After missing the past 14 games while recovering from surgery to repair a broken bone in his left hand, Josh Hart was cleared to return Friday night against the Milwaukee Bucks. His availability lines up with the four-week minimum the team said Hart would be sidelined for.
Hart hopes to put a positive finish to what’s been a successful rookie season, and he wants to help the team fulfill head coach Luke Walton’s goal of being a top-10 defensive team post-All-Star break. Hart also has a bit of history in mind.
“I think I want to tie Kobe Bryant’s 40-point stretch,” he quipped when asked what goals were in place for the final stretch of the season. “That’s probably what I’ll try to accomplish over the next eight games.”
Hart’s target is slightly off, as Bryant had nine consecutive games during the 2002-03 season with at least 40 points. His stretch tied with Michael Jordan, and the two guards trail Wilt Chamberlain for the longest such streak as he had a 10-game and two 14-game stretches with at least 40 points.
Walton was stunned to learn of Hart’s lighthearted remarks, then took it upon himself to poke fun at his rookie. “Hart? Josh Hart? Wants to score 40 points a game? Yeah, that’s not a good goal,” Walton said.
“And if he starts playing like that, he’ll be on the bench. He’ll be watching us.” Walton carried the teasing over into Friday’s shootaround upon making the announcement that Hart was available to play.
“Josh, do you know what a DNP-CD is?” Walton asked. “Did not play, coach’s decision,” Hart responded sheepishly.
Unlike Brandon Ingram, who returned from a groin injury and is on a minutes restriction, Hart is free to play without limitations, only pain threshold.
“He has a hurt hand. There’s no reason to restrict minutes when you have a hangnail,” Walton quipped.