2. James Harden vs Marcus Smart
Harden might use his underrated defense to guard one of Boston’s better offensive players, but you can put down with 100 percent certainty that Smart will be tasked with impeding Harden. Given Smart’s strength and tenacity, it’s easy to see why he will be given the role of slowing down the former MVP.
Harden has always been heralded for his ability to go 110% in every game, but a hamstring injury sidelined him for most of the end of the season. Luckily, as proven during a win against the Chicago Bulls, Steve Nash can trust Harden to shoulder the typically heavy load he has been willing to pick up in the regular season.
James Harden needs to win this matchup on both ends.
As evidenced by the fact that the Nets are a .500 team when Harden is not in the lineup, Brooklyn needs the triple-double maestro to provide his usual blend of peerless scoring, solid rebounding, and tremendous distribution. Smart is as well-equipped to stop that as anyone in the league.
For all of Harden’s immeasurably good qualities, he can be a bit inconsistent as a 3-point shooter from time to time. If Smart managed to limit his ability to drive or wiggle into the paint, that could make it even tougher for Brooklyn to answer the barrage of 3-pointers Boston can uncork at any given moment.