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Nets thrilled about James Harden's debut and potential

James Harden #13 of the Nets controls the

James Harden #13 of the Nets controls the ball during the second quarter against the Orlando Magic at Barclays Center on Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021. Credit: Jim McIsaac

It was just one game, just a sneak peek. Kyrie Irving wasn’t even available to play. But one game was all it took for James Harden and Kevin Durant to show how thrilling this season might become for the Nets.

Without even getting a chance to practice with his new team, Harden threw out a 32-point triple-double that included 14 assists and 12 rebounds in his Nets debut, and Durant went off for 42 points in a 122-115 victory over the Magic on Saturday night at Barclays Center. Harden recorded the first triple-double that included at least 30 points in a player’s debut with a team in NBA history.

"I’m so excited for Ky to get back," Harden said. "He’s a key piece to what we’re trying to do. The chemistry, the sooner we can build that, the sooner we can be on the court together, it’s going to be scary."

Reflecting on the historic nature of his Nets debut, Harden added, "It felt unbelievable. I hope that you can tell by my smile and by my play. Just excited. Excited for the opportunity. This is an unbelievable organization from top to bottom. For me, all I have to do is just go out there and be the best James Harden I can be and good things will happen."

It’s uncertain whether Irving, who has missed the past six games, will suit up against the defending Eastern Conference champion Bucks and reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo when they visit Barclays Center on Monday night. But even without Irving, opposing defenses will have their hands full trying to contain the Nets’ immense firepower.

"I can’t wait until we have our full team together and seeing how we can create shots for shooters, seeing how we can get our bigs some easy points in the paint," Durant said. "It’s going to be tough for anybody to double us, especially at the three-point line. We’re going to get the best shot from everybody, but it’s about us every single night and how we can keep putting out good energy on both ends of the floor."

When he first joined the Nets, Harden vowed to emphasize his playmaking and move the ball to create for others, and he did that from the outset. Ultimately, that led to openings for him, and when the Nets needed it, he and Durant totaled 27 fourth-quarter points and took control down the stretch.

Joe Harris, who had 17 points and shot 4-for-9 from three-point range, was impressed by how easily Harden took charge at point guard.

"He was coming down and calling some of the actions that we’ve been running, and he’s literally just been with us for today," he said.

"He obviously was taking a massive leadership role like when he was in Houston. He’s going to do the same thing for us here. He’s a high-caliber player, high IQ, and he’s familiar with all the guys. He came in with the right energy, leading from the get-go, and I think that’s awesome. It’s not like that’s an easy thing to do, but he meshed right away."

After struggling early in the season, the Nets (8-6) suddenly have a season-high three-game winning streak and seemingly nowhere to go but up.

First-year coach Steve Nash, a Hall of Fame point guard himself, was amazed by Harden, who’s not really in top shape yet.

"For him to do as many things as he did on the basketball floor tonight was incredible," Nash said. "It’s great to get one under his belt and for him to kind of feel his teammates, and we’ll just keep building . . . But all the things he did accomplish, it was an incredible first evening."

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