Nets playmaker James Harden files MVP case

These MVP-level performances are the reason the Nets did everything they could to get James Harden.

The tantalizing championship-level potential they’re beginning to reach is why Harden made his way to Brooklyn.

It was on display Tuesday in Phoenix when, with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving out, Harden led the Nets to the biggest halftime comeback in team history. It’s what had Harden so excited when they ran a four-game win streak in Thursday’s star showdown with LeBron James and the Lakers.

“The way we’re playing and the potential we have as a team is what excites me,” Harden said. “Coming to Phoenix and they had won six in a row, we lost two of our best players and went in and won after being down [21] to the half? That’s exciting.

“We could have easily given up… but we didn’t give up and we won. So that’s exciting. Now we just have to keep building. Hopefully we get KD and Ky back next game and keep this train running. “

Even while he’s still getting in shape, Harden has already become the conductor of that train. The Nets are hoping the final stop will be the NBA Finals, and they look like favorites to face the Lakers there, with Harden’s arrival as the biggest catalyst for leveling up contenders to potential super-team.

The Nets are 7-7 without Harden, but 11-5 when he starts, and a striking 5-1 when in the lineup with Durant and Irving. The question arises whether it should be in the MVP conversation.

“He’s creating for everyone,” Durant said, “taking down shots, being a shot maker.”

James harden
James harden
NBAE via Getty Images

Harden added 38 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds to beat the Suns, hitting the dagger triple with half a minute to play to cap the comeback. But it’s been his ability to make everyone else better – yes, even the Big 3 – that has lifted the Nets.

When Jeff Green starts, the entire Nets lineup is shooting better than 50 percent overall and 40 percent from deep. They’re all hitting the highest running clips from the 3-point range, and Harden’s playmaking is a big reason why.

“That is the brilliance of James, being able to distort and manipulate the defense, and prepare his teammates for opportunities. That’s a great addition to our team, it’s his way of playing and his vision, ”said coach Steve Nash.

“Clearly, he is an elite playmaker. He brought that to our team, to our profile. … His way of playing is what makes our team improve more than his score. Now, we want him to be aggressive and score and shoot, but the special part of what he brings to our team is the way he plays, and [that] let everything fit. “

Although Harden had joined Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain as the only men to average more than 34 points more than once, claiming the last three scoring titles, he has adjusted since arriving in Brooklyn. He has agreed to pass shots and has been less prolific, but more complete, averaging 11.8 assists and 8.4 rebounds, the NBA’s highest, both best in his career.

“I just try to make the right play and play the game the right way. I don’t really pay attention to stats or all of that, ”Harden said. “I knew that, coming from the trade, we weren’t the best in defense and rebounding. So my way of thinking was as a guard trying to be a really good rebounder.

“Making plays is something I’ve always done naturally. So it’s just a way of thinking, being in the right places and trying to communicate and participate as much as possible in each possession. The numbers and statistics mean nothing to me if we don’t win. That is the most important “.

That desire to win led Harden to force a trade from Houston in a way that has come under scrutiny. Even Draymond Green said, “I don’t think anyone is going to fight because James was chasing him in his last days in Houston.”

But James understood Harden’s reason, a purposeful focus on a ring.

“He wants to win,” James said. “He wants to win now.”

With Harden looking like an MVP candidate, the Nets have a shot.


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