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James Harden ‘very confident’ he’ll return before postseason

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NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

James Harden spoke to the media on Thursday, signaling that he’s on the verge of getting back on the court after battling a right hamstring strain. Harden, who has missed 17 of Brooklyn’s last 18 games, is “very confident” that he’ll be back before the postseason.

VERY confident.,,

As for concerns that the “Big Three” won’t be able to gel with so limited time together, Harden would have none of it.

“You’ve got three of the most elite basketball players in the game today and probably that’s ever played in the sense of skill-wise. That’s not the problem,” the one-time MVP deadpanned.

Before stepping back on the floor, Harden said he needs to get through a few more workouts without the effects of discomfort or pain. The Nets guard said the main aspects of his workouts has been getting his conditioning back while changing speeds and directions.

“I feel really good,” Harden said Thursday. “I’m just trying to get my conditioning back and just change of speeds, change of direction, and making sure the power and the quickness is there to be able to move how I move. So far so good. Today was really good and we just got to keep building on that.”

Brooklyn has six games remaining on their regular-season schedule ending May 26 before the first round of the postseason begins six days later after the play-in tournament, which will produce the seventh and eighth seeds. Harden said the plan is to play a couple of games before the postseason.

Harden, who is traveling with the Nets, is ruled out for Thursday night's game against the Dallas Mavericks. He did not, however, eliminate the possibility of playing against the Denver Nuggets on Saturday or the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday.

“The plan is to hopefully get an opportunity to play a couple of games before the postseason. We are just taking it one day at a time,” Harden said. “I’m going to leave it at that.”

Harden admitted it’s been tough being sidelined with injury for the longest stretch of his career. He thought he was closing in on a return to the hardwood before suffering a hamstring setback on April 20, ultimately putting him back to square one. He put a positive spin on his setback, stating that he’ll enter this year’s playoffs with a “clear mind and clear body” — a luxury he did not have in Houston and the very reason we wanted to come to the Nets organization in the first place.

“I thought it was returning. But then obviously, the feeling still wasn’t there,” Harden admitted. “You wanna be patient. As much as I love to hoop, I wanna be out there, but you gotta be smart. For me, it was just, alright, let’s knock this thing out and get this thing healthy,” Harden said.

“And then for me at this point in my career, I think going into the postseason basically since I was in Houston and whatnot, I’ve been playing heavy minutes, heavy minutes, just carrying the load, carrying the load, and this is an opportunity for me to get my body right going into the postseason with a clear mind and a clear body. That’s the ultimate goal. That’s the reason I came to Brooklyn.”

There’s been much discussion about the Nets' continuity coming into the playoffs. As of Thursday, Brooklyn’s Big 3 — “Scary Hours” as they’re known around these parts — had played in just 186 total minutes together. Harden, however, is not worried about the lack of common history of Brooklyn’s core, provided the Nets take care of the smaller details.

In order to get there, Harden stressed the importance of gaining buy-in from the entire group. In fact, he revealed that he held a meeting with some of Brooklyn’s less-heralded players on the roster to stress their importance and ensure that everyone was on the same page.

“Coming down the stretch, I think we’ve got six games left,” explained Harden about his personal goals for the Nets. “Focus on each possession on both ends of the ball defensively and offensively. How can we have each other’s back? How can we bring the energy? Guys off the bench: How can you come in and impact the game, and it’s not necessarily scoring?

“Guys like Bruce (Brown) come in the game and change the game defensively, change the game with his energy. I had a meeting with the guys about that in the sense of, you guys are going to win us a lot of games.

‘Obviously, Kevin and Kai get a lot of the credit. From top to bottom, we need every individual on this team in order for us to accomplish what we’re trying to accomplish. I’m here to credit those guys that they’re very valuable and very important in what we’re trying to do. Just making sure that our energy is up, we’re cheering for each other and we’re excited for each other, and we’re all on the same page.”

This hasn’t been the first time Harden’s exhibited vocal leadership to help get his group into form with the postseason on the horizon. In fact, he’s been using his voice from the sidelines to make a difference — a difference he called “very, very important.”

“I feel like my voice is very, very important to the team,” Harden argued. “Obviously, on the court, it’s a lot better, but while I’m not active or available to play, I think my voice can be very, very impactful,” Harden said. “[I’m] just trying to help guys and give guys nuggets here and there on what I see and ultimately help our team be better. I think my communication can go a long way.”

His messaging goes even further when he and his coach, Steve Nash, are regularly on the same page. Speaking of Nash, Harden called the rookie head coach “an unbelievable leader.”

“How much of a genius he is just as far as basketball,” said Harden about what impresses him most with Steve Nash. “Just his basketball mind — his IQ is above the charts. Our communication is constant. I think about basketball literally all day. We had a film session yesterday and we talked about some things and whatnot, and I was thinking about it the entire day. I ended up calling Steve last night and he felt the same way. He was thinking about the film session and whatnot. We just talked for just maybe 15, 20 minutes about things that we can control, things that we need to be better at, things he’s seeing on the film or throughout the course of games and vice versa.

“It’s just that constant communication that we’re on the same page. He’s still a competitor and wants to win. He’s an unbelievable leader,” Harden added.

It’d be understandable if Harden (and Durant’s) hamstring injuries changed his outlook on the trajectory of Brooklyn’s season. That is... if Harden wasn’t one of the 10-most confident people on the entire globe.

“No, no. No. I just... no,” said Harden about whether injuries have damaged the championship run. “We’re sitting right now at this point (in the) second spot and we’ve had so many different lineups (34 to be exact); that right there tells you how great, good, or whatever-you-wanna-call-it this team is. The most important thing for us going into the postseason is health. This season has been so condensed — you see a lot of guys are going down because of the amount of games.

“So I think for us our mindset is, alright, if we can come to the postseason healthy, we are right there and we got a chance. Finish these last six games out strong, focus on the things that we need to focus on, the things we can control, and go out there and have fun and we live with the results.”