James Harden’s quest to rebuild his confidence and get back to his usual self on the hardwood is going to take time.
It was another difficult night for Harden during the Nets’ 106-93 defeat to the Heat at Barclays Center Wednesday night. The guard finished with 14 points on 4-of-12 shooting overall and 3-of-8 from three to go with seven assists and seven boards in 36 minutes. His play in the second quarter when he scored 11 of those 14 points did provide a spark in an otherwise listless performance. Steve Nash think he’s seeing positive signs through the cracks.
“I think James is showing signs of getting his rhythm back. Like I keep saying, it’s not an easy process. It’s going to take him some time, have to be patient with him,” said Nash after Wednesday’s loss. “He had some incredible stretches to build on.”
There’s no secret Harden has struggled with his mobility through the Nets’ first five games (2-3) due to the lingering effects of his Grade 2 hamstring strain — an injury in the second half of the 2020-21 regular season which severely limited his play in the second-round playoff series against the Bucks. That lack of mobility as well as other factors has resulted in a lesser Harden averaging 16.6 points per game this season — a large drop-off from his scoring production last season (24.6 points).
Harden, of course, is also suffering through a big drop-off in trips to the charity strike (3.0), but he doesn’t view the NBA’s changes in officiating as a big reason for the drop-off. Harden links his early season struggles to his offseason-long hamstring rehab that prevented him from practicing or ramping up for on-court competition.
“[I’m] getting more confident, being aggressive and it’s getting better every single game. As much as I want to get back to 30 and 40 points, I can’t do that. As much as I want to, obviously, I’d love to,” Harden said. “I had no opportunities to play pickup or nothing this summer. Everything was rehab for three months, from a Grade 2 injury that happened three times in one season.
“So this is my fifth or sixth game of trying to just play with competition and play against somebody else. And as much as I want to rush the process and be back to hooping and killing, take your time. But this will make me stronger at the end of the season. So I just embrace moments like this and things like this. And I just keep pushing through it.”
The process of regaining confidence post-injury is very new for Harden, who missed a career-high 28 games last season (31 including playoffs). Before last year, when his conditioning wasn’t great, Harden had been one of the NBA’s most durable superstars throughout his 13-year NBA career. It’s an attribute of his game he takes pride in. But bottom line: the 6’5” guard hasn’t played consistently since March 31 — the game he initially suffered his hamstring strain in a game against his former team, the Rockets.
“My career I’ve been blessed, just not having surgeries or whatnot,” said Harden, who knocked on wood (podium). “So just this, the whole process last year was just like frustrating and draining. I love to hoop. If it wasn’t for the money, I’d still be hooping. So it was a frustrating year.
“It was draining for me to know that I couldn’t be myself and be out there on the floor and be the player that I am. But I’m finally slowly getting back to it. It just takes a lot of hard work and dedication. But it gonna happen. But you got to just continue to keep fighting for it and I will.”
For the Nets to succeed, he will have to.
- James Harden on Brooklyn’s loss to Heat (Video) - YES Network
- Nets still missing the old James Harden - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- James Harden not his usual unstoppable self this season - Barbara Barker - Newsday
- Nets’ James Harden says patience will make him stronger - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
- James Harden’s terrible start is about more than the NBA’s rule change - Ricky O’Donnell - SB Nation