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James Harden records triple-double in debut as Brooklyn defeats Orlando, 122-115

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Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Two out of three ain’t bad.

With two of their “Big Three” on the court, the Nets opened their era with a win, defeating the Orlando Magic, 122-115, in Brooklyn Saturday night. With the win, the Nets extend their winning streak to a season-best three games improving to 8-6 on the season.

The big story was James Harden, who suited up for the first time as a Net, putting on a clinic and showing he was the same Beard. From the stepback three’s to getting to the line to facilitating, Harden ended his Nets debut with a triple-double (47th of his career) with 32 points, 12 rebounds, and 14 assists in 40 minutes, becoming the seventh player in NBA history to record a triple-double in a team debut and the first to record a 30-point triple-double. In addition, Harden’s 14 assists marked a Nets franchise record for assists in a player's debut.

“Well, he stuffed the stat sheet,” Steve Nash said on Harden’s debut. “Almost a quadruple-double. Obviously, James is a brilliant basketball player and we got to incorporate him. Find a way to make this thing gell, put him in a position to do what he does and for him to make each of our guys better.

“He got to the line 15 times. He made three’s, 12 rebounds, 14 assists, four steals, and we know what he is. He is a world-class basketball player so we will continue to build, get better, try to figure this out where everyone is a threat, and make each other better.”

As for Kevin Durant, he is glad Harden is getting his feet up under him, calling his debut ‘incredible.’ He hopes Harden can continue to get better each day in a Nets uniform.

“It was incredible,” Durant said of Harden’s debut. “You can see him trying to find the best way to play. Early on, I felt like we all were trying to pass and make everyone comfortable than he just got in his mode of being aggressive to score. That opened up the whole game for all of us.

“Glad he got his feet up under him. He’s got to get plugging away and keep getting better each day.”

But that wasn’t the only story.

Durant continued his MVP-contending season, finishing with a game-high 42 points, four rebounds, and five assists, also in 40 minutes of play. He, too, set some Nets history, setting the Nets franchise record for consecutive 25+ point games (nine). It was his first 40-point game since his return from Achilles tendon surgery in June 2019.

Despite a slow start for Durant, following the win, Durant said once he got to his spots, he started hitting shots while giving credit to the bigs for their screens and his teammates for setting him up nice.

“I felt like I got to my spots,” Durant said on his performance. “It was a matter of time till I started to knock them down. Got some great screens tonight from DJ and the bigs. James set me up nice and my teammates set me up nice. I felt comfortable, getting more comfortable each game, and hopefully, it continues.”

One final note on the twosome. KD and Harden played three years for the Thunder, but didn’t score as many in one game as they did tonight in Brooklyn (74). And that was without a practice!

“The energy and camaraderie we had, it felt like we had been playing for a long time,” said Joe Harris proudly post-game. “Even though it’s the first time this group had taken the floor together.”

Joe Harris had another strong performance with 17 points and five rebounds in 30 minutes of play. Harris shot 6-for-11 overall and 4-for-9 from deep. Harris extended the Nets franchise record of games with at least one made three to 74 games.

The Nets finished the win shooting 53.8 percent overall and 45.7 percent from deep, but Brooklyn turned over the ball 19 times — nine by Harden — in the win.

As for the Magic, Nikola Vucevic continued to follow his Nets killer image as he finished with 34 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists in 36 minutes. Saturday’s performance marked the eighth time Vucevic has scored 20+ points this season. Terrence Ross followed with 23 points, three rebounds, and three assists off the bench. Orlando finished the loss shooting 46.3 percent overall and 30.4 percent from deep.

Now, let's dive into some film.

The Film Room

Offense was never the issue with this Nets squad. Let’s make that clear. Already the 5th-ranked offensive unit before James Harden became a Brooklynite, the Nets were humming throughout their first 13 games in spite of absences to the two other superstars.

But if there was one area of the court the Nets were perhaps a little underwhelming in, it was near the basket. Brooklyn produced the 10th-least drives per game with 43.3 on average. James Harden offers much more downhill pressure as a rim-attacker; per NBA stats, he ranked fifth in the NBA in drives per contest with 17.6. Already (in just one game), his ability to flow downhill has greatly boosted Brooklyn’s offense with a more balanced attack.

Harden’s famous euro-step made its debut on the throwback hardwood. His elite deceleration game was en fuego in those tie-dye blues.

‘We’re close’ on Kyrie Irving’s return

It’s been 11 days (and counting) since we last saw Kyrie Irving in a Nets jersey (most recently his big 29-point outing against the Utah Jazz). Steve Nash provided an update of sorts during the Saturday night pre-game presser.

“Hopefully we’re close,” said Nash. “I can’t really give you a firm update on that. We have to assess that as we go. We do want to make sure he ramps-up accordingly so that he’s not susceptible to unnecessary injury and protect him the best we can. But hopefully, it’s a short period of time. That is to be determined though.”

This raises the question: Is he with the team? Is he participating in practice? (The Nets practiced on Friday morning).

