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James Harden: ‘I love to hoop ... I try to go out there, make an impact and play if I’m able to’

Brooklyn Nets v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

James Harden has a historic resume that will continue to evolve and eventually land him in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. To Harden, when he reaches that point in his life, he wants to know that he did not take any shortcuts as he takes great pride in his durability throughout his ongoing 12-year career.

“That’s just how I am. That’s just how I’m built. For granted, if this was to be done tomorrow and I wasn’t able to play basketball anymore, I know I gave everything that I’ve had,” Harden said on his durability. “I know I didn’t shortcut myself in any way at any point. That’s just my mentality and that’s where I am. It will be over eventually one day but me knowing in the back of my mind ‘yo listen, you did that.’ Whatever happens, happens at the end of the day. You did that, you gave it your all and you live with that.

“I enjoy the grind that the legs are a little tired. I’m feeling so well and just going out there trying to find a way to win the game. Tonight, I feel like it was one of those examples.”

Most certainly Tuesday night was one of those examples as Harden, admitting how close he came to sitting out against the Blazers with neck soreness, battled through the pain and led the Nets to a huge win on the road.

“Very close actually,” Harden said on deciding not to play during pregame warmups Tuesday. “Just not really able to be myself. Tonight really showed. Just my full range of motion and a little bit of everything. No excuses. I’m trying to fight. My team needed me and I tried to go out there and do my best. Hopefully, that was good enough.”

His performance surely was good enough. Despite a tough shooting night (7-of-24 overall and 0-of-7 from deep), the Nets superstar finished with a career-high-tying 17 assists to go along with 25 points and seven rebounds in 40 minutes of play. His 17 assists marked the most assists by a Nets player since Deron Williams in 2012. In just 30 games, he has 18 games with 20+ points and 10+ assists - which is only three games behind Kenny Anderson (21) for the most in a single season for the Nets.

Brooklyn Nets vs. Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images

There is no questioning Harden’s durability throughout his 12-year career. His 870 games played is the most by any player since his arrival to the NBA in 2009. Entering Tuesday’s game against Portland, Harden led the league in minutes per game with 37.9 this season. Outside of the statistics, Harden has carried a heavy load as Kevin Durant has missed 21 games since the January trade and Kyrie Irving seven for everything from injury to COVID protocols to family matters.

That desire to keep pushing originates from his love to hoop, says the 12-year veteran. Harden is determined to play and make an impact on the game regardless of injuries as long as he isn’t risking anything. He wants to be out there in battle with his teammates to boost their chance of winning.

“Throughout the course of my career, I love to hoop. I love to be out there and taking on the challenge of finding ways to win games. In basketball, everything isn’t going to be perfect. Whether it’s playing through injuries or playing banged up. Even in life, everything isn’t always going to be perfect so you find ways to fight through adversity,” Harden said. “Obviously when you’re hurt, you’re hurt. You sit out. I try to go out there, make an impact and play if I’m able to if it’s not risking anything.

“That’s how I’ve been throughout the course of my career. Throughout the regular season, I love to play. I love to hoop. I love being out there and be there for my teammates. I feel like, if I’m on the court, my teammates have a better chance to win. That’s just my mindset.”

When Harden is on the floor, it unquestionably changes the impact on the game. In Brooklyn’s 16-2 winning stretch, Harden is averaging a near triple-double as he leads the league in assists per game (11.1) and is on pace to set new career-highs in assists per game, rebounds per game, assist-to-turnover ratio (2.66) and offensive rating (118.8).

Despite putting up MVP-like numbers, his supporting cast has benefited the most since his arrival. The Nets 31-year-old superstar credited his bench players for embodying the next-man-up mentality and taking advantage of the opportunity. In his eyes, that what makes a championship team.

“Those guys have been great all year long. They never know when they’re going to play. They never know how many minutes they’ll play. Certain guys got a certain amount of minutes that they play per game, those guys are in and out of the lineup. You can even add Nic in that rotation as well of guys that don’t know when they are going to get in,” Harden said. “For those guys to always be ready, prepared and have that true professional mentality. Whatever coach calls my name, I’m ready to go. I’m ready to contribute, it’s very professional.

“They have done an unbelievable job of that since I’ve been here. That’s what it's going to take to win a championship.”

Brooklyn Nets vs. Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images

The addition of Harden was initially viewed as a luxury. As each game gets checked off, that luxury progressively turns into a necessity. On the other end, Harden’s load could be seen as alarming. Steve Nash knows the tricky situation at hand.

“I’m concerned about the minutes. I’m not sure what the answer is, though,” Nash said. “He controls the game. He hasn’t shot the ball well since the break, but he makes threes. He gets to the line. He makes assists, rebounds, steals. He’s great all around the basket. So, it’s hard to take him off the floor because he makes his teammates better.”

Harden, who is determined to continue to give it his all for the shorthanded Nets, said if he feels good Wednesday morning, he will play against the Utah Jazz Wednesday night, although he deserves a rest day. Currently, he’s questionable, just as he was vs. Portland.

“Tomorrow when I wake up, if I feel like I can go, I’ll go,” Harden said. “It’s that simple.”