The Nets put themselves in a position to suffer one of the worst losses in memory as they blew an entire 21-point lead to the Pelicans, who are the worst team in the NBA this season. But when it comes to pushing, the Nets have the dynamic duo of Kevin Durant and James Harden, who together scored 15 of their last 22 points in a 120-112 victory, and who collected 67 points on 22-of-35 shots plus 20 assists.
When Harden was asked after Friday night’s fight what a defense can do to stop him and Durant once they’ve got started, he hesitated, then came out with it: “Pray?”
It was a joke, but also a comment on where the Nets are headed, even without Kyrie Irving, who does not comply with the New York City COVID-19 vaccine mandate and is not allowed to join the team until he qualifies for all matches. The first part of the season has been an adaptation to have two superstars instead of three, but Durant and Harden may be enough to fight for a title.
“It’s hard,” Harden said of the problems Nets’ pair pose for opposing defenses. “We are two selfless basketball players. We are versatile. Of course, Kevin is known for his effective scoring, but he is also a willing passer, especially when there are doubles.
“It’s hard to protect him and it’s hard to protect me, especially once we’ve got it started. We’re so selfless we want to involve our teammates and also score the ball. We just have to find ways to continue it. ball movement on and ensure that everyone is involved. “
Harden had a hard time early in the season because he was unable to scrimmage during the summer while retraining after a severe strain of his right hind thigh, which he suffered at the end of last season, where he was injured again in the playoffs. . He needed NBA playing time to round out form, and his 39-point effort against the Pelicans was his first 30-point game of the season.
“I think we have to be patient with him,” said Nets coach Steve Nash. “He still has a few meters left before he feels the best. There’s the fitness, there’s the rhythm and then there’s the confidence. For all three things to come back, it takes time. He was great tonight and he has been really good. the last week or so and trend in the right direction. “
The Nets (9-4) are 4-1 on their season-high six-game road trip, which ends against the Thunder (5-6) Sunday night in Oklahoma City. Harden has scored two triple-doubles on this trip plus a 28-point game in Toronto, which was his season high until he scored 39 in New Orleans. He may not be quite back, but he’s close.
“I’m going to get there,” Harden said. “It should not take long … It takes a lot of hard work to play at a time when you have seen me play. When I do not score 30 points, when I am on average 18-and-any. Points. , it’s like, ‘What’s wrong with James?’
“It’s still pretty solid. I’ve played so well and so extremely on another level, where you set standards for me and I set standards for myself. For me, I just keep working. I feel much better, and the work does not stop.
“I just have to keep building. I felt like the last game in Orlando, I know my pace was good, I was getting to the basket, I found my teammates, and I just had that burst. “Tonight it was the same. I just have to keep reinforcing that feeling and just keep going.”
Durant is already the best player in the NBA, and when Harden returns at full speed, he may be the second best.
“They are two of the best players who have ever played in this league,” said guard Joe Harris. “We are very lucky to have them both on our team and that makes the game a lot easier.”