Nets guard James Harden drives around Spurs guard Dejounte Murray during the first...

Nets guard James Harden drives around Spurs guard Dejounte Murray during the first half of an NBA game Friday in San Antonio. Credit: AP/Eric Gay

MINNEAPOLIS – It was during the television interview following the Nets’ 117-104 victory over the Spurs Friday night in San Antonio when James Harden betrayed his emotion after his 30-point triple-double that included a high-flying slam dunk during the third-quarter rally when the Nets gained control.

"I’ve got my swagger back," Harden told the interviewer.

Harden was coming off two performances during a loss in Cleveland and a win at Washington that verged on triple-doubles but were just so-so by his standards. But he dominated the Spurs with 37 points on 13-of-24 shooting and added 10 rebounds and 11 assists to go with a plus-18 rating after being a total of minus-26 in the previous two.

Because Harden spent the entire summer rehabbing a severe right hamstring strain suffered last June in the playoffs, he got off to a slower start. But now, it appears he’s back in form as the Nets (29-16) have regained first place in the Eastern Conference going into the last game of their four-game road trip Sunday night against the Timberwolves at Target Center.

"I’m definitely back," Harden said. "Throughout the course of the year, we had so much going on with our team, like a lot of injuries and obviously the situation with Ky, so it’s really difficult to get a rhythm like we all want to. But eventually, this thing is going to come together where we’re all together and we all make a really, really huge run at this thing."

Harden was referring to Kyrie Irving’s status as a part-time player on the road because he is not in compliance with New York City’s vaccine mandate and to injuries that have sidelined Kevin Durant and Joe Harris for long periods.

But there was no denying the spring in Harden’s step when he exploded to throw down his highlight reel dunk, sparking a raucous celebration on the Nets’ bench. "I feel like a rookie again," Harden said with a smile. "Nah, I just feel good all game and just aggressive, taking whatever the defense gave. I struggled last game, and I kind of wanted to get back and play better today. So it feels really good."

It was just the sixth game Irving has played since being allowed to return as a part-timer, he believes he and Harden already have found chemistry and rhythm.

Still, there is so much upside for the Nets if they ever get healthy. Reminded that he has only played 10 regular-season games and 16 total with Durant and Irving since being traded to the Nets a year ago, Harden said, "That’s crazy. It’s just nuts. But what can we do? We’ve got to keep pushing and figure it out. Once KD gets back and Joe gets back after the All-Star break, we can do the things we all came here for."

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