Nets star James Harden will play in Christmas game vs. Lakers

Published December 25, 2021, 8:00 AMNBA.com News Services

Coach Steve Nash says Harden will be active after clearing Health and Safety Protocols.

Brooklyn Nets coach Steve Nash says James Harden will play in Saturday’s Christmas Day game against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Harden, along with Paul Millsap and Jevon Carter, cleared the NBA’s Health and Safety Protocols on Thursday.

The Nets have had their last three scheduled games postponed — among the NBA’s nine postponements thus far — when a coronavirus outbreak left them with a league-high 10 players in protocols.

Teams need a minimum of eight players to start a game. Nash said the Nets have more than enough to do that now. However, the Nets don’t expect any of their players still in the protocols to come out in time for the game. That would include Kevin Durant, the NBA’s leading scorer.

By late Thursday afternoon, based on team injury reports or similar disclosures, there were more than 90 NBA players dealing with a virus-related issue — often a positive test, though not always.

The list included stars such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic and Trae Young. All three are scheduled to be part of the NBA’s five-game holiday schedule.

Later Thursday, the Washington Wizards announced star Bradley Beal would miss that night’s game at the New York Knicks because of Health and Safety Protocols. Beal, who missed out on the chance to play in the Olympics last year after testing positive, said before this season he was unvaccinated.

The Detroit Pistons said on Thursday evening they had added four players to the protocols, where they joined rookie Cade Cunningham, the team’s leading scorer.

It is important to note that players can enter and exit the Health and Safety Protocols list quickly in some cases, some teams do not release updated numbers except when mandated by league rule, and not everyone on the list has tested positive for COVID-19.

Also important: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said earlier this week in an interview with ESPN that positive-testing players who have received booster shots tend to show, at worst, very mild symptoms. The league says 97% of players are fully vaccinated; the National Basketball Players Association says 65% are boosted, and it is a top priority of the union right now to get that number much higher.

Durant was placed in protocols last Saturday along with Kyrie Irving, a day after the Nets said they were bringing the point guard back to play in road games. There’s still time for him to return two negative tests 24 hours apart to be cleared, though Nash said the Nets weren’t expecting that.

With the Lakers’ Anthony Davis already sidelined with a sprained left knee, Durant’s absence would remove another superstar from what was expected to be one of the marquee games of the regular season when it was scheduled.

The Nets have the best record in the Eastern Conference, but Nash said it’s going to be difficult to pick up where they left off after not playing for a week.

“We’re one of the few teams around that league that’s had a pause, so to jump back into the rhythm of the league is a difficult task,” he said. “But we have to approach it with excitement and opportunity, and also not put too much pressure on ourselves to re-enter.”

Teams are being allowed to sign players to replace those sidelined by positive tests, and at least 40 such hardship contracts — which won’t count against a team’s salary cap or luxury tax numbers — have been executed in the last few days. Some of the players are relative unknowns or new to the league; others, like Boston’s Joe Johnson, Atlanta’s Lance Stephenson and the Lakers’ Isaiah Thomas, have largely been out of the league for years. The 40-year-old Johnson played on Wednesday, his first NBA game since 2018. Stephenson also debuted for the Hawks on Wednesday, his first NBA game since 2019.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.