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James Harden: ‘It feels good not to have to score so much to give ourselves a chance to win’

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Miami Heat v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

James Harden is not concerned about scoring the ball at a high clip as he continues to get acclimated with the Nets, playing alongside Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving ... while trying to figure things out without stepping on too many toes.

Harden has served as the team’s main facilitator in his five games in a Nets uniform thus far. Since his arrival to Brooklyn, Harden hasn’t had the luxury of practice time to build familiarity and cohesion between himself and his teammates but is getting a solid feel of the team while feeling very confident learning on the fly.

“I am very confident, especially with this group and what we are capable of,” Harden said. “We haven’t had much time to practice, which we keep saying, but I think learning on the fly and learning while we are winning is obviously good.”

There’s no secret that his role as a Net is vastly different than his role as a Houston Rocket. Harden needed to score at a high clip for Houston to collect wins, although his stats are very similar in his 13 games played this season split between the two franchises. In Houston, he averaged 24.8 points, 10.4 assists and 5.1 rebounds with a shooting line of 44/35/88 while his Brooklyn numbers are 23.6 points, 12.0 assists and 8.0 rebounds with a shooting line of 44/33/88. Despite conditioning concerns, he is averaging five minutes more per game with the Nets.

When asked about the role change and demands, Harden deemed it not much of a change but appreciates he does not need to always score at high clips with the Nets, considering the talent around him.

“It is not really a change at all. It feels good not to have to score so much to give ourselves a chance to win the game,” Harden said about scoring. “I can just go out there and be a playmaker and shoot my shot once it’s available and still get guys involved to still have a chance to win the game. That is a change but for me, it’s just being the player I am. Impacting the game in other ways than scoring and being the best player I can be when I am out on the court.”

After scoring 66 points in his first two games as a Net, his scoring production has dropped. Harden has averaged only 17.3 points in the Nets' last three games, shooting 44 percent overall and 32.5 percent from deep. In Saturday’s win over the Miami Heat, Harden was not much of a scoring factor but pulled gravity. He dished out 11 assists in 38 minutes of play. He found ways to break into Miami’s zone defense, getting to the lane, and threading multiple needles.

Following the confidence-building win, Steve Nash credited Harden’s facilitating, finding ways to contribute at a high level desipte little familiarity with the Nets with that lack of practice time.

“Where he’s invaluable is playmaking skills for us,” Nash said. “So often, he found guys for layups or wide-open 3s and created and distorted the defense.

“He found guys for layups or wide-open threes and created and distorted the defense. “So he wasn’t himself, shooting the ball, and I think he’s still trying to get himself into shape. That was a tough little week for him — three games in four nights, including double overtime. So, I think, hats off to him for finding a way to contribute when his shot wasn’t going and his legs weren’t there — he still made a lot of plays for his team.”

The 31-year-old knows he can be more aggressive on the offensive end but focuses more on getting his shooters shots, his big men finishes at the rim and hopefully providing valuable defense.

“I just want to come in and get a feel for what is going on. Obviously, I can be more aggressive offensively but we got more than enough scorers and guys that can put the ball in the basket,” Harden said. “I just got to pick and choose my spots, which I feel like I’m doing okay but facilitating, getting guys shots, getting bigs finishes at the rim, and just trying to be solid defensively.”

While Harden progressively absorbs familiarity with his teammates, he does have the trust from Durant, who played with Harden for three seasons in Oklahoma City. Durant said it just depends on what lineups are out on the court and gaining familiarity with different groups to bring out the best between the two.

“Trust is already there, I think,” Durant said. “I think just the familiarity with each other is there already. We played with each other and know each other’s games for the last decade. It’s just a matter of what plays we’re going to run at certain times with lineups we’re going to have out there.

Harden has split minutes between the 1 (56 percent) and the 2 (44 percent). He certainly is getting tested so far, playing 41.4 minutes a game and raising his league-high average to a 38.2.

Despite only playing five games, it did not take long for Harden to crack into the Nets’ history books - becoming the first Net since Deron Williams (2010-11) to record a points/assists double-double in five straight games and the first Nets since Jason Kidd to record multiple triple-doubles in a season. Kidd holds the Nets record in that category with 12.

Should it be much of a surprise? Not if you check Harden’s career. Four years ago, he led the NBA in assists at 11.2 per game while still scoring 29.2 points (and grabbing 8.1 boards). In other words, expect more of the same.