James Harden’s status uncertain as Brookly Nets host Charlotte Hornets

Dec 27, 2020; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Devonte’ Graham (4) drives in during the second half against the Brooklyn Nets at the Spectrum Center. Hornets won 106-104. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

As the season has unfolded, it’s no surprise that the Brooklyn Nets hold one of the top spots in the Eastern Conference.

The Charlotte Hornets weren’t tagged as a team that would be in that mix.

However, the fourth-place Hornets are trying to wedge themselves among the elite. Another chance to display their progress comes in a Thursday night game against the first-place Nets in New York.

“The noise is tough, though. People want to talk about where we’re at or where we could be or we should be,” Hornets coach James Borrego said. “All that matters to us is that we continue to grow and develop. Stay present, stay in the moment. I’m really proud of our guys in that regard. We have not got ahead of ourselves. There’s no looking ahead.”

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The Nets, who tripped the visiting Houston Rockets 120-108 on Wednesday night, hold the best record in the Eastern Conference. Their 33-15 record includes a 19-6 mark in home games.

“I’m really proud of our guys,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “They’ve had a lot thrown at them this year. We’ve had a lot of different lineups. A tough schedule, and a new group.”

The Nets, who’ve won three straight games and five of their past six, will have questions regarding James Harden, who missed the final quarter of the Wednesday contest because of right hamstring tightness.

“We’re going to monitor it,” Nash said. “We feel optimistic (that) it’s not a long-term thing.”

Harden produced six triple-doubles in March and already has tied the single-season franchise record of 12.

The Nets weren’t stellar at times against Houston, as they needed to rally from an early 18-point deficit. Nash called it a painful first quarter and pointed out that it wasn’t until the second half that Brooklyn began to play up to its capabilities.

“They know that it wasn’t good enough, wasn’t tough enough,” Nash said. “It doesn’t matter what’s said. We talked it over. (The players) took the challenge.”

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Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving recorded 31 points along with a season-high 12 assists and Joe Harris, who drained seven 3-point shots, pumped in 28 points for the Nets.

The Hornets, who have won four of their past five games, will be in the second game of a six-game road swing.

“A tough road trip, Brooklyn-Indiana back-to-back and Boston coming up,” center Cody Zeller said.

The Hornets have impressed Borrego by keeping focus on the daily grind rather than being consumed with the big picture as the team’s stock has risen. Even so, Borrego said, “There’s a few things to clean up before Brooklyn.”

Charlotte has had six different players finish as its leading scorer across the past seven games, with only Terry Rozier holding that label twice. Rozier’s late-game baskets proved crucial Tuesday night in the Hornets’ 114-104 road victory over the Washington Wizards.

“We have confidence in him, and I know he has a lot of confidence in himself,” Zeller said of Rozier.

The Hornets won their first matchup with the Nets this season, a 106-104 decision on Dec. 27 in Charlotte.

–Field Level Media