxton, Bruce Brown and Landry Shamet have proved to be an effective support cast in a further sign of frightening depth.

"When you're going to go up against them [Durant, Harden and Irving], you're going to have to leave someone open and it's going to be those other guys. I think Shamet will be huge in the playoffs, Harris also," Collins, the 42-year-old former center, said.

"Just because of reputation, you're going to be hesitant to leave DeAndre Jordan, if you're the center, you know you can't let him get behind because you know it will be a dunk. So, you're afraid to step up and help. With those big three, you're not going to leave them either so it's going to be the others on the guard – a shooter or somebody who is going to get a lot of good looks."

Eyebrows were raised when the Nets appointed two-time MVP Nash to replace Kenny Atkinson ahead of the season, despite his lack of coaching experience.

The Nets were coming off a first-round playoff exit inside the Orlando bubble last season when they handed Hall of Famer Nash his first head coaching role.

But Nash – supported by veteran Mike D'Antoni in Brooklyn – has impressed from the outset, juggling a superstar trio, injuries and the coronavirus pandemic in the pursuit of NBA glory.

An NBA ring eluded Nash during his stellar playing career, but a championship in his first season as head coach would see him follow in the footsteps of Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse (2019), Los Angeles Clippers coach Tyronn Lue (Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016), Warriors counterpart Steve Kerr (2015), Pat Riley (Los Angeles Lakers in 1982) and Paul Westhead (Lakers in 1980) – who are the last five men since 1977 to achieve the feat.

"I think he was thrown into the deep end but as athletes and competitors, you kind of like being thrown into the deep end because that's what you work hard for," Collins said. "He isn't alone, he has great staff and players who have played at the highest level. It's definitely a group effort.

"I have to add, nothing would be possible without ownership. Ownership in the NBA is so important. Joe Lacob has done a phenomenal job with the Golden State Warriors. Also now Joseph Tsai with the Brooklyn Nets. He has told [general manager] Sean Marks, do what you need to do to create this culture and you'll have support. It's just great to see when an organisation, from ownership, to general manager, to team president, head coach, assistant coach and it all falls in line. You're setting yourself up for success."

The Nets have never won a championship since their first NBA season in 1976-77 – a run of 44 consecutive seasons. Byron Scott's team – featuring Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin and Collins – came close in the early 2000s, but in two appearances in the Finals they were swept by the Lakers and beaten 4-2 by the San Antonio Spurs.

Among active streaks in the league, the Nets have the eighth-longest drought alongside the Denver Nuggets and Indiana Pacers, behind the Sacramento Kings (69). Their rivals, the New York Knicks, have been waiting 47 years.

"The elephant in the room that we're all dealing with [the pandemic]," Collins said. "I can't think of any other part of our country hit harder than New York City. To end this year in the pandemic, if they were to win a championship, it would give so much hope to a lot of people. I lost one of my uncles to COVID recently and he lives in New York. People are still being affected and dying. It would mean a lot just to see the Nets win a championship for the city of New York.

"I think it will be huge if the Nets are able to win. It's all set up because they now have the target on their back with all the All-Stars on their team. Even if they don't get the number one seed, even if they finish at number three or four, which I doubt they will, they will still have the target on their back because they have all those names.

"If they are playing at all cylinders, they have the best chance out of the east. I love what Doc Rivers is doing in Philadelphia and I love the season Joel Embiid was having before injury.

"I'm really looking forward to that Eastern Conference championship between the Nets and 76ers, no disrespect to the others. I think the Nets just have more horses than the other squads."

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