Brooklyn Nets fans were treated to a vintage James Harden performance on Friday night. In 38 minutes of play against the New Orleans Pelicans Harden lost a season high of 39 points in 11 of 18 shooting. He rounded off the effort with 12 assists and five boards when the Nets dropped the Pels, 120-112.
As good as Harden was, New Orleans was definitely hit on all sides. Kevin Durant, for his part, set up a 28-8-7 line, while Joe Harris came in with 24 of his own points.
After the game, Harden was asked what opposing teams could possibly do to slow himself and Durant down when both are at world level. His answer was another classic.
“Um, pray,” he said after a pause.
Harden quickly realized he was joking, but he wasn’t really wrong either. At least there is an element of truth.
In the minutes Harden and Durant split the court against NOLA, the Nets were plus-17. From Harden’s point of view, the duo’s willingness to play for others is what makes the combination such a thorn in the side of the opposing sides.
“I mean, it’s difficult man, we’re two selfless basketball players,” said Harden. “Kevin is known for his goals, of course – an efficient goalscorer – but he is also a willing passer, especially when there are doubles and the like.”
He added, “It is difficult to watch him and it is difficult to watch me, especially when we get it going. We just want to include our teammates. And of course we can also shoot the ball. We just need to find ways to keep the ball moving and make sure everyone is involved. “
Although Harden talked about including his teammates, his individual effort on Friday was a big one for him.
In his first 11 games, the former NBA MVP averaged just 18.3 points per competition while shooting 39.9% off the floor. During that time, Brooklyn was 6.6 points per 100 possessions better than he was on the bench.
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Despite the slow start, Harden’s recent breakout feels like a sign that he’s finally turning things around. For his part, he sees progress.
“I’m going there,” Harden said of ESPN. “It wouldn’t take long. I mean that is the highest [level] In sport, the NBA is the most talented player in the world. So it won’t be easy for me to just come out and do what I do. It takes a lot of hard work to play at one point where you’ve seen me play.
“If I don’t get 30 points, if I get an average of 18 points, it’s like, ‘What’s wrong with James?’ It’s still pretty solid. I’ve played so well and so extremely at a different level where you set standards for me, and I also set standards for myself. For me, I just keep working. I feel a lot better and the work doesn’t stop. “