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Is James Harden playing tonight against the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 5 of the 2021 NBA Playoffs Round 2?

Brooklyn Nets stars James Harden and Kevin Durant
Brooklyn Nets stars James Harden and Kevin Durant
ANALYST

It's now or never for the Brooklyn Nets and their championship hopes as they host the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday night, potentially without stars James Harden and Kyrie Irving.

Harden was dominant in their first-round series against the Boston Celtics, averaging 27.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 10.6 assists. However, he pulled up in the first minute of their semifinal series with the Bucks last week, with the team later reporting that he had suffered a hamstring strain. Irving has also been sidelined after spraining his ankle in game four on Sunday.

Whether or not the talismanic guard returns in the series remains to be seen. After Steve Nash had initially ruled James Harden out of game five, the team have updated his status to doubtful. Should he be out, the offensive burden will be left to Kevin Durant.

What would James Harden's sustained absence mean for the Brooklyn Nets?

James Harden was influential in the Brooklyn Nets first-round series against the Celtics
James Harden was influential in the Brooklyn Nets first-round series against the Celtics

After easing past the Milwaukee Bucks in games one and two, the Brooklyn Nets now face an uphill battle with two of their superstars injured. There was hope that James Harden would be able to return sooner rather than later. However, there is a reluctance to rush him back given his hamstring problems throughout the regular season.

So where does this leave the Nets prior to game five?

They are in a tough spot and in a position where they may be on the edge of elimination from the playoffs. James Harden has been the side's key distributor on offense since moving from Houston, taking over the point guard duties from Kyrie Irving.

He was Brooklyn's primary facilitator throughout the regular season and, indeed, one of the best in the NBA, averaging 10.9 assists per game after moving to the East coast. Continuing without his creativity and shot-making ability may be the deciding factor in the Nets' efforts to advance to the Conference Finals.

Mike James will take up the majority of minutes left by Kyrie Irving in the backcourt, while Bruce Brown Jr. will likely retain his position in the starting lineup alongside him if James Harden starts. Steve Nash will be looking to Kevin Durant to be explosive on offense and score north of 35 points if the Brooklyn Nets are to have a chance of winning in game five.

Durant is not a creator, however, and is not a natural point guard by any means. He can bring the ball down the court, of course, but he is a pull-up shooter, deadly from mid-range and from beyond the arc.

In his NBA career, he has rarely been asked to be his team's focal point through which the offense is run. However, he will have to take up the reigns from James Harden in this role and help to make open looks for the likes of Joe Harris, who will need to step up.

Brooklyn Nets fans will be praying that James Harden and Kyrie Irving are available for game six because by that point they may need all the help they can get to avoid elimination.

Edited by Prem Deshpande
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