For James Harden, the Brooklyn Nets’ trip to Houston to end the first half of the NBA season was an emotional return to the town where he punctuated his status as one of the league’s best players.
He was so moved by the moment that he hung a triple double on the Rockets, a combination of offensive achievements that is becoming his specialty. There were 29 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists, just another night at the office for him.
The triple was Harden’s eighth since being traded to the Nets in January, 23 games ago. The Nets are 17-6 with him in the lineup ringing up triples with amazing regularity, remarkable production for the man with the impressive black beard. And that gives Harden second place on the franchise’s archive of players with triples for the Nets, trailing only Jason Kidd, who had 61 of them in 504 games.
Harden was added to a lineup that already had basketball royalty in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. But instead of a trio, it has been a solo act with Irving in and out of the lineup for a variety of reasons and Durant sidelined first to rest his recovering Achilles injury and then for COVID concerns and lately for a barking hamstring.
How good has Harden been? He had back-to-back triple doubles to end the first half of the season. The first one, in San Antonio, helped the Nets snap a 17-game losing streak in that city dating back to Jan. 22, 2002. The next one in Houston gave the Nets 10 wins in their last 11 games and a franchise-record seven-game road winning streak. It also was an exclamation point to celebrate his being anointed Eastern Conference Player of the Month.
Harden came to the Nets with a glittering resume that included three straight NBA scoring titles, an MVP award and a reputation as one of the league’s best shooting guards.
After the trade, Harden has transformed his game, turning himself into a playmaker, a remarkable bit of basketball magic. It would be a challenge for most players, For Harden, it was just an adjustment that he embraced easily.
Harden played three seasons in Oklahoma City before moving to Houston for eight seasons. He left a permanent impact on the city that he now calls home. He still has an attachment for the place and when a winter storm crippled the city and the state of Texas, he stepped up, contributing meals and bottled water to help victims of the storm.
And then, he went out and had another triple double.