Again, while not providing what could be called a concrete answer, Nash and the Nets organization are feeling good about getting Irving back into the swing of things. The plan is, for now, to give Irving time with what’s left of the “Stay Ready” group: Tyler Johnson, Reggie Perry, and Chris Chiozza.

“Well, we don’t practice,” retorted Nash to a question about Irving’s return “They have to be off their legs. So we try to teach, script and rehearse, if you will, and watch film. He’s getting his work in individually. Maybe tomorrow he can do some things with the ‘Stay Ready’ group. We just to make sure he has a few days in his legs before he comes back into the fire.”

If Irving practices Sunday, there’s a chance he could play Monday on TNT’s Martin Luther King Day schedule. We’ll see, I guess, and we may hear too. Sean Marks said he’ll have the opportunity to talk about his personal leave.

James Harden on playing in Brooklyn: “It felt unbelievable”

James Harden was seen grinning from ear-to-ear in the tunnel pre-game, so this shouldn’t necessarily come as a surprise...

But the dude is clearly happy to be here. Brooklyn was, after all, his “first choice” on his list of trade destinations.

“It felt unbelievable,” said Harden of his debut. “I hope you can tell from my smile and play. Just excited. And excited for the opportunity. This is an unbelievable organization from top-to-bottom. For me, all I have to do is go out there and be the best James Harden I can be. Good things will happen.”

Harden also said he couldn’t wait to team up with the missing piece of the Nets “Big Three” and in the process, created a phrase that’s likely to outlive the night.

“I’m so excited for Kai to get back,” Harden said. “He’s a key piece to what we’re trying to do. As soon as we can get on the court together, it’s going to be scary hours.”

And good things DID happen in Night 1 of the brand new era of Nets basketball.

Moreover, New York is noticing...

Kevin Durant on James Harden: ‘I think that is his natural position (point) to be honest’

Following the Nets win over the Magic Saturday, Kevin Durant praised James Harden for his debut performance, especially his play at the point.

Durant said he believes Harden’s natural position is the point guard and his performance at the 1 was the key to the Nets win in his opinion.

“James played the same way he’s always played to me,” Durant said following Saturday’s win. “He was playing the same way he was playing in Houston, having the basketball, being a pass-first guard, and trying to get his guys good looks. He played the same way and coach put him at the point. I think that is his natural position, to be honest. His point and combo guard. For him to come out and get 14 assists and 12 rebounds for us at the point guard was key.”

There is no secret Steve Nash is going to continue to experiment with lineups and rotations moving forward, especially when Kyrie Irving returns to the team from his personal absence.

“I think we are going to have to continue to find out how it all works at the best level and the most efficient standard,” Nash said on figuring out a plan for the ‘Big Three.’ “Throwing Kyrie in the mix makes us better. It is a good problem to have of trying to figure out where they can co-exist to their highest level and standard. I think it takes time and it is going to be an adjustment for everyone but it is an incredible problem to have and something we will relish.”

The owner liked what he saw as well, tweeting post-game (presumably from China)

Caris LeVert out indefinitely with mass found on left kidney

Prior to Saturday’s Nets game, Indiana Pacers released a statement on Caris LeVert. An MRI, part of his trade physical, revealed a small mass on his left kidney. As a result, he’ll be out indefinitely to undergo more tests and if needed get treatment.

The Pacers also released a statement from LeVert, who credited Indiana with their thoroughness.

“On behalf of my family and myself, we want to thank the Indiana Pacers for their support and guidance. We are grateful for their extreme thoroughness during the physical process and I am looking forward to joining the team and being part of this great organization as soon as possible.”

Kevin Pritchard, the Pacers President of Basketball Operations, released his own statement, showing support for his newest player and is excited with the acquisition.

“We acquired Caris because of who he is as a young man first and foremost. His basketball skill and on court play speaks for itself and we know he has a great career ahead of him. We will support Caris through this time and know that he will join us on the court as soon as he is able.”

The Nets and Pacers also adjusted the trade to compensate for the medical issue. The Nets redirected a Cavaliers 2024 second-rounder, part of their compensation, to Indiana and sent $2.6 million in cash considerations to the Pacers as well, Adrian Wojnarowski reported.

What does it say that the Pacers are willing to go ahead with the deal?

Get well soon Caris.

New Numbers

With the arrival of James Harden, Landry Shamet gave up No. 13, the only number he’s ever worn as a pro and picked up No. 20. Reggie Perry also traded in his No. 14 for No. 0. Does that mean the Nets are about to sign someone who currently wears No. 14? Jeremiah Martin, who’s back with the Long Island, wore No. 0 last season for Brooklyn. As for No. 20, It’s been a while. Timofey Mozgov wore it in 2018.

What’s next

The Nets will return to action Monday, Jan. 18 when the team hosts Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks. The game is set to tip-off at 7:30 PM ET and will be telecast on TNT.

For a different perspective on the Magic game, check out Orlando Pinstriped Post, our Magic sister site on SB Nation.