James Harden was the lone member of the Nets “Big Three” available to Steve Nash Christmas Day and he unwrapped his 17th triple-double as a Net (36 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists) and in the process became the second player on the Christmas to tally a 35-point triple-double. The other? Oscar Robertson.
Fresh off the historic performance, the Nets superstar will soon have a backcourt reinforcement on who can help boost his play, even if it comes on a part-time basis. That reinforcement, of course, is Kyrie Irving and both the team and Harden believe the addition can propel his game to even higher heights when alongside him.
“Obviously, we all know how special of a talent Kyrie is and what he means to this organization and our team. So just to be around him, even if it’s only for road games, will be huge for us,” said Harden following the Nets’ 122-115 victory over the Lakers Saturday. “He obviously makes all of our jobs a lot easier, but just having him around and obviously he’s a very, very skilled basketball player. But just having his personality around the team now.”
Before Harden served as the Lakers grinch at the Crypt (aka Crypto.com arena), the Nets head coach praised his superstar for battling through the early season adversity he’s faced, what with his difficult off-season hamstring rehab, new rules … and playing a larger role without Irving out there with him in the Brooklyn backcourt.
“I think it’s been a bit of a challenge for James. The hamstring last year was unfortunate, missed a lot of time and spent the entire summer trying to get over that. He came into the season without the regular conditioning and ramp-up, so there’s a lot thrown at him,” said Steve Nash on Harden’s season thus far. “He had to get himself in shape and first off, get himself healthy, in shape, find his rhythm, his confidence and adjust to a whole new team without Kyrie and 10 new players.
“There’s been a lot thrown at him and he’s continued to progress, get better and then obviously, the latest COVID interruption he had. So he starts fresh here today. Overall, really pleased with his work to get back and to continue to improve throughout the season, and he can still get better. We know that. He’s eager, loves the game and he’s been working on it.”
Although Irving’s return is looming, there’s a series of benchmarks he will need to check off before making his season debut. The Nets guard still hasn’t cleared health and safety and will have to go through a customized ramp-up that will focus on regaining his fitness and getting up to speed with his basketball conditioning.
“I’m not sure about the day-to-day and how he’s handling quarantine, but I know that once he comes out of protocols, he’ll definitely be able to start training, start ramping up and being available for road games,” said Nash on Irving. “It’s really waiting for him to clear and getting him into a program of regaining that fitness and basketball conditioning. He’s an incredible player and a quick adaptor if there is any. I think he’ll handle that pretty well.”
Irving is coming off a 54-game season in 2020-21, averaging 26.9 points (ninth in the league), 4.8 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 1.4 steals per game in 34.9 minutes of play. He became just the fifth player in NBA history to average at least 25.0 points per game with 50/40/90 shooting splits ... and only the second guard after Steph Curry.
Jalen Rose speaking on ESPN’s Christmas Day coverage had this to say about what Irving brings.
“It is definitely going to work,” said Rose. “Stephen A. said why. They are already the No. 1 one seed without Kyrie Irving participating. Now you get Kyrie Irving back, and that takes pressure off KD, who is already playing at an MVP level, and it can ignite James Harden… Kyrie Irving does now make them my favorites to win the East if he’s in uniform.”
How many games will the two play together in the regular season? And how many will they play with Kevin Durant? Probably no more than 20 … but that’s more than twice what the “Big Three” played together in the regular season last season. That number was eight.
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