James Harden believes the best is yet to come after producing a late burst of scoring to lead the Brooklyn Nets to a 98-85 victory over the Miami Heat on Monday.
Harden – who joined the Nets in a blockbuster trade from Houston earlier this month – produced a dazzling burst of fourth-quarter scoring as Brooklyn finally overpowered an under-strength Miami team.
The 2018 NBA Most Valuable Player poured on 16 of his 20 points in the final period to lead the Brooklyn scoring alongside Kevin Durant, who also had 20.
Harden and Durant’s contributions in the fourth quarter proved decisive, with the duo making a succession of three-pointers as Brooklyn reeled off 15 unanswered points.
Kyrie Irving had 16 points, while Joe Harris finished with 12 and DeAndre Jordan 11. The victory improved the Nets’ season record to 11-8 in the Eastern Conference.
But it was Harden who caught the eye with his game-changing late cameo that swung the contest in Brooklyn’s favor.
“I was in a role for eight years (in Houston) where I was controlling the ball, dominating the ball,” Harden said. “Now it’s a different experience for me but it’s still great. It’s still basketball at the end of the day. It’s fun. Once we get a rhythm and flow it will be a lot easier for us.”
‘One of the greatest’
Nets coach Steve Nash showered praise on Brooklyn’s star new recruit.
“He was great,” Nash said of Harden. “We’re starting to see a glimpse of the things he can do scoring the ball. He’s one of the greatest offensive players to ever play the game. He’s so effective manipulating the defense that he’s a positive even when he’s not scoring.”
Brooklyn are also starting to see the best of Durant, who delivered another consistent performance in the latest chapter in his return after a year-long injury absence. Durant has now scored 20 points or more in 14 straight games.
“Man, I feel good,” Durant said. “Mentally I feel like I’m still catching up to the speed of the game, but physically I feel solid. I just try to come out there and produce, and rely on the work that I put in.”
Elsewhere on Monday, LeBron James conjured another virtuoso performance for the Los Angeles Lakers in a 115-108 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Ohio.
James finished with 46 points, eight rebounds and six assists to subdue his former club.
“It always feels great to get a win, especially in the purple and gold,” James said afterwards. “I’m just trying to build my game where I can beat them at all facets, from the perimeter, from the mid-range, from the low posts. Just trying to be dominant where I can keep the defense off-balance and I was able to do that tonight.”
Lakers coach Frank Vogel was left marveling at another ageless performance from the 36-year-old James.
“Pretty awesome just to see that he can still turn it up like that,” Vogel said. “Obviously, he wanted to win against his former team here. One of those nights for the ages from him.”
Anthony Davis finished with 17 points for the Lakers, while Dennis Schroder and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 10 points apiece.
The win nudged the Lakers back into first place in the Western Conference standings, with 14 wins and four defeats. The Los Angeles Clippers, who play in Atlanta on Tuesday, are second on 13-4.
Elsewhere on Monday, the lowly Detroit Pistons upset the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers 119-104 with the help of a 28-point haul from Delon Wright.
The Pistons, bottom of the East on 4-13, romped to a blowout win with Jerami Grant also adding 25 points.
In Dallas, meanwhile, Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray was ejected after appearing to hit the Mavericks’ Tim Hardaway Jr in the groin in an off-the-ball incident in the third quarter. The Nuggets went on to win 117-113.