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James Harden’s eighth triple-double leads Brooklyn as ‘The Beard’s returns to Houston, 132-114

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NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Houston Rockets POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports

Houston, we have a problem... And his name is James Harden.

Brooklyn, led by Harden’s eighth triple-double — 29 points, 14 assists, and 10 rebounds in 41 minutes — defeated the short-handed and struggling Rockets, 132-114 at the Toyota Center Wednesday. It was Harden’s first game back in H-town since the four-team trade that brought him to Brooklyn on January 13.

“I’m excited. We got a win,” Harden said post-game. “We’ve been playing very, very good basketball, and to finish out strong like this to in the All-Star break means a lot to us. Hopefully we can get guys healthy; KD, Jeff, TLC, and after the break just keep rolling. As far as playing in Houston, a lot of mixed emotions from the fans, but knew that was gonna happen. I just wanted to come out here and give them a show.”

With the win, the Nets have set a new franchise record of seven straight road wins their 10th game in their last 11 to lift Brooklyn to a 24-13 record. The Nets hit the All-Star break as the second seed in the East following the Philadelphia 76ers win over the Utah Jazz, also Wednesday.

When Steve Nash reflected on the first half of the NBA season, what stood out to him was the Nets building a team, praising his players for defining their roles and bonding as a team.

“Most importantly, we’re building a team. We are defining roles, identity at both ends and the team is bonding. There is a great environment and atmosphere forming so that’s the review of the first half for me in a nutshell,” Nash said following the win.

“I think we need to continually fight for improvement, invest in each other in those bonds, and defensively play like underdogs. That is something that will take us a long way if we can get ourselves to a greater level on that end of the floor.”

Joe Harris echoed the same sentiments following the win, noting how the Nets are building chemistry as time goes on - an area he wants the Nets to carry over in the second half of the season.

“I think I touched on that earlier just about how it’s one of those things where we just didn’t have a ton of time together early on. It wasn’t like James and a lot of the guys on the roster were here at the beginning of the season,” Harris said.

“There’s been a lot of shakeup over the course of the season but we’re starting to get to a point where things are solidified and you’re starting to see it on the court as well where guys are kicking out for one another offensively, defensively feeding off one another feeling each other in terms of rhythm and predetermining what’s going on and a lot of that is the continuity. Just getting used to playing with one another and you’re starting to see that now.”

It was not a breeze for Brooklyn as the Rockets didn’t go away easily. Following a 10-0 run by the Rockets that crumbled an 18-point lead crumbling, Harden took over, scoring when the team needed it. ‘The Beard’ hit a (3,000-fan) crowd-silencing three to give the Nets a 113-97 lead with 6:48 remaining. Victor Oladipo finished with 33 points and John Wall finished with a game-high 36 points. They continued to go back and forth for Houston, but the Nets came up strong in the end.

While Harden displayed the latest edition of his greatness in front of former fans, Nicolas Claxton continued to blossom for Brooklyn with Sean Marks in attendance.

After a career night for the 6’11” (and 3/4”) big against the Spurs two nights earlier, Claxton came up short of his first double-double but had 16 points, eight rebounds, and one assist in only 16 minutes of play off the bench. Twelve of the 16 came after he was inserted in the first half when the Nets were struggling a bit.

“It definitely doesn’t feel like a breakout stretch. I’m just staying present. That’s something I’ve worked on throughout my rehab.,” said the 21-year-old. “Taking everything day-by-day whether it’s having a good game, you learn if it’s a bad game and do the same thing. I definitely wouldn’t say it’s a breakout stretch. I’m just continuing to learn how to play with the guys out there and continue to grow. The sky’s the limit.”

In the end, the Nets finished with seven players in double-figures (two off the bench) shooting 57.6 percent overall and 48.6 percent from deep while recording 14 turnovers.

Harris, who finished with 19 points and two rebounds in 24 minutes, kicked off the game with a three but the Nets had a sluggish start, turning over the ball. Despite early turnovers, which Houston used to bolster its confidence, Brooklyn’s offense began to flow midway through the first. No so their defense. Brooklyn could not put pressure on the league’s worst 3-point shooting team and the Rockets took advantage - hitting five first-quarter threes.

The Nets ended the first up 30-27 while shooting 48.0 percent overall and 50.0 percent from deep.

