The good news for the Nets is that coach Steve Nash said Harden did not need an MRI and should be ready to play Wednesday against the Chicago Bulls.
"I think we're being overly cautious," Nash said prior to Monday's game. "A heavy stretch of games. Expect him to play Wednesday."
Nash said after Sunday's 121-119 overtime win over the San Antonio Spurs that both Harden and star forward Kevin Durant wanted to play in Monday's game, which was rescheduled from a Dec. 23 postponement because of a COVID-19 outbreak among the Nets' roster. But the Nets changed course with so many games in the near future, including another back-to-back on Wednesday and Thursday: a road game against the Bulls and a home game against the New Orleans Pelicans.
Harden played 44 minutes in Sunday's game and is averaging 38.6 minutes per game so far this month. Durant noted that part of the reason he wanted to play, even after a cross-country flight on the second night of a back-to-back, is so he can continue building "chemistry" with guard Kyrie Irving. Irving, who is not vaccinated against COVID-19, returned to the lineup in a Jan. 5 win over the Indiana Pacers but is still not able to play in home games because of the vaccination mandate in New York City.
Nash said that Durant's minutes would be watched against the Blazers, but he ended up playing 42 minutes in the loss. Irving played 40.
"We'll find him a game to miss somewhere coming up," Nash said of Durant. "We always know it's hard to limit his minutes, one, from a competitive standpoint it's hard to limit his minutes because he wants to play, especially in games like this [when] we got a chance to win. So then we got to find games where we can sit him out and rest him."
Durant, when asked if he was worried about his minutes, said he wasn't concerned.
"No! Let me die out there! ... Nah, I'm just playing," Durant joked. "But no, I'm not concerned. Whenever coach wants to give me a day, I'll support that. But I'm not looking for one. I'm just gonna play until they tell me I'm sitting out. But that's not on my mind when I'm playing. That's not on my mind when I'm preparing for a game. It is what it is. I gotta play 40, so what? If they tell me to sit out, I'm gonna do the same thing."
Nets center LaMarcus Aldridge missed his second straight game because of right foot soreness. Nash said he does not expect Aldridge to play Wednesday in Chicago.