Nets vs. Timberwolves: James Harden Makes an MVP Case

Blake Griffin spent plenty of years going up against James Harden with the Clippers and Rockets regular contenders in the Western Conference. Now, after three games as a teammate with the Nets, he’s got a different perspective.

“It's crazy. He just makes the game so easy for you, you know, and draws so much attention,” said Griffin. “But at the same time, you obviously look at his assist numbers and they're unbelievable as well. So, playing against him it was kind of always one of those things where you hoped to slow him down. And now playing with him, you really appreciate playing with guys like that because, you know, most of my shots are just 'be ready.' And he does a great job of finding you, so it's not something I take for granted.”

This was after Harden went for a season-high 44 points in Friday night’s 113-111 win in Detroit. Three nights earlier, he matched his career high with 17 assists against Portland. Asked after the win over the Pistons about this season’s crowded MVP race, Harden was direct.

“I feel like I am the MVP,” said Harden. “It’s just that simple. Just, I don’t want to talk, I don’t want to speak individually on myself. I’m just going to leave it at that. But I just try to go out there every single night and give my teammates everything I can bring to the game. Tonight, Detroit’s game plan and schemes were to take away the lob pass and not let our bigs get lobs and our shooters get shots. That allowed me to get to the basket and do layups all night. So, it’s just different. Games are different, and I just take what the defense gives me and the next game, it might be more lobs than shots. So I just play the game the right way and try to be efficient in doing it.”

Harden also had 14 rebounds against the Pistons, plus eight assists in 42 minutes. He leads the Nets in rebounds with 8.9 per game since joining the team and leads the league with 11.2 assists and 38.1 minutes per game. Harden is third in the NBA with 11 triple-doubles and seventh with 29 double-doubles. He's averaging 26.0 points in his 31 games with Brooklyn.

"He demands so much attention with the ball in his hand,” said Nic Claxton. “When he is dribbling and getting downhill, it really puts bigs in a really tough scenario because if they step up at all then it's a lob to me or to (DeAndre Jordan) or whoever may be in with him. If they decide to stay back, it's an easy layup or floater. He can score the ball. He can get his teammates involved. It makes the game look a lot easier when he is out there, for sure."

The Nets are 24-9 since Harden made his debut on Jan. 16 and 15-3 over the last 18 games without Kevin Durant.

“He literally does everything for us,” said Bruce Brown. “He is our captain out there on the floor on both ends of the floor. I know he doesn't get a lot of kudos for his defensive play, but he definitely straps up when he needs to. Yeah, he does everything for us. He makes the game a lot easier for everyone on the floor -- including me. He is making me look like a great player out there, so I give him kudos for that and yeah, he does everything for us so happy to have him with us.”


Steve Nash said guard Kyrie Irving would be available against the Timberwolves on Monday after missing Brooklyn’s three-game road trip due to a family matter. The wait will continue for Landry Shamet, who missed the last three games with a sprained ankle, and Kevin Durant, who has missed the last 18 games with a hamstring strain.

“They won’t play tomorrow,” said Nash. “I doubt they play this week, throwing it out there. Kevin played 4-on-4 with the guys and looks good and is progressing but still needs to be monitored and still need to get a certain amount of markers under his belt before we could put him in the frame again. Landry I think needs time. It’s not gonna be a long-term thing, but he’s not available tomorrow for sure.”


The Timberwolves have the NBA’s worst record, 11-35. They made a midseason coaching change, with Chris Finch replacing Ryan Saunders. Former Net D’Angelo Russell underwent knee surgery and last played on Feb. 8. Karl-Anthony Towns returned the next game after missing 20 of Minnesota’s first 24 games. The Wolves are 26th in offensive rating (106.9), 27th in defensive rating (114.7), and 30th in net rating. Towns leads Minnesota with 23.8 points and 10.4 assists per game with 4.3 assists per game. He’s shooting 49.1 percent overall and 40.0 percent from 3-point range.