Nearly full-strength Nets face suddenly shaky Clippers

Sports

In recent weeks, almost every NBA team saw numerous players enter and exit the COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

One of the hardest-hit teams was the Brooklyn Nets, but they will be at relatively full strength Saturday night when they host the Los Angeles Clippers.

Over the past two weeks, almost the entire Nets roster entered the protocol, forcing the team to scramble to fill roster spots and resulting in three postponements.

Brooklyn’s missing players included stars James Harden and Kevin Durant, who both made successful returns. The last player to clear the protocol was rookie Kessler Edwards, who was among those to fill in admirably when the Nets started losing players in mid-December.

Harden is set to play his fourth game since returning.

The star guard came back in immediately registered a triple-double of 36 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in a 122-115 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Dec. 25. He followed that up on Monday with 39 points and 15 assists in a 124-108 win over the Clippers, and then he notched another triple-double Thursday with 33 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists in a 110-102 home loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Harden heads into Saturday averaging 26.3 in his past eight games.

Durant seamlessly returned from missing three games, scoring 33 points on 13-of-24 shooting in the loss to Philadelphia.

“Overall, that’s pretty impressive after a break to play the way he did,” Brooklyn coach Steve Nash said. “For him, it’s still going to take him a couple games to really get back to his level. But having said that, this was pretty impressive. Just as a team, too many mistakes here and there that hampered some good performances.”

Durant’s first game in two weeks was his fifth straight game with at least 30 points, and he is averaging 33.1 points over his past eight contests.

“I feel good, but it’s definitely going to, next game, be better,” Durant said.

The Clippers won four straight from Dec. 6-13 but are 2-6 in their past eight games, a stretch that has seen them lose Paul George to a torn elbow ligament.

Los Angeles has minor issues with personnel in the protocol as only rookie Ivica Zubac, Brandon Boston Jr., Jay Scrubb and coach Tyronn Lue were missing Friday in their 116-108 road loss to the Toronto Raptors. All are expected to be out again Saturday, and the Clippers again will be coached by Brian Shaw, who started Serge Ibaka at center for Zubac.

The Clippers took their latest loss despite shooting 48.7 percent and hitting 15 3-pointers. Los Angeles was outscored 34-21 in the fourth quarter and also allowed the Raptors to get 11 of their 21 second-chance points in the fourth. Toronto finished with a 54-37 rebounding advantage.

“We played better tonight when we played small, especially that second unit in the first half when they came in and got us not only back into the game, but got us the lead,” Shaw said. “So, there’s gonna be times that we have to play like that. We just have to have a better effort collectively on the boards.”

Los Angeles’ Marcus Morris Sr. scored 20 points Friday and has scored 67 points in three games since returning from the protocol on Monday. Terance Mann notched 18 and 11 rebounds against the Raptors, and Reggie Jackson added 17 in his return from the protocol.

–Field Level Media

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