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Nets Notes: James Harden Returns With Double-Double

Harden goes for 18 points, 11 rebounds in win over Spurs

When James Harden played his first games for the Brooklyn Nets back in January, the three-time NBA scoring champion was perfectly content to start off in a distributing role, feeding a roster of capable scorers as everybody got used to things.

His return to action on Wednesday night followed a similar, slightly accelerated path. Over eight first-half minutes after entering the game in the second quarter, Harden took two shots while handing out three assists.

With that stretching of the legs out of the way, he went on to make all six of his shots over 18 minutes in the second half on the way to an 18-point, 11-assist double-double — plus seven rebounds — in Brooklyn’s 128-116 win over the San Antonio Spurs.

“I don't know if he was tentative or if he's just feeling his way into the game,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash. “It's been a long layoff. So I don't know that he overcame any fears as much as I think he just kind of felt a rhythm and started to kind of come back to himself and feel more confident in what he was doing. And it was just different. You get out there with the team, five-on-five under the lights against another NBA team it takes a minute, especially since he enters the game in the second quarter. So all considered I thought he was great.”

Harden had missed 20 of Brooklyn’s last 21 games — playing just four minutes in the other — dating back to April 1. Despite the missed time, his 32nd double-double of the season still had him ranked 12th in the league in the category, and he’s still third with his 12 triple-doubles.

“I know I can score the basketball, but I take pride in getting guys involved and letting guys be involved in the offense,” said Harden. “That way, defensively, they’ll all be locked in and it’s a lot easier. I want everybody to get their shots whether they’re close to the rim or three-point shots or whatever the case may be, or just get an opportunity to get a shot. That’s something I’ve been doing throughout the course of my career, especially when I was in Houston.

“Obviously, Kevin and Ky get their shots however they want. But my job is to get everybody else on this roster easy opportunities. When I was sitting out, I had multiple conversations with Steve on our offense and kind of putting myself in position to be successful and that means getting guys better shots. It’s something that we still continue to work on and these next two days that we have between games and the week after our last regular-season game is very vital to our success in the sense of offensively and defensively getting on the same page.”

It was Harden’s first time coming off the bench since his NBA Sixth Man of the Year season in 2011-12 with Oklahoma City. With a limit on his minutes for the night, Nash wanted to ensure Harden was available down the stretch in the fourth quarter if necessary.

“I forgot what I was doing as a starter,” said Harden with a laugh. “Definitely I forgot, but that sixth man role, I've mastered that as well. You know, I've got an award for that role. That role is easy, coming out and impacting the game. Doing whatever it takes to win — whether its offensively or defensively. But that's my role no matter what. Especially on this team — not necessarily scoring all the time when I don't need to. Communicating, being the leader on the floor, making sure guys are in their right positions defensively. And these last few games, we've been better.”

Around Harden, everybody got well. Landry Shamet’s brief shooting slump melted away as he connected on 5-of-7 3-pointers on the way to a team-high 21 points. Nic Claxton, who thrived as a pick-and-roll partner for Harden throughout March, scored a career-high 18 points on 7-of-8 shooting. The Nets shot 60.8 percent overall and 42.9 percent on 3-pointers.

“Honestly, it was beautiful playing with James again,” said Claxton. “It opened things up for everybody. Just his vision, it makes the game easier for everybody, so we’re excited to have him back.”

“He sees the game on a different level for sure,” said Shamet. “Offensively it's great having him in our repertoire again. Glad to have him back. I thought he looked good from a mental standpoint, he was making the right reads, even some of his passes and stuff. Most guys when they've sat out for that long they'd be pretty rusty I think, but he was throwing behind the back passes, splitting two defenders and you know, being James Harden. It was a welcome sight for sure. Happy to have him back.”

Harden’s return comes with the regular season winding down. The Nets have two games remaining this weekend, and the facial contusion Kyrie Irving suffered on Tuesday night prevented the reunion of the Harden/Irving/Durant big three for at least another night, keeping the trio stuck on a total of seven games played together so far. With a back-to-back this weekend against Chicago and Cleveland, Nash said Harden will get at least one more game in before the playoffs.

“Preseason is one thing, the regular season is another level, postseason is an entirely other level,” said Harden. “You know, and then the levels increase as you go different rounds. So, for me I wanted to get out there and just be on the court -- for my teammates and let them feel my presence and then also get my conditioning and my wind back up to where I'm able to compete and be effective on both ends of the ball for an extended period of the game.”

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