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James Harden bouncing back big for Brooklyn Nets

Written by corres2

James Harden, a man most commonly known for his step-back jumper, appears to have taken a crucial step forward.

After missing four straight games and being in the NBA‘s health and safety protocols for two weeks, Harden has returned to the Brooklyn Nets in a big way.

He followed a triple-double in a win on Christmas Day against the Los Angeles Lakers with a near-repeat performance in a 124-108 victory against the LA Clippers on Monday.

Although he didn’t register a triple-double Monday, Harden did tie his season high with 39 points to go with his eight boards and 15 assists, the latter of which set his high for the season.

Those impressive efforts have come without the help of Kevin Durant, who has been in the league’s health and safety protocols since Dec. 18.

Without the league’s leading scorer on hand, a quartet of Nets in addition to Harden chipped in with double-digit points to help make up for Durant’s missing 29.7 points per game. Patty Mills and Nic Claxton led the way on that front with 18 apiece, while DeAndre’ Bembry and Blake Griffin each added 12.

But Harden was the scene-stealer in Los Angeles, as he went 11-for-16 on shot attempts inside the paint and scored 22 of his points within five feet of the basket.

“He picked us apart, everything we did,” Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue said after the game. 

Despite the buzz around Harden, not everyone is convinced that the three-time scoring champ is officially “back.”

As Chris Broussard put it on Tuesday’s episode of “First Things First,” he is reserving judgment until he sees Harden and Durant on the floor together.

“I’m not ready to say James Harden is back,” Broussard said. “… I’ll give it a maybe. But two games without Kevin Durant and now Kyrie Irving, since he’s coming back, that doesn’t tell me anything about what Harden is going to play like when they’re there. Particularly when KD is there. And my main problem, Nick, with Harden has been that when KD is there, he hasn’t played at a superstar level.”

Chris Broussard: I’m not ready to say James Harden is back

Chris Broussard says he isn’t so sure James Harden’s struggles are behind him.

To Broussard’s point, in 24 games this season with Durant, Harden is averaging 20.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 9.8 assists and shooting 42.1% from the field and 35.2% from beyond the arc.

In four games without KD, those numbers jump to 34.0 PPG, 9.8 RPG and 10.3 APG, with a 39.6% clip from the field and 31.0% from 3.

Plus, Harden’s 22.0 points and 41.5% from the field this season are both the lowest averages of his career since he became a full-time starter, and he’s shooting a career-low 34.3% from behind the arc.

However, Nick Wright did say the two-game sweep of the Los Angeles teams is a step in the right direction for Harden.

As for Harden, he said after Monday’s game that confidence is through the roof in Brooklyn’s locker room.

Next up for the Nets?

They head back east to start a three-game homestand, which opens with a tilt against the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.

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