For the first time since his trade to the Nets in January, James Harden is headed back to Houston as the Nets wrap up the first half of the season against the Rockets on Wednesday before heading into the All-Star break.
Harden is coming off his seventh triple-double in 22 games as a Net, going for 30 points, 15 assists, and 14 rebounds without a turnover in Tuesday’s 124-113 win against San Antonio. It was the first game with at least 30 points, 10 rebounds and 15 assists without a turnover in the league since the 1977-78 season.
“We have to implement the phrase ‘get used to it.’ When someone's that special, someone's that talented and are able to do all facets of the game at a very high level they're able to play at a very high level, and he's been displaying that,” said Kyrie Irving. “And it makes it easier for me; I'm sure other guys can echo the sentiment. When James is being James, it makes our job a lot easier. And so we got to get used to somebody special like that, things like that in terms of breaking records.”
Since joining the Nets, Harden is averaging 25.3 points, 11.3 assists and 8.5 rebounds, leading the team in the latter two categories, while playing 38 minutes per game, shooting 49.0 percent overall and 41.9 percent from 3-point range. On Tuesday, Harden was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Month for February.
“He’s a brilliant basketball player,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash. “He makes others better. He can get to the line. He can finish in the paint, and he’s always a threat from three. He literally can do almost everything to do out there, and he’s been a great leader for us. He can control the game. He’s a very smart defender. I think he’s been outstanding as far as just keeping his team on track, leading, talking things out, communicating, and his passion for the game and willingness and want to win is fantastic.”
In his eight-plus seasons in Houston, Harden averaged 29.6 points and 7.7 assists in 621 games, went to eight All-Star Games, earned seven All-NBA honors — six First Team — and was named the 2017-18 NBA MVP. He led the league in scoring three times and in assists once.
With Harden leading the way, the Rockets won at least 50 games five times in eight years, including a franchise-record 65 wins in 2017-18 that gave Houston the league’s best record.
“Time there was great,” said Harden. “Obviously we came up short to win a championship or even a Finals but just the work that I put in, hopefully those fans appreciated everything that I've done on the court and off the court and I'm still continuing to do off the court because that's a place that I call home. It's always home and I feel like I'm still a part of everything and the struggles and everything they go through. I'm excited to go back there and see the familiar faces, see my family and play a game and the last game before the break.”
Harden has remained involved in the city since his departure, actively working to assist in recovery following the recent storms that left residents without power, heat, and water, donating meals from his soon-to-open restaurant.
“I've been there eight years and still reside there, in the sense of a house and my plan is to touch as many people as I can in the sense of whether it's food, whether it's water, whether it's we're building their homes, whether it's making them smile, whether it's, whatever the case may be just trying to touch thousands and thousands of people in that city because they've done that for me and they showed me and my family so much love,” said Harden. “And that's still going on. That process is still going on as far as trying to give back to that city. So nothing but love and respect and like I said I'm excited to see some familiar faces and play a game against the Rockets.”
BRUCE BROWN SCORING
After scoring in double figures five times in Brooklyn’s first 31 games, Bruce Brown has done so for five consecutive games after scoring 23 points on 10-of-13 shooting against San Antonio on Monday. That includes a career-high 29 points a week ago against Sacramento. Over the last five games, Brown is averaging 18.2 points while shooting 70.4 percent. He’s even hit 4-of-8 3-pointers over that stretch, not a major focus for a player who has made his living on the offensive end as a cutter and interior finisher.
“It’s great when he makes threes, but that’s not why we put him on the floor,” said Steve Nash. “When he makes them, we’re happy for him, and hopefully he continues to develop that part of his game. But when he’s out there rolling to the basket, and they’re scared of James or Ky, and he can play 2-on-1 or 3-on-2 and finish at the rim, he’s found a niche there. Like I said, I really, really admire his ability to roll and finish and make plays. He plays so hard, so much energy, took the ball to the basket coast to coast a few times tonight as well. He expanded his game a little offensively tonight, but that’s a bonus. We love Bruce because he’s such a competitor and a fighter and he’s really clever at playing that roller position as a guard.”
ASSISTS VS. TURNOVERS
The Nets had a season-high 35 assists against San Antonio and are third in the NBA with 27.1 assists per game after recording at least 30 in three of their last four games. They did that with just five turnovers against the Spurs, their lowest total of the season, coming after turning it over 19 times in Saturday’s loss to Dallas.
James Harden had 15 assists and zero turnovers after committing six turnovers against Dallas.
“It has to be that way. If I'm the point guard and my teammates and coaching staff is giving me the responsibility to handle the basketball, I have to do really good job with my passes, making them precise and not just giving away points,” said Harden. “I feel like we harp up on it all the time. If we get a shot at the rim, there's very little teams that can stop us and guard us. That was an emphasis for myself and it's going to continue be like that and continue to the rest of the season, me just turning the basketball whether it's careless or not it can't happen and tonight I think as a team we did a really good job of that. San Antonio is a great team. They're very disciplined and if you turn the basketball over, they'll make you pay for it. That was the emphasis for us tonight and we did a really good job of that.”
NASH NAMED COACH OF THE MONTH
Steve Nash has been named the Eastern Conference Coach of the Month for February after leading the Nets to a 9-4 record that included an eight-game win streak and a 5-2 road record.
Nash is the first Nets head coach to receive a Coach of the Month honor since Jason Kidd in 2014. With James Harden's selection as February's Eastern Conference Player of the Month, Nash and Harden become the first Nets player/coach duo to earn Coach of the Month and Player of the Month honors in the same month since Lawrence Frank and Vince Carter for April 2007.
ABOUT THE ROCKETS
The Rockets are 11-22 after losing their last 12 games, 13th out of 14th teams in the Western Conference. Houston had won seven of eight before that losing streak began in early February. The Rockets have the league’s eighth-ranked defense, allowing 109.8 points per 100 possessions, but they’re 27th in offensive rating (105.4), 28th in field goal percentage (43.7), and 30th in 3-point percentage (33.0). The slide coincides with the loss of Christian Wood to an ankle injury — Wood’s last game on Feb. 4 was Houston’s last win. He’s leading the Rockets with 22.0 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, shooting 55.8 percent. John Wall is averaging 20.4 points and 6.1 rebounds.