Back in the day when Magic Johnson played for the Lakers, Los Angeles was the location for "Showtime." The same could be said for what James Harden did as the Nets completed a clean sweep of L.A. with a 124-108 victory over the Clippers on Monday night, two nights after beating the Lakers.
Harden scored 39 points to give him a total of 75 in two wins by the Nets (23-9), who are first in the tough Eastern Conference. He did it with 15-of-25 shooting, including 4-of-9 shooting from three-point range. And to top it off, Harden had a season-high 15 assists.
To make it more impressive, Harden was coming fresh out of COVID-19 quarantine, playing his first two games in more than two weeks. "He looked great," Nets coach Steve Nash said of Harden. "Played very well. Obviously, played great Christmas Day [against the Lakers] and carried it over. He was getting to the rim a ton, made some threes, 15 assists, three turnovers. He just set the tone for us and was outstanding."
The Nets, who face the 76ers on Thursday at Barclays Center, scored a season-high 71 points in the first half as they took a 16-point lead against the Clippers. Harden was off the hook, scoring 22 first-half points on 8-of-13 shooting, including 3-of-4 from three-point range. And eight of his assists came in the first half.
The Nets scored at least 30 points in each of the first three quarters and then coasted to the win over the Clippers, who were without Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Of course, the Nets did not have Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, both of whom are in the NBA’s health and safety protocols.
Harden emerged from quarantine on Christmas Day when he scored 36 against the Lakers. He had been carrying a heavy load in terms of playing time for the Nets before that break.
Asked if the time off did him good, Harden said, "I don’t know. Probably. I was starting to feel good right before then, like the body was starting to feel good. I don’t know. That break or COVID, or protocol, or rest, whatever you want to call it, it could have went two ways. I just overly locked in on my body, my eating, and when I was able to start working out, my workouts.
"I’ve got a little set-up in my house. It’s just some weights, some different kinds of machines. I can keep my heart rate up and just stay active."
So much for all the critics who knocked Harden for his slow start this season after he spent his summer rehabbing from a serious hamstring injury. All he has done is play 39.1 minutes per game for his last 12 games.
"When you prepare yourself to be great, there’s no surprise," Harden said. "It’s just difficult coming off the injury and finding myself and not having a chance to play pickup. And we don’t really practice because of the schedule.
"Before COVID, I was getting into that rhythm and I was finding myself and then COVID hit. So priority number one was resting, but obviously, making sure I was eating really good and then getting my cardio in. I was making sure I pushed myself a little bit harder."
Regarding the Nets’ recent surge, winning six of their past seven games, Harden said, "Confidence is through the roof. Now you add KD and Ky and LaMarcus [Aldridge] and Joe Harris and that’s four of our best players. They are out. Our confidence level for our bench and guys that are in the game is high. We can find different ways to win basketball games, and that’s what it’s about. Guys stepped up on this road trip."