James Harden held back a laugh. The question — how long will it take for him to regain his pre-injury form? — didn’t sit well with him.
He already has.
“I’m back,” the nine-time All-Star said with a smile on Wednesday. “I’m back.”
When it was pointed out to Harden that he averaged just 11.5 points and six rebounds in two games after missing five weeks due to a hamstring injury, he pointed out the most important stat:
Wins. The Nets went 2-0 in those games.
“I thought winning was all that matters?” he asked rhetorically.
When Harden plays, in fact, the Nets are 29-7. Prior to the blockbuster three-way trade that brought Harden to Brooklyn in mid-January, there were questions whether he would fit. Doubts if the move even made sense.
But the 6-foot-5 Harden quickly proved how smart it was for the Nets to land him. As a Net, he averaged 24.6 points — his fewest in nine years — along with 10.9 assists and 8.5 rebounds. He quickly became the team’s top playmaker and enabled Kyrie Irving to excel more off the ball.
“I don’t care about stats. My impact doesn’t have to show up on the stat sheet for us to win,” Harden said. “I think my job as a leader is to make sure everybody’s playing well. If I’m doing that, I can focus on myself last. That’s not a problem at all.
“There’s always a narrative when it comes to myself and how I play and my impact. There’s always, ‘He can’t do this, he can’t do that.’ There’s always like a negative narrative when it comes to my name, which I don’t really pay attention to because I know how impactful I am, and now you guys have an opportunity to see it.”
Nets fans have seen it. They’ve watched Harden become the team’s MVP, score less than he did in Houston and make others around him better. Now he will begin what he hopes is a run to his first NBA title.
Harden feels ready for that, and for his first real introduction to Nets fans. He’s only gotten it in small doses. But starting Saturday in the first-round series against the Celtics, Barclays Center will see a far bigger crowd than the 10 percent capacity that has been allowed so far.
“Like I’ve said before and like I’ve said plenty of times: The fans here in New York is one of the reasons why I wanted to play here,” he said. “So, I’m excited. The regular season, we were getting there. It’s going to be a lot more fans, a lot more exciting, a lot more noise. Hopefully a home-court advantage.
“We can’t wait to get going.”