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Joe Harris poised for leadership role during NBA restart

Joe Harris poised for leadership role during NBA restart

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Brooklyn Nets guard Joe Harris shoots a 3-pointer earlier this season.

Kevin Durant won’t play for the Brooklyn Nets this season. Kyrie Irving also is out for the season. Wilson Chandler opted out of the NBA’s restart in Orlando. DeAndre Jordan also decided against playing after testing positive for COVID-19, and Spencer Dinwiddie did the same following multiple positive COVID-19 tests. Taurean Waller-Prince joins the group of players recovering from COVID-19 and not participating in the restart.

The Nets’ injury report looks more like a full roster than a list of players missing the restart.

Brooklyn enters the NBA’s seeding games with a depleted roster, but it also holds a six-game lead over the ninth-place Washington Wizards. Making the playoffs remains a very realistic possibility.

The Nets sit as the seventh-best team in the Eastern Conference with the Orlando Magic just half a game behind in eighth place. They’ll play eight “seeding games” ahead of the playoffs. If the Nets stay in seventh place in the standings, they’re in the playoffs.

If Brooklyn finishes in eighth place and the ninth-place team is within four games in the standings at season’s end, there will be a best-of-two series between the Nets and the team in ninth. The ninth-place team would need to win both of those games to make the playoffs.

It’s an unusual format brought about by an unusual season. Without its normal roster, Brooklyn faces major obstacles.

Former Virginia star and current Net Joe Harris will be called upon as one of the team’s top contributors for the rest of the season.

Of the three Nets players who average at least 30 minutes per game this season, only Harris remains on the restart roster. Five of the nine players to average at least 20 minutes this season won’t play in Orlando.

The new roster immediately jumps into meaningful games, with Orlando and Washington being the first two games on the Nets’ restart schedule.

“These first two games are huge,” Harris said in a recent media teleconference. “Obviously we’re excited to be back playing a normal, regular-season type game. I think the scrimmages were great just to work over a lot of new stuff, bring in some guys who were new to the organization, get familiar with one another, but we’re all ready to go. We’re ready to compete, and we realize how important these first two games are.”

One of the new guys on the Brooklyn roster is former Wahoo Justin Anderson. The wing played in three games for the Nets this season, while spending most of the year in the G League. He may be asked to log minutes with the Nets’ missing many of their stars.

Despite the absence of key players, the season continues forward and playoffs loom after the eight seeding games.

Brooklyn wants to earn a spot in the postseason.

Doing so without several contributors brings with it challenges. The issues with COVID-19 within the team illustrate the challenges of safely resuming play.

“I think it’s difficult for everybody,” Harris said. “You’re seeing how difficult it is for the MLB, NFL, all these different leagues – NHL – to try and get this [going], and I’d say we’re fortunate where we’re in a position where the NBA has done an extremely good job of allowing us to be here, providing us this sort of environment where we all feel safe and comfortable and really to not have a lot of cases or a lot distractions for that matter.”

Brooklyn’s problems with COVID-19 came largely before spending time in the NBA’s bubble. Now that the Nets are within the Orlando bubble, they’re hopeful they won’t lose out on any more players the rest of the season.

On Wednesday, the NBA announced zero positive test results from the 344 athletes tested since results were last announced on July 20. So far, the bubble seems safe. Harris hopes it remains that way.

“We’ve been able to run a pretty clean ship up to this point, and hopefully we can continue through the start of these games and into the playoffs,” Harris said.

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