Brooklyn opened the second quarter behind an offensive boost from Claxton, who scored 12 points and snagged five rebounds in seven minutes of play. The Nets second-year big man has proved to be Brooklyn’s offensive energizer in the second quarter - scoring 25 of his 29 points over the past two games in that span.

While Claxton hit the bench at the 4:51 mark, Harden led the way putting on a show as he ended the half with 14 points, seven rebounds, and nine assists to go along with three steals as he flirted with his usual triple-double to put Brooklyn up 67-54.

Despite the positives, Brooklyn struggled with turnovers in the first half, recording nine. Houston capitalized as the Rockets turned their nine turnovers into 12 fast break points.

The Nets opened the third getting whatever they wanted offensively but their defense and carelessness with the basketball left the doors open for the short-handed Rockets to hang around. Following a timeout by Nash with his team up 10 with 2:24 remaining, Brooklyn answered ending the quarter on an 11-5 run to give the Nets some breathing room heading into the final 12 minutes of play.

In addition to Harden, Irving, Harris and Claxton, DeAndre Jordan had a double-double with 15 points and 14 boards, Landry Shamet finished with 13 on 3-of-7 from deep, and Bruce Brown, who had his sixth straight double-digit game with 12 points, eight rebounds and seven assists while shooting 6-of-11 overall, 1-of-2 from deep.

The Film Room

Nicolas Claxton is special. How Sean Marks somehow managed to retain the 21-year-old even after the flurry of moves –– a Draft Night deal to bring in small-ball lightning rod, Bruce Brown and secondary shot-maker Landry Shamet and the, I don’t know, FREAKING HARDEN TRADE –– is beyond me. It appeared –– after Jarrett Allen went to Cleveland –– as if DeAndre Jordan was in the clear for the starting center gig. Now? A little murky.

Claxton was, once again, rather successful at staying in front of smaller players on switches. He forced Victor Oladipo into a rigid stepback jumper in the midrange. He engulfed the impervious force that is John Wall on a drive to the rim.

But he excelled on the other end, too. While the jumper has yet to make an appearance, the kid showcased his top-notch finishing in the paint. Here, while playing in a “horns” alignment with two screeners set up at the elbows, Claxton half-rolls to the basket after setting the screen for James Harden. Then, a power dribble and a graceful finish to the rim.

That power-dribble. He’s pretty good at it. It’s becoming a bit of a signature move. Here it is again, en route to a basket through contact.

When asked by NetsDaily about where he can make an impact on offense in the second half of the season, Clax kept it simple. He’s going to take what the defense gives him.

“Just continue to sharpen my tools,” said Claxton. “Like I said, just taking what the defense gives me especially if they want to trap any of the guys, that’s the short roll. Once I set that pick, just making those reads. That’s easy money so just being a basketball player and being able to do whatever the team needs.”

Easy money? From a guy who goes by Slim Reaper? Are we absolutely 1000% sure this isn’t Kevin Durant in a disguise?

Sean Marks shares his favorite aspect of the “Scary Hours”

In a Monday evening sitdown with YES Networks’ Michael Grady, Sean Marks spoke on the multitude of things regarding his (very successful!) ball-club in this NBA season. Marks kept it simple; he’s loved watching Brooklyn’s “Big Three,” commonly known as “Scary Hours,” problem solve on the fly.

“I’ve really enjoyed watching their interactions on the court. Watching the three of them come together trying to figure out, a lot of problem-solving… They still haven’t played together a whole lot, but I think what we’re seeing out there is they’re introducing…new concepts, they are involving their teammates. There’s a lot of teaching going on, they’re learning how to play with one another. So I think it’s part of the journey.”

And to see those guys (Harden, Durant, Irving) continuing to grow in their relationships, not necessarily always deferring. I think at first they’re trying to feel each other out. ‘Where should we be, what should we do?’ And now I think they’re getting down to just playing basketball and guys are enjoying playing with them, they’re enjoying playing with one another and as I mentioned earlier, they’re having fun out there and that is absolutely important, as you go through this season which is unlike any other.”

You can watch the full interview here, via YES Network’s Twitter account:

Jeff Green’s right shoulder has nerve issue, not deemed serious according to Steve Nash

Prior to Wednesday’s game against the Houston Rockets, the Nets ruled Jeff Green out with a right shoulder contusion - an injury he suffered against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Steve Nash believes his injury is not a long-term thing or will linger. On the other hand, the Nets head coach said there is probably a nerve issue.

