Like this year’s New Year celebrations, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Inauguration and pretty much everything else altered by the COVID-19 pandemic, the spectacle surrounding James Harden’s Brooklyn Nets debut lacked the pomp and circumstance it warranted.
Yet Harden still gave Nets fans everything they could have hoped for and more, posting 32 points, 14 assists and 12 rebounds against the Orlando Magic on Saturday, Jan. 16 at home in his first game with the franchise.
Harden, looking less svelte than he should be, scored his first basket on a patented layup at the 10:06 mark in the second quarter. The tandem of Harden and Kevin Durant, who dropped 42, led the Nets to a 122-115 win, but their second win on Monday night, Jan. 18, an impressive 125-123 defeat over the Milwaukee Bucks and reigning back-to-back NBA Giannis Antetokounmpo, put the Eastern Conference on notice.
“It’s a huge win for us,” said Harden, with enthusiasm. “This is our second game together, and we haven’t had one practice.” Combined, Harden and Durant scored 74 points on Saturday and 64 on Monday.
“We’ve still got room to improve, but it’s a solid start,” said Durant following the Nets’ hard-fought win at the Barclays Center over the Bucks, who dropped to 9-5, one game behind the Boston Celtics, who at 8-4 were leading the Eastern Conference when play began on Tuesday.
The Nets are slowly creeping back into the top tier of the standings in the conference and were 9-6 when they faced the Cleveland Cavaliers on the road last night (Wednesday). The Nets remained in Cleveland to play the Cavs again tomorrow.
Harden, a three-time NBA scoring champion, was acquired by Brooklyn from the Houston Rockets last Wednesday in a four-team trade that included the Indiana Pacers and Cavaliers. The Nets parted with three unprotected first round picks (2022, 2024, 2026) and four players—Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince and Rodions Kurucs—to secure the deal.
Harden came into this season demanding a trade; he became disgruntled in part because the Rockets didn’t retain head coach Mike D’Antoni at the end of last season—he’s now a head assistant with the Nets—and because of the resignation of former general manager, Daryl Morey, to become the president of basketball operations for the Philadelphia 76ers in October.
Intent on leaving the Rockets, Harden rejected the team’s offer of a contract extension that would have made him the NBA’s first $50 million per season player. Coming to the Nets not only reunites Harden with D’Antoni, it also reunites him with Kevin Durant, with whom he played with the Oklahoma City Thunder from 2009 through 2012.
Harden, 31, was drafted third overall in the first round by the Thunder in 2009. Durant, 32, was the No. 2 overall pick in 2007 by the Seattle Supersonics, who moved the franchise to Oklahoma City when the 2007-’08 season ended. With Durant and Harden, OKC reached the NBA Finals in 2012. Harden, who came off the bench, topped that season off winning the league’s Sixth Man of the Year Award.
The combination of Harden, Durant and Kyrie Irving, whose return to the team is anxiously anticipated after he missed seven straight going into last night due to personal reasons and the NBA’s COVID protocols, is expected to reap huge dividends for the Nets. It may take some time for the trio to find chemistry, but they almost certainly will be the most potent combination in the league, and perhaps in the history of the NBA, when it all comes together.