James Harden merely became the seventh player in NBA history to have a triple-double in his debut with a new team and the first with a triple-double that included 30 points. He had 32 points, 14 assists and 12 rebounds and had a whole lot to do with Kevin Durant’s 42-point performance in the Nets’ 122-115 victory over the Magic on Saturday night at Barclays Center.
"This year is going to be a show, a movie," Harden said in a pregame TV interview. "Stay tuned."
The debut episode was a beauty even without Kyrie Irving, who is sitting out until he gets in basketball condition. The Magic (6-7) came in undermanned because of injuries but put up a great fight as Nikola Vucevic had 34 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists and Terrence Ross contributed 23 points off the bench.
It was a one-point Nets lead heading to the final quarter, but the key sequence came when Harden turned on all of his jets during a 10-3 run that gave the Nets a 96-88 lead. He accounted for all of the points, scoring five and adding two assists that led to five points. Another 10-3 burst that included four points from Harden gave the Nets their biggest lead at 117-107.
Joe Harris had 17 points for the Nets (8-6), who have a season-high three-game winning streak. The only negative was nine turnovers from Harden.
Describing what he learned about his new teammates, Harden said, "We have some special talent in this locker room. Very versatile shooters, playmakers, defenders. That’s what you’re going to need, especially when it comes to the postseason.
"We haven’t built as much chemistry as we like, but that first game it felt good to be out there on the court and just giving guys confidence, giving guys energy. Once you build that up and guys believe in each other, it’s pretty scary."
Indeed, the Nets were neck-and-neck with the Magic through three quarters but pulled away in the fourth. Durant and Harden scored a combined 25 points as the Nets expanded a one-point lead with a 38-32 final period.
Describing Harden’s play, coach Steve Nash said, "Well, he stuffed the stat sheet. Obviously, James is a brilliant basketball player and we’ve got to incorporate him and find a way to make this thing jell and put them in a position to do what he does and for him to make each of our guys better. He got to the line 15 times, he made threes, 12 rebounds, 14 assists, four steals. We know what he is: He’s a world-class basketball player."
Irving (health and safety protocols) missed his sixth straight game, but instead of doing so for personal reasons, as in the previous five games, he now is sitting until the Nets feel his condition is satisfactory for a return. He has not played since Jan. 5. Nash said the Nets don’t really practice much during the condensed schedule, but Irving is back in the training facility working out with the "stay ready" group that gets limited playing time.
Asked if Irving might be back Monday against the Bucks at Barclays Center, Nash said, "Hopefully we’re close. I can’t really give you a firm update on that. We do want to make sure he ramps up accordingly so that he’s not susceptible to unnecessary injury and protect him the best we can."
As for integrating Harden into the lineup with no practice time before facing the Magic, Nash said he went over various offensive and defensive sets with him and planned to keep things simple as Durant, Irving and Harden adjust to playing with each other.
"James is brilliant at reading the floor and passing, vision, all those things," Nash said. "He is exceptional at setting up his teammates and making defenses pay for their decisions. He immediately makes his teammates better in a number of ways, and his skill and acumen for reading the game make it pretty easy compared to the norm as far as [fitting] into a new offense."
Nash said there was no minutes restriction on Harden for his Nets debut. With a smile, he added, "But we don’t want to run the batteries down on our new Christmas present."