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James Harden has transformed into a different type of superstar for the Nets

The Nets' James Harden attempts to shoot as

The Nets' James Harden attempts to shoot as he is defended by the Spurs' Trey Lyles and Jakob Poeltl during the second half of an NBA game Monday in San Antonio. Credit: AP/Darren Abate

Of all the crazy good stats James Harden has put up in 22 games with the Nets, the craziest might be that the 30-point, 14-rebound, 15-assist, zero-turnover triple-double he recorded in Monday night’s win at San Antonio was his seventh triple-double in that brief span.

Harden ranks second in franchise history behind the 61 triple-doubles Jason Kidd recorded in 504 games with the Nets. When that stat was mentioned to Kyrie Irving after the game, he put it in pitch-perfect perspective.

"We have to implement the phrase: ‘Get used to it,’" Irving said with a delighted smile. "When someone’s that special, someone’s that talented, they’re able to play at a very high level, and he’s been displaying that. It makes it easier for me, and I’m sure other guys can echo that sentiment.

"When James is being James, it makes our job a lot easier. So we got to get used to somebody that special, things like that in terms of breaking records."

Harden’s performance helped the Nets snap a 17-game regular-season losing streak in San Antonio that dated to Jan. 22, 2002. That game was a prelude to Harden’s first appearance in Houston Wednesday night at Toyota Center since the Rockets (11-22), who have lost 12 straight, traded him on Jan. 14 to the Nets (23-13), who have won nine of their past 10.

Since the trade, the Nets have gone 16-6 in the games Harden has played. He is averaging 25.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and 11.3 assists with them, and after winning three straight NBA scoring titles with the Rockets, Harden has shifted his focus to become more of a facilitator with the Nets alongside Irving and Kevin Durant, who will miss his ninth straight game against the Rockets because of a strained left hamstring.

As a result of the playmaking role Harden has taken on, he was named Eastern Conference Player of the Month for February on Tuesday, and rookie Nets coach Steve Nash, who placed Harden in that role, was named Conference Coach of the Month.

Describing his transformation, Harden said, "Honestly, I just try to find ways to impact the game and not just scoring the basketball. We have a number of guys who can put the ball in the basket.

"Getting easy buckets – I feel like it’s my job. I’m just playing the game the right way and not forcing anything, trying to make the right play and that’s kind of my mindset every single game and it’s been working."

Although Harden spent his first three seasons playing for the Thunder, it was during the next eight full seasons with the Rockets that he blossomed into a superstar, including winning NBA MVP honors in 2017-18. But before his ninth season, Harden let it be known that he didn’t believe the Rockets could contend and he asked for a trade to the Nets. It was a bitter ending, and some accused Harden of "quitting" on the team.

But he anticipates a joyous return before 4,500 fans in Toyota Center. "My time there was great," Harden said when asked what kind of reception he expects. "Obviously, we came up short to win a championship or even [reach] a Finals, but hopefully, those fans appreciated everything I’ve done on the court and off the court and that I’m still continuing to do off the court because that’s a place I call home."

Harden was referring to the recent crisis in Houston as a result of heavy snow and ice and freezing temperatures that led to the failure of the Texas power grid, damage to the water supply and extensive property damage. A restaurant he owns served 3,000 free meals one day, and he has been involved in bottled water distribution and efforts to help rebuild.

"I still reside there, and my plan is to touch as many people as I can, whether it’s food, whether it’s water, whether it’s we’re building their homes, whether it’s making them smile," Harden said. "Just trying to touch thousands and thousands of people in that city because…they showed me and my family so much love.

"That process is still going on as far as trying to give back to that city. So nothing but love and respect, and I’m excited to see some familiar faces and play a game against the Rockets."

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