The Nets are unraveling in record time, dropping five of their last nine games including a 106-96 defeat at the hands of LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers Tuesday night at Barclays Center. Playing without teammates Kevin Durant (knee) and Kyrie Irving (unvaccinated), James Harden contributed a triple-double (33 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists) but also six turnovers, including a pass intercepted by James, who took it the length of the court for an easy slam (much to the delight of aspiring astronaut Michael Strahan).
Even with Anthony Davis returning from a 17-game injury absence, Tuesday belonged to James, who turned in a vintage performance with 33 points, seven boards, six assists, three steals and two blocked shots. Never was James’ mastery more apparent than in the fourth quarter, forcing turnovers on consecutive plays with both steals resulting in uncontested dunks.
Apparently, the H in Harden doesn’t stand for hustle, because he didn’t move a muscle on either play, seemingly resigned to James scoring.
When engaged, Harden has both the length (6’5”) and quickness to be a defensive asset, as he demonstrated in 2019 by finishing third in steals per game (2.0). However, Harden has never been a consistent presence on that end of the floor, suffering from frequent lapses like the one we saw Tuesday night.
It’s natural to wonder if Harden’s apathy is in any way related to rumors surrounding his uncertain future in Brooklyn with growing speculation the former MVP is looking for a way out (Harden tried to dispel that narrative Tuesday night, insisting his frustration stems only from the team’s recent slump). As some might recall, Harden famously dogged it on his way out of Houston, partying and appearing noticeably out of shape before the disgruntled All-Star was finally traded.
It’s entirely possible Harden made a business decision, choosing to maintain his dignity instead of being dunked on by a living legend (Jason Terry’s reputation never recovered from James posterizing him in 2013). Still, Harden could have at least given the appearance of effort by chasing James down the floor, futile as that attempt would have been.