“I’m getting there.”
It was only a few weeks ago the Nets superstar conceded that he wasn’t yet “there” ... where he wanted to be and he was very frustrated. On October 27, for the first time in his Nets career the 33-year-old had back-to-back games of 15 points or less. In his post-game presser that night, he said “we got to figure it out” or “we just got to figure it out” multiple times.
Harden’s statement came after Brooklyn’s 106-93 defeat to Miami, dropping Brooklyn to 1-2 in the early going, the nadir of their early season woes. October was indeed an up-and-down month, two-steps-forward, one-step-back for Harden as he struggled getting consistency and confidence back after a summer of rehab from a nagging hamstring injury.
That has changed in November. He’s still dealing with the same issues, but they’re holding him back less. Now, he’s returning to his usual form. That intense off-season rehab limited him from preparing for the on-court NBA competition and building up conditioning for the rigorous 82-game schedule.
Now with 13 games under his belt, No. 13 is having a close-to-normal for Harden month. In six games in November, he’s had two triple-doubles and another game of 28, 10 and 8. For the month, he’s averaging 21.2 points, 9.5 assists and 8.0 rebounds to pair with efficient shooting splits of 46/45/82. On Friday, he had his best game since the opening round of last year’s playoffs, finishing with 39 point and 12 assists.
Harden knew, like his head coach and the Nets brass that he would return to his full form on the hardwood. It was just a matter of time mixed with patience and sticking true to the craft.
“I’m getting there,” Harden said Friday night. “It wasn’t going to take long. I mean, this is the highest [level] in the sport is the NBA; the most talented players in the world. So it’s not going to be easy for me to just come out there and do what I do.
“When I’m not scoring 30 points, when I’m averaging 18 some points it’s like, ‘what’s wrong with James?’ It’s pretty solid still. I’ve been playing so well and so extremely at another level to where you guys set standards for me and I set standards for myself as well. For me, I just continue to work. I feel a lot better, and the work don’t stop.”
In his latest performance, a confident Harden lifted the Nets past the Pelicans. It wasn’t just 39 points (11-of-18 shooting from the field and 6-of-10 from three), 12 assists and five boards in 38 minutes of action. He got to the line 15, triple his average as the league’s new more open rules
“He was aggressive all night,” said Kevin Durant, while examining the box score on Harden’s performance Friday night. “He was getting downhill, getting to the free-throw line, 11-for-18, highly efficient. Twelve assists, he looked incredible.
Harden and Durant combined for 67 points — the second-most points scored by a pair of Nets teammates in the Brooklyn era. When Harden was asked what opposing defenses can do when both of Brooklyn’s superstars get rolling at the same time offensively, he joked and explained the difficulty of that task.
“Um, pray?” Harden deadpanned before a quickie apology. “I’m just playing. I mean, it’s difficult. We’re two unselfish basketball players. We’re versatile. Obviously, Kevin is known for his scoring, efficient scoring, but he’s also a willing passer, especially when there’s double teams and things like that. It’s difficult to guard him, and it’s difficult to guard me, especially when we’re got it going.”
Despite Harden’s big contribution to the box score Friday and his third triple-double (all in a span of seven games) two days earlier, Steve Nash pleaded with the media that Harden will still need time to fully regain his normal self at a consistent rate. In the end, the Nets will need Harden at his fullest when the games really matter — the playoffs. Until then, give him some space, Nash seemed to say.
“We’ve got to be patient with him. I think [he’s] got some yards to go before he feels this way every night or feels at his best,” said Nash on Harden getting back to that final form the Nets need. “There’s the fitness, there’s the rhythm, and then there’s the confidence. For all those three things to come back, it does take time.
“He was great tonight. He’s been really good the last week or so and trending in the right direction, but I don’t want to get too carried away. Let’s give him time to get his game back.”
Harden and KD will be playing together in OKC for the first time in nine years Sunday ... assuming both play. It could be yet another energizing moment for the point guard. If not, as Nash says, patience. It’s worked so far.
- James Harden’s return to form powering surging Nets - Brian Lewis - New York Post