James Harden's first two games out of the COVID-19 healthy and safety protocols were dominant and the Brooklyn Nets are curious how Kevin Durant's return from the protocol will look.
Durant is expected to return from a two-week absence Thursday night when the Nets host the Philadelphia 76ers.
Harden delivered a pair of spectacular performances to help the Nets win road games against the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers after being placed in the protocol on Dec. 14. He returned with a triple-double of 36 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in Saturday's 122-115 win over the Los Angeles Lakers and followed it up with a showing of 39 points, 15 assists and eight rebounds in Monday's 124-108 win over the Clippers.
"I just locked in on my body, my eating and when I was able to start working out, my workouts. I felt good," said Harden, who is averaging 25.3 points in seven games this month. "My body felt good."
Harden's return occurred as the Nets start getting players back after playing significantly short-handed for three games and seeing three games postponed. The Nets also got rotation players DeAndre' Bembry, Bruce Brown and James Johnson back over the weekend and LaMarcus Aldridge is also expected to play Thursday.
"Hopefully (Harden) can continue this and when we get everybody back, it's going to be scary hours for real," Brooklyn center Nic Claxton said Monday.
Durant is averaging 29.7 points and was placed in the protocol on Dec. 18, two days after totaling 34 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists in a 114-105 win over the 76ers. Durant's second dominant showing against Philadelphia this season came after a 51-point game in Detroit on Dec. 12, and a triple-double over the Toronto Raptors on Dec. 14 when the Nets first started placing several players in the protocol.
Philadelphia is seeking its third three-game winning streak of the season and a fourth straight road win after getting wins over the Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors.
In Tuesday's 114-109 win over Toronto, Joel Embiid totaled 36 points and 11 rebounds, marking his sixth straight road game with at least 30 points, and it helped Philadelphia survive nearly blowing a 17-point lead. Embiid is averaging 28.8 points this month and 26.0 on the season.
"I will take any win on the road, any time, any way," Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers said. "I don't sit back and judge like, ‘Well, we didn't win by 10 tonight, or 12.' We won the game."
One of Embiid's notable road performances came two weeks ago when he scored 32 points in Brooklyn in a game the Sixers nearly erased a 20-point deficit.
Like every team in the league, the Sixers have players in the health and safety protocols, and as of Wednesday they were without rotation players Andre Drummond, Danny Green and Shake Milton, who may be out again Thursday.
Besides Embiid's latest dominant performance, the Sixers got a unique triple-double Tuesday from Tobias Harris, who shot 3 of 17 in his last appearance in Brooklyn on Dec. 16. Harris missed nine of 12 shots but totaled 19 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists for his first career triple-double in a game where he also committed four turnovers and picked up five fouls.
"We'll take it, but we have to get better in a lot of areas," Harris said.