ALL-STAR guard James Harden returned after missing 18 games (strained right hamstring) to beat the San Antonio Spurs (128-116) on Wednesday. — JAMES HARDEN FB PAGE

JAMES Harden collected 18 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds in his return from a strained right hamstring as the Brooklyn Nets posted a 128-116 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night in New York.

Harden came off the bench for the first time since April 22, 2012, when he was a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Harden played under a minutes restriction after missing the previous 18 games. He played 25:44 in his first game since April 5.

After spending most of the game facilitating others, Harden scored 10 points in the fourth quarter, including a 3-pointer with 1:53 left that gave the Nets a 122-108 lead that essentially sealed it.

The Nets (46-24) won their third straight and moved within 1 1/2 games of the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers. Brooklyn also inched 1 1/2 games ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks in the race for the No. 2 seed.

Landry Shamet led the Nets with 21 points on a night when Kyrie Irving sat out after sustaining a facial contusion in Tuesday’s win at Chicago.

Nicolas Claxton contributed a career-high 18 points, Jeff Green added 16 and Kevin Durant and Bruce Brown chipped in 14 apiece as the Nets shot 60.8% from the floor and handed out 33 assists. Brown added 11 rebounds.

DeMar DeRozan scored 21 points, but San Antonio (33-36) dropped three games behind ninth-place Memphis and lost for the seventh time in nine games. Dejounte Murray and Patty Mills added 15 apiece for the Spurs, who shot 42.6% and made only 8 of 31 three-point attempts. Murray also collected 11 rebounds.

Brooklyn shot 65.2% and held a 35-20 lead through the first quarter. San Antonio got within 44-42 on a layup by DeRozan with 5:13 remaining in the second quarter, and Brooklyn held a 57-51 lead at half time.

The Nets gradually pulled away in the third as Harden’s three-pointer made it 95-78 with 2:33 left, and Brooklyn led 96-81 entering the fourth.

Meanwhile, John Collins drilled a go-ahead three-pointer with 24.8 seconds left to complete an Atlanta Hawks comeback and a 120-116 victory over the visiting Washington Wizards on Wednesday night.

The result had playoff implications for both teams as all of their rivals battling for playoff position had the night off.

The Hawks (39-31) moved a half-game ahead of Miami (38-31) and New York (38-31) in their battle for the No. 4 playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, which carries with it home-court advantage in the first round.

Meanwhile, the loss prevented the Wizards (32-38) from clinching a spot in the East play-in tournament, keeping Chicago (29-40) alive. Washington also lost a half-game to Charlotte (33-36) and Indiana (33-36) in their duel for the eighth, ninth and 10th play-in berths. — Reuters