LOS ANGELES -- James Harden's big night for the Brooklyn Nets began with a couple of step-back 3-pointers, but it was the burst in his step and explosion in his drives that really opened eyes on Monday night.
In his second game back from the NBA's health and safety protocols, a fresh Harden continued his dominant play of late with 39 points, 15 assists and 8 rebounds to lead the Nets to a 124-108 win over the depleted LA Clippers.
Earlier in the season when Harden struggled to regain his form after a hamstring injury restricted his offseason workouts, the guard said his body wasn't ready for 40-point games and that he was still having trouble finding balance between scoring and being a playmaker with Kyrie Irving not with the team.
Harden now is showing flashes of his MVP form.
"Yeah, that's over with," Harden said of his previous struggles, which saw him score fewer than 20 points in 12 of his first 23 games. "That's over with."
Despite coming off a break in which they had three games postponed by a COVID-19 outbreak, the Nets completed a successful two-game trip by beating the Los Angeles Lakers and the LA Clippers in the first two games in the rebranded L.A. arena now named Crypto.com Arena. And the Nets did so without Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge, who were in the health and safety protocols.
The Nets expect Durant and Aldridge to be cleared this week and potentially rejoin the team for its next game Thursday at home against the Philadelphia 76ers. Irving is also expected to be out of the protocols soon and then will ramp up for possibly the next two weeks before being able to make his season debut and play in road games.
"Confidence is through the roof," Harden said of the Nets. "Now just you add KD, and Kai, and LaMarcus and Joe Harris [out after ankle surgery], and that's four of our best players, four of our top players that are out. Our confidence level for our bench and guys that are in the game is high.
"They can come in the game and impact the game in different ways, and we can find different ways to win basketball games, and that's what it's about. It's not always gonna be pretty, we're not always gonna make shots, but defensively we can get after it and lock teams down."
Harden provided the offense in Los Angeles for the Nets. He buried 15 of 25 shots from the field, including four 3-pointers, against the Clippers. After working out in his home gym while in quarantine during his stint in the health and safety protocols, Harden has scored 36 and 39 points in his past two games -- his first back-to-back 30-point games of the season.
Playing at home before a large group of family and friends, the Los Angeles native delivered 36 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists and 3 blocks in a 122-115 win over the Lakers on Christmas.
"I was starting to feel good right before," Harden said of when he entered the protocols on Dec. 14. "Like body starting to feel good. That break, or COVID, or protocol, or rest, whatever you want to call it, it could have went two ways. I just overly locked in on my body, my eating, and when I was able to start working out, my workouts."
"I felt good, my body felt good."