James Harden sees potential in this Nets team, an description he might not have used when they visited Houston more than four months ago.
With experience all over the Brooklyn roster, the Rockets All-Star guard thinks the Nets can do some damage in the postseason.
"They got a lot of guys who've been in a lot of big playoff games -- championships and whatnot," Harden said Tuesday afternoon after the Rockets' shootaround at Barclays Center.
Indeed, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett won the NBA title with the Celtics in 2008. Brooklyn coach Jason Kidd has some hardware, too. He helped lead the Mavericks to a championship in 2011.
Garnett missed the entire month of March with back spasms. He's targeting next week for his return. Harden thinks Garnett will give the red-hot Nets an even bigger lift.
"KG is still out, so hopefully he comes back and it'll make them that much better," Harden said.
Before the game, Rockets coach Kevin McHale praised Kidd for adjusting after an awful start. When the Nets played the Rockets on Nov. 29, they lost, 114-95, to fall to 4-12. At that point, Brooklyn was spiraling. People were criticizing Kidd, the first-year coach, for being in over his head.
Since that game, the Nets are 35-21. Not too shabby. McHale is not surprised, because of the team's roster and the past successes of its coach.
"Jason has been playing basketball in the NBA a long time," McHale said. "He understands the game."
Harden is impressed with the team's physicality and its defense. That's the identity the Nets have developed, a grind-it-out, slow-it-down style. It's working. Coming into Tuesday night's game, Brooklyn was ninth in the NBA in points allowed (99.2). That's a stark contrast to the 114 the Nets allowed in Houston in November.
They have given up at least that many points in a loss only three times since then. Harden knows he'll be seeing a different team this time around.
"They couldn't find their niche," Harden said, "and now they found it."