Nets' James Harden finding 'rhythm' while breaking through slow start: 'I'm just playing'

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James Harden Pistons cropped 10/31/2021
James Harden Pistons cropped 10/31/2021

James Harden turned a corner in the Nets' past two games, a pair of wins over the Indiana Pacers (105-98, Friday) and Detroit Pistons (117-91, Sunday). After struggling out the gate of Brooklyn's 2021-22 season -- averaging 16.6 points on 35.9% shooting, plus 8.0 assists and 7.0 rebounds in 33.6 minutes amid a 2-3 start -- Harden is getting his feel back.

"I'm just playing," he said Sunday following an 18-point, 12-assist and 10-rebound triple-double performance in 29 minutes against the Pistons (1-5). "I think the confidence and just my rhythm and all that's coming back simultaneously, together. It's just it feels much, much better.

"I mean, I kind of knew I was going to have a slow start just because I wasn't playing a lot. But I knew the work was going to catch up and, ultimately, I was going to get back to where I needed to be. So, game by game, I'm just feeling better. More confident, extra pep in my step -- just, overall, much better."

Harden's effort versus Detroit rode the momentum of two days earlier, when he scored his game-high 29 points on 5-of-11 shooting -- including a 16-for-19 mark from the free-throw line -- plus eight rebounds and eight assists in 35 minutes as the Nets pulled away from Indiana (1-6) with a seven-point triumph. Kevin Durant, who paced Brooklyn's 26-point rout of the Pistons by leading all scorers with 23 points on 10-of-13 shooting despite a late-third-quarter ejection, shared perspective Sunday on how Harden has progressed.

"It's interesting, because ... I feel like he was in good shape when we came into camp, working out with him this summer," Durant said of Harden, who spent months in the offseason rehabbing from a Grade 2 hamstring strain. "I felt like he looked good, to me. I just think it's a matter of getting comfortable with the NBA game again, the physicality and quickness of the game.

"We all have an adjustment period when we come back from the offseason of playing an NBA style of basketball. It's always evolving. It's so fast, so quick. So it may take us some time -- all of us, mentally, all players -- to figure out what that bump and grind is like again. It usually takes a few games, but you're starting to see it around the league, everybody getting more and more comfortable with the style of play."

After a couple days off, Wednesday's 7:30 p.m. tip-off with the Atlanta Hawks provides stiffer competition to see where Harden stands. Brooklyn then embarks Friday on a six-game road trip before coming back home Nov. 16 to host the Golden State Warriors.

"I think he's improving in all areas," head coach Steve Nash said Sunday of Harden. "I think his conditioning, his explosiveness, his confidence, his feel, his rhythm -- everything's moving forward, in the right direction."