“I don’t think it’s anything serious but I do think there is probably a nerve issue going on there that just takes a minute to resolve,” Nash said. “He can do a lot of things but there is no point risking or rushing if he doesn't feel like he can contribute the way he wants to. It doesn’t appear there is a long-term issue or this is something that will linger. It’s something that settles down and he should be able to go after that.”

Green has missed four of the Nets' last five games with the injury which he suffered at the hands of Patrick Beverley. Luckily for the Nets veteran stretch-5, Brooklyn has an eight-day break till their next game.

Nash was not asked about the severity behind Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot’s right knee soreness as he missed his second straight game Wednesday.

Tribute Video and future uniform retirement

The Rockets were ready with a tribute video to their former All-Star. He didn’t get them a ring, but he got them pretty far...

Harden also autographed his game worn sneakers for Rockets fans post game.

Bobby Marks praises Sean Marks (no relation)

In a series of post-game tweets, former Nets deputy GM Bobby Marks noted how current Nets GM Sean Marks had filled out the Nets roster ... and how it’s worked out.

Markism works!

DeAndre Jordan praises Steve Nash and James Harden after award-winning February coaching and play

The Nets hit the daily double Tuesday as James Harden won player of the month and Steve Nash was named the coach of the month for February, after the two combined to lead the Nets to a 9-4 record.

DeAndre Jordan believes Nash’s growth as a coach has been great, from first taking the job to today. Jordan explained that Nash is a “players coach” and has great relationships with all the players on the roster from top to bottom. He hopes Nash will see more honors in the future.

“I think it’s been great. Obviously, Steve was a hall of fame player with MVPs. He’s a great basketball mind. His IQ is top of the charts and he’s a players coach,” Jordan said on Nash. “He has great relationships with the guys, 1-through-15, and he asked a lot out of us. At times, he lets us police ourselves so having a guy like that at the helm is really great. To see him be rewarded for coach of the month is awesome so hopefully, we’ll see a lot more of those.”

When asked about what he believes Nash’s best ability is as a head coach, he said there are so many but highlighted his ability to read the players. Jordan said Nash allows his players to police themselves during games but steps in when he needs to step in. He noted how that quality in a head coach is hard to find in the league considering coaches sometimes don’t want to give up that power to their players.

“There’s so many but I think him being able to read the players because he was a great player for a very long time,” Jordan said. “I think him being able to require things out of us and then also let us police ourselves. Some coaches may not have that ability to do that or may not want to give up that control to let the players police themselves at times. I think he does a really great job letting guys figure it out and then if we are not figuring it out then he steps in and takes that responsibility. All that down the line, I think he’s done a really great job.”

Nash became the fifth Nets head coach to win the honor and the first Nets coach to win the honor since Jason Kidd was awarded the honor in March of 2014.

Meanwhile, the 12-year veteran complimented Harden’s versatile play noting how he does whatever he needs to do in order for the Nets to get the W ... whether it’s a big scoring game or a high assist game, he will do it and the team is “very lucky” to have him.

“We all know the player James Harden is. I think he is an amazing playmaker and an amazing scorer,” Jordan said. “I think he just builds what’s needed in order to win the basketball game, whether we need him to give us 40 points, whether he needs to give us 20 with 17 assists. That is the type of player that he is. Whatever we need to win a basketball game, that is what he is going to do and we are all very lucky to have him on our team. We are going to have his back tonight on and off the floor. We are excited about this game and hopefully, we can get a win going into the break.”

Harden ranks second in the league in triple-doubles, first in double-doubles, and in assists per game while lifting Brooklyn to the second seed in the East. The Nets are 16-7 since Harden joined the team.

As Sponge Bob might say...

Per Will Hanley

What’s next

The Nets will return back to action and tip-off their second-half schedule against the Boston Celtics at Barclays Center on Thursday, March 11. The game is set to tip at 7:30 PM ET.

While a majority of the Nets will be enjoying their eight-day break, James Harden and Kyrie Irving will be playing in the NBA All-Star Game on Sunday, March 7. On Thursday, Kevin Durant and LeBron James will draft their teams.

For a different perspective, check out The Dream Shake - our sister site covering the Houston Rockets for SB Nation.