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James Harden has been lucky 13 for Brooklyn

Nets star looks to extend triple-double mark vs. Atlanta

November 2, 2021 John Torenli, Sports Editor
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You ain’t seen nothin’ yet, according to Brooklyn Nets superstar forward James Harden.

“We’ve shown some signs of being a really good team,” Harden said after breaking the franchise’s all-time record for triple-doubles in Sunday’s 117-91 rout of the Detroit Pistons in front of 13,507 fans at Barclays Center.

“We’re nowhere near where we would like to be.”

Nor is Harden, who finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists for his 13th triple-double as a Net, breaking the previous mark of 12 established by Hall of Fame point guard Jason Kidd.

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Harden notched 12 triple-doubles in only 36 games with Brooklyn (4-3) last season before injuring his hamstring and playing on one leg during the Nets’ playoff run to the Eastern Conference semifinals, where they were eliminated in seven tough games by eventual NBA champion Milwaukee.

The former league MVP is finally at full health, something which avoided him throughout his first campaign in Brooklyn.

“I just feel more free,” said Harden, who was leading the NBA with 11 assists per game last season at the time of his injury. “My body has allowed me to do things that it is used to doing.

“Earlier and later in the season, I was relying on my IQ a lot and I feel like now, just being aggressive, being assertive and IQ is just automatically going to be there. Whether it is getting to the basket, whether it is coming off pick and roll and being aggressive, whether it is isolation and being aggressive and taking what the defense gives me, don’t overthink the game. Just go out there and be myself.”

That has been plenty of late for a Nets team that lost three of its first five games before knocking off Indiana and Detroit for their first consecutive wins of the year.

Harden put up 29 points, eight boards and eight helpers in Friday’s 105-98 win over Indiana here and was 6-of-9 from the floor vs. the Pistons, including 4-of-7 from 3-point range, helping the Nets put up a franchise-record 65 percent team shooting percentage.

Brooklyn head coach Steve Nash, who is still shuffling his lineup to account for the absence of the unvaccinated Kyrie Irving, likes what he sees from Harden, who emerged as Brooklyn’s top facilitator a season ago despite injury.

“The guy hasn’t played a lot of basketball and so there was more hesitancy rather than aggression and we’ve tried to push him as he’s started to feel more confident and comfortable to attack, attack early, attack often, get to the paint, don’t try to outfake people all the time,” said Nash.

“He’s a brilliant basketball player and I think he has an incredible IQ but sometimes especially when he’s trying to find his legs and his rhythm, it’s equally as valuable to think less and attack and to play with more intensity.”

Kevin Durant will need James Harden to be at his best if he and the Nets are interested in seriously pursuing a championship this year. AP Photo by Corey Sipkin

Kevin Durant scored a team-high 23 points Sunday before getting ejected in the third quarter and LaMarcus Aldridge added 16 points off the bench for Brooklyn, which improved to 3-2 on its six-game homestand, which concludes Wednesday against Eastern Conference runner-up Atlanta.

Without Irving in the mix, despite the continued pleas of team owner Joe Tsai for the superstar point guard to at least get his first vaccine shot, Durant will need Harden at his best throughout the season if the Nets hope to get where they want: a parade down Flatbush Avenue after the first title in team history.

“I feel like he was in good shape when we came into camp working out with him this summer,” said Durant of his superstar sidekick. “I felt like he looked good to me. I think it’s a matter of getting comfortable with the NBA game again, the physicality, the quickness of the game.

“We all have an adjustment period when we come back from the offseason of playing the NBA style of basketball. It’s always evolving. It’s so fast, so quick. It may take us some time, all of us, mentally, all players to figure out what that bump and grind is like again. It usually takes a few games but you start to see it around the league everybody getting more and more comfortable with the style of play.”

Harden appears to be at a premium level of comfort entering Friday’s homestand finale.

The Nets just hope that he and Durant can deliver our borough’s first major pro sports championship since 1955.

Even if it is without Irving.

Nets owner Joe Tsai decided that Kyrie Irving must be vaccinated if he is going to play with Brooklyn this season. AP Photo by Corey Sipkin

NOTHING BUT NET: Tsai indicated last week that he’d like Irving to get a vaccine shot, not because of any health considerations or city mandates, but simply to help the Nets along in their ongoing quest for a championship. “I have all the patience!” Tsai said of Irving, who could lose up to $17 million of his $35 million salary this year if he does not participate in home games. “He’s on the team right? He’s on the roster. He’s just not on the court. You’re in an environment where this is a team sport. You have to have patience with all sorts of things. He’s an elite player. We all know that. If he gets vaccinated, we’ll welcome him back on the team, but if he’s not vaccinated, we’ve made a decision that it would be too disruptive for him to come in and out of games, play only away games. So that was never going to fly. It’s that simple.” … After hosting the Hawks, the Nets will leave Brooklyn on a six-game road trip, beginning Friday night in Detroit.

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