NEW ORLEANS — It wasn’t that long ago that James Harden acknowledged he wasn’t ready to produce 30-point and 40-point outings.
It looks like he’s ready.
Harden had 39 points and 12 assists — both season highs — to help lift the Nets to a come-from-behind 120-112 win over the Pelicans on Friday night. Afterward, Harden said he is close to regaining his full form.
“I’m getting there,” Harden said. “It wasn’t going to take long. I mean, this is the highest [level] in the sport is the NBA, the most talented players in this world. So it’s not going to be easy for me to just come out there and do what I do. It takes a lot of hard work to be playing at a point to which you guys have seen me play at.
“When I’m not scoring 30 points, when I’m averaging 18-some points, it’s like, ‘What’s wrong with James?’ It’s pretty solid still. I’ve been playing so well and so extremely at another level to where you guys set standards for me, and I set standards for myself as well. For me, I just continue to work. I feel a lot better, and the work don’t stop.”
Harden is averaging 21.8 points, 9.6 assists and 8.3 rebounds in his past eight games, while shooting 48.1 percent overall and 46.7 percent from 3-point range.
The Nets’ Paul Millsap has played limited minutes this season and has been largely ineffective when he has been on the court.
“Limited?” Millsap said, deadpan, before scoring two points in six minutes of action Friday. “I’m just kidding. It’s tough, obviously. You go in the game, you got five minutes to contribute, right? Five minutes isn’t a long time on the basketball court. But you do the best that you can. And that’s all I try to do.
“Whatever minutes, whatever time that I’m given, I try to put my skill-set to use within that time frame but hopefully our team goes up, makes a run, something like that within that time. But other than that, when I’m not on the court continue to support the other guys and continue to help them as much as possible.”
Millsap — who is from Monroe, La., and had friends and family in the strands Friday night — was averaging a career-low 11.2 minutes. Of the 14 Nets who’ve played this season, only rookies Cam Thomas and Day’Ron Sharpe had averaged fewer minutes.
When Millsap has played, the 6-foot-7, 257-pounder has been at his most effective as a small-ball center rather than a power forward. But he hasn’t been able to take advantage of the absence of Nic Claxton.
Claxton hasn’t played since Oct. 25. The young big missed a ninth consecutive game Friday, and seems all but assured of sitting out his 10th straight Sunday in Oklahoma City, with a non-COVID illness.
“I don’t think so. In fact this next week is a big question, too. So, I think he’s got a ways to go to ramp up,” coach Steve Nash said. “He’s got some ground to make up.”
DeAndre’ Bembry, a career 28.1 percent shooter from 3-point range, entered Friday 7-for-10 from deep due to improved and more repeatable mechanics.
“It’s just more so trying to keep it online. That pretty much was it,” said Bembry, who did not score and had no 3-point attempts. “I kind of brought it over to the left a little too much I felt. So try to straighten it up a little bit more and quicken up my release and it is working so far.”
The Pelicans have lost nine straight and have been showing clear signs of frustration boiling over. New Orleans picked up five technical fouls in a single quarter in a loss Wednesday to the Thunder, and they were ripped for their mindset afterward by coach Willie Green.
Zion Williamson (foot fracture) is still weeks away from coming back for New Orleans. Brandon Ingram (right hip contusion) didn’t play though he went through light work at shootaround and initially was listed as questionable. Daulton Hommes (right fibular stress fracture) was also out.
The Nets did get to face Garrett Temple, who was a strong locker room presence during the 2019-20 season and had served as NBPA vice president. Temple scored 17 points, grabbed six rebounds and handed out two assists against his former team Friday night.
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