Nets sharpshooter Joe Harris was ruled out for Friday’s matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks with what the team is calling left knee soreness.
Head coach Jacque Vaughn said Harris reported some soreness in his knee after Friday’s pregame walkthrough.
“So, we believe him,” Vaughn said ahead of tip-off. “And we’re gonna rule him out.”
Vaughn said Harris was set as the first player off the bench behind a starting lineup of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Ben Simmons, Royce O’Neale and Nic Claxton before the late scratch.
“It does change things,” Vaughn said of Harris’ absence. “We’ll have to look at how we can get an advantage tonight [against the Bucks] strategically — when we want to play small. If we want to play small, if we’re going to add another guy to the mix. We’re still going to talk through that after this.”
RESPECT FOR BEN
Budenholzer says Nets star Ben Simmons creates a different challenge in game-planning for the Nets than the iteration of the team that featured James Harden.
“He’s such a unique player, Ben Simmons, he brings a lot to the table particularly defensively,” Budenholzer said of Simmons ahead of tipoff against the Nets on Friday. “Again we’ve played him more with other teams [the Philadelphia 76ers], but he can really change the game on that end of the court. And then his play making, his ability to get in the paint, facilitate, pass, his vision, so it is different (from preparing for the Nets with Harden).
“I don’t think I can pretend to know [what it’s going to look like with Simmons fully healthy]. I’m sure they’re still, to some degree, trying to figure it out, too. But we have a lot of respect for Ben Simmons and what he brings to both sides of the floor.”
Budenholzer’s Bucks have a long history with the Nets, highlighted by the electric second-round series that went to Game 7 in 2021. The Nets were battered without Kyrie Irving (ankle) and a hobbled Harden (hamstring), but forced overtime on a miraculous, toe-on-the-line two from Kevin Durant that nearly won the game at the buzzer.
The Bucks won in overtime, defeated the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals, then defeated the Phoenix Suns, 4-2, to win the 2021 NBA Finals.
Both Budenholzer and Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn said their teams tried to treat Friday’s showdown like any other game, but the history between the two teams gave both sides added motivation.
“They’re such a good team, have so much talent. There’s a lot of respect for their whole group,” Budenholzer said. “We try and have the same approach every night, but players are players, and I think they enjoy the challenge of going against the best guys in the league, the best teams in the league, and these guys have always been that.”
BUCKS’ MIDDLETON STILL NOT RIGHT
Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer says injured All-Star forward Khris Middleton is “making progress probably not at the rate that [the team] had hoped.”
Middleton has not played since sustaining a right knee injury in Milwaukee’s Dec. 15 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. Wednesday’s matchup against the Nets marked the fourth consecutive missed game for the star forward, whose season didn’t start until Dec. 2 due to offseason wrist surgery.
Budenholzer said Middleton still needs to adjust to the rigors of the NBA schedule. Milwaukee’s coach said the team had hoped their star forward would return before the end of their five-game road trip, but Wednesday marked Game 3 of the trip and Middleton’s status remains unclear.
“He only played four or five games so there’s still that being ready for an NBA game and all that goes into that,” Budenholzer said ahead of tip-off against the Nets at Barclays Center on Friday. “So we’ll see how the next 24-48 hours go but I know I said it at the beginning of the (road) trip that we hoped he’d be playing by the end of it. Now we’re getting closer to the end, but we’ll see what happens in the next 24-48.”
Budenholzer says the Bucks remain encouraged by Middleton’s progress and hope to preserve him for the end of the season.
“I’d say overall we’re encouraged and I think he’s in a good place,” he said. “He’ll play when he’s ready. It’s a long season. We have to be patient. It’s hard for Khris, it’s hard for us, but keep the big picture in mind.”
Middleton is averaging 11.1 points and 4.4 assists per game this season but is a perennial All-Star in Milwaukee seeking his footing to support Giannis Antetokounmpo as the Bucks pursue a championship. He has averaged at least 20 points and four assists in four of the past five seasons.
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