There was hard evidence suggesting Harden wasn’t entirely fitting in with the Nets’ offense and that the new rule change was perhaps drastically affecting his game. He wasn’t exactly performing to his usual standard with or without Kevin Durant on the floor, which exacerbated the worries. Shouldn’t he have been dominating with more touches when KD was getting a breather?
But then came a little time away in the health and safety protocols. Harden missed 10 days of action before returning on Christmas Day to face the Los Angeles Lakers on national television. He led a somewhat restored Nets roster to an easy 122-115 victory, which was highlighted by his 36-point triple-double (10 assists and 10 rebounds).
OK, but we needed more evidence than that one game, right? When you consider how bad the Lakers have been this year, it would’ve been premature to suggest Houston Rockets James Harden was “back.” We’ve seen performances like this from him in 2021-2022, he’s just been unable to sustain such play … until Monday night.
The old James Harden has returned to the Brooklyn Nets. Let’s go.
Harden torched the Clippers and was two rebounds away from another triple-double. He led all scorers with 39 points in the 124-108 Nets victory, helping Brooklyn improve to 23-9 and keep a 1.5-game cushion over the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference.
But more importantly, the characteristic Harden play we’ve all be accustomed to took the spotlight for two straight games. He was aggressive. He got to the free throw line a total of 22 times. He shot 41% from 3-point range and 50% from the field. He captained the offense without fail, averaging 40 minutes in the two games.
This was the first time Harden’s logged back-to-back 30-point games all season long. That hasn’t happened since last March.
The step-back and pull-up 3-pointers made their return. He whipped out the Euro step. This is the James Harden the Nets need to fulfill their destiny as preseason title favorites. We know Durant’s return will inevitably disrupt his rhythm, but at least we know sustained superstar performances can now be a consistent reality.
If he can find a way to be efficient with fewer touches once the Nets are back to full strength, then Scary Hours might take on a whole new meaning.