Since James Harden was dealt to the Nets, the team is 7-3 - sitting at an overall record of 14-9 on the season and second place in the Eastern Conference, only two games behind the Philadelphia 76ers.
On Tuesday, Brooklyn picked up their biggest win of the season thus far, taking down the league’s best team (record-wise), the Los Angeles Clippers. Post-game, which was the Game of the Night on TNT and the game of the year to fans, Harden explained how he and the Nets wanted to come out and “not embarrass ourselves.”
And they did.
“That we are playing one of the best teams in the league so we got to come out here and not embarrass ourselves,” Harden said following the win. “We played like that on both ends of the ball. I don’t think as a team, we don’t have that same mindset every single game. Once we get that, we will see a different Nets team.”
Every single game is going to matter. That’s what it takes to play the last game of the season. Brooklyn has played very well against top teams in the NBA this season. In fact, following the Nets win over the Clippers, Brooklyn is 10-3 against over .500 teams. There is a catch. On the other side of the ledger, the Nets are 4-6 against teams who sit at under .500.
When Harden was asked to speak about that “mindset” he was alluding to, Harden says it all starts with individual effort and for each player to embrace their role and get the job done collectively as a team.
“Individual,” Harden said. “We got to look at our own self in the mirror and what we do, what we contribute to this team, and try to do it every single night. As I said, obviously we make mistakes individually but if we have the right mindset and want to do the right things - more than not, we can get it done as a team collectively. Tonight we won and even these last couple games before Washington, we have been playing well other than that OKC game where we gave up a lot of points.”
As for Harden, it is clear that he has embraced the sacrifice needed for success: facilitating over scoring since his arrival to the Nets. While the 31-year-old is still averaging 24.4 points and shown he can flip his scoring switch at any moment, he spoke about how not many players can switch up their entire game and focus on other things for the benefit of team success. “The Beard” is averaging an NBA-leading 11.2 assists per game ... and has four triple-doubles in his last nine games.
“Just coming into this team, obviously leading the league in scoring the last few years, not many players can just try to switch up their entire game and focus on other things. Not many players can. Me, I know the roster. I know what we have on this team and scoring isn’t everything,” Harden said about being a multidimensional player. “I try to impact the game in other ways. I try to get my shooters involved. Obviously, Kevin and Kai will get their easier looks when they can. Getting our bigs easy touches around the rim.”
It’s no secret that the Nets formula for success is figuring out the defensive end. It’s expected that Brooklyn will add a frontcourt help, preferably a 5, to fill their final roster spot, Harden said that each player will need to be bought in defensively on a consistent basis. In addition, “The Beard” sees the Nets playing at the last game, in other words, the NBA Finals, if they succeed on that end of the floor.
“It is going to be on the defensive end,” Harden said. “Offensively, we are one of the best teams in this league. If we man up and get stops individually and our principles, we have each other’s back on a consistent basis. Once we get that down pack defensively and talking about blowing teams out cause offensively, we will continue to figure it out but defensively, we have to figure it out. That is what it has to be in order for us to be playing at the end.”
Harden wants to embrace any challenge Nash and the Nets coaching staff throw at him defensively. In the end, he wants to do whatever it takes to win.
“Then defensively, getting after it. Taking upon a challenge whether coach makes me guard that night and take on a challenge to make it tough on them every single night so it is not about points for me and it’s not about stats for me. It’s about getting the win and I think since I’ve been here, I try whatever it takes for us to win and that is all that matters.”
Steve Nash said it best following the win against the Clippers. The head coach said it was great to see his team play well defensively but it has to be that way if the Nets want to contend.
“Great to see and it’s got to be that way if we are serious about this,” Nash said about the Nets Big Three and the team’s defense moving forward. “We have the luxury of offensive talent but we have to defend. That is a really difficult team to defend and we did a great job. Again, it’s tricky when the teams are constantly taking 20 more shots than you are but we will be playing up and keep getting better but when they play with the effort they did tonight, we will be tough to beat.”
The Nets have had their eyes set on improving that No. 1 priority dating back to the start of training camp — with varying results, but the team does not have the luxury of one usual fix: enough practice time to work on it.
Harden, like Nash has said throughout the season, stated how Brooklyn uses each and every game to build as a team. From overall chemistry and growing as a team to bringing that mindset to each and every game, when it all comes together consistently - we will see growth.
“We are using the season to get better obviously and win every single game but we are using the season, each and every game, to get to know each other, grow as a team, build chemistry, and just get on the same page,” Harden said. “Some games are going to be better than others but I think overall, that same mindset we had tonight, we got to have that same mindset every single game no matter who we are playing. That is when you will see some growth out of all of us.”
Nash likes what he sees and hears from Harden.
“Largely it’s been great. He’s an incredible player,” Nash said. “I know we see his scoring and playmaking ability, but his intelligence is special, defensively as well. He sees it, he reads it, he has an understanding at that end of the floor as well.
“So I think he’s in a position where he’s grateful for this opportunity. He wants to win, and he’s willing to sacrifice, and so his leadership has been great.”