James Harden dropped 44 points on the Pistons and then dropped his truth on the rest of the league.
As the NBA MVP race heats up, Harden was asked Friday if he belongs in the conversation after leading the Nets to their 17th win in the past 20 games, most of which have been played without Kevin Durant and a handful of which have been minus Kyrie Irving.
“I feel like I am the MVP,” Harden said. “It’s that simple. I don’t want to speak individually on myself.”
Playing through the neck soreness and “banged-up knee” that kept him out of the Nets’ last game, Harden made the tie-breaking basket in the final two minutes of a 113-111 victory and added 14 rebounds and eight assists. He ranks first in assists, third in efficiency, 11th in scoring, 19th in rebounding.
“Numbers are showing it for itself, and we’re winning,” Harden said. “That’s all I can say.”
Maybe a little more?
“Tonight, Detroit’s game plan was to take away the lob pass and not let our bigs get lobs and our shooters get shots,” Harden said, “and that allowed me to get to the basket and shoot layups all night. I just take what the defense gives me.”
Blake Griffin got his first taste of an unstoppable Harden in their third game as teammates.
“Playing against him, you hoped to slow him down,” Griffin said. “Now playing with him, you really appreciate playing guys like that. Most of my shots are just, ‘Be