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Familiar faces Kevin Durant, Mike D'Antoni help James Harden get acclimated

Kevin Durant #7 and James Harden #13 of

Kevin Durant #7 and James Harden #13 of the Brooklyn Nets reacts during the fourth quarter against the Orlando Magic at Barclays Center on Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021. Credit: Jim McIsaac

A week ago, the Nets were riding out a stretch in which they had lost six of nine games and were trying to figure out how to play with Kevin Durant and without Kyrie Irving, who was on an extended personal leave. Then, the Nets overcame an 18-point deficit to beat the Nuggets, went into Madison Square Garden and played short-handed because of their trade for James Harden and still beat the Knicks before they capped the week with a victory over the Magic in Harden’s Nets debut.

First-year head coach Steve Nash admitted the experience has been dizzying. Following Harden’s 32-point triple-double in his Nets debut, Nash said, "Obviously, you bring in a player of James’ caliber and his excitement to be here and everyone was excited. It’s been a fun few days. My head is spinning. Who did we play three nights ago? Denver?

"It’s been a fun few games for us, and we needed them. We needed to build, and we needed some positive energy because we’ve had some difficult time this year, as well. It’s fun when you see guys enjoying what they do."

Harden’s second game for the Nets (8-6) was a nationally televised outing against the defending Eastern Conference champion Bucks (9-4) Monday night at Barclays Center. The Nets announced Monday afternoon that Irving (health and safety protocols) will sit out his seventh straight game.

Now that the whirlwind surrounding the Harden trade has settled down, the Nets can concentrate on building around the Big 3 core that is in place even though they still must fill three roster spots. Nash was pleased with how quickly Harden acclimated and admitted it helps to have assistant coach Mike D’Antoni, who was Harden’s head coach with the Rockets the previous four seasons.

"He’s an invaluable resource," Nash said of D’Antoni. "It would be silly not to lean on Mike for all his experience with James and his familiarity with what James likes best."

Another person who knows Harden well is Durant, who played together with him from 2009-12 with the Thunder. Their connection was obvious as Harden repeatedly assisted Durant’s stunning 42-point performance against the Magic. Nash knows the difficulty will come when Irving and Harden try to mesh in the backcourt, but the versatile Durant will aid that process because he can handle the ball and has been through a similar process with a loaded Golden State team in the past.

"I think Kevin’s the most adaptable because of his versatility," Nash said. "He can pretty much play anywhere on the floor. He can play without the ball, he can play with the ball. He can play in the post, elbow, out handling, so I think for Kevin the transition is the easiest in that he’s quite happy to move around and play different roles.

"He has that Golden State experience, so having played with other great players and that ability to score and share for the betterment of the group, we’ll lean on Kevin for that. He handled it with incredible success."

Almost overshadowed in all the excitement surrounding the Harden deal is that, in his first 10 games since returning from Achilles tendon surgery, Durant is averaging 30.7 points on 57.8% two-point shooting and 48.3% three-point shooting along with 6.9 rebounds and 5.7 assists. Durant was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week on Monday.

"I’ve got a long way to go, and I’ve got a good staff, teammates, training staff that puts me in a good position every day to go out there and be the best that I can be," Durant said. "I just want to keep putting together good days, good weeks and good months and see what happens."

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