James Harden 'very confident' he'll play before Brooklyn Nets start playoffs

Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden, who has been out for over a month with a hamstring strain, says he is "very confident" he will return before the playoffs begin.

"The plan is to hopefully get an opportunity to play a couple games before the postseason," Harden said Thursday. "We're just taking one day at a time."

The Nets lost to the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday night and now have five games left before the playoffs start May 22. Harden, who has already been ruled out against the Mavericks, is traveling with the team. The former MVP did not rule out the possibility he could return on the current road trip. The Nets play in Denver on Saturday and in Chicago on Tuesday.

Before he can return to play in a game, Harden said he needs to get through a few more workouts without feeling any pain or discomfort. Harden said he is working on getting his conditioning back, changing speeds and changing direction.

"So far, so good," Harden said. "Today was really good, and we've just got to keep building on that."

Harden last played on April 5 against the New York Knicks. Before that, he had missed two games with what the team called hamstring tightness. After playing four minutes against the Knicks, Harden left the game and had an MRI that revealed the strain.

Harden said he felt he was close to returning before he experienced a setback in his training on April 21.

"We wanted to be patient," Harden said. "As much as I love to hoop, I want to be out there, but you've got to be smart. And for me, it was just, 'Let's knock this thing out, let's get this thing healthy so we can make a push.'"

He continued: "At this point in my career, going to postseasons basically since I've been in Houston, I've been playing heavy minutes, just carrying the load. And this was an opportunity for me to keep my body right going into the postseason with a clear mind and a clear body. You've got 16 games to win. That's the ultimate goal. That's the reason why I came to Brooklyn."

Coach Steve Nash previously said he was unsure whether Harden would be healthy enough to play before the first round. The Nets currently hold the No. 2 seed in the East, trailing the Philadelphia 76ers by 2.5 games.

Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving have played in just seven games together this season, but Harden said that his extended absence -- the longest amount of time he has missed due to injury in his career -- hasn't changed his confidence in the Nets' title chances.

"One of the things that a lot of teams don't have is talent," Harden said. "We don't have to worry about that aspect. Skillwise, we're elite."

As long as the Nets are healthy, Harden said this is a team that can win it all.

"Our mindset is, if we can come to this postseason healthy, we are right there," Harden said. "We have a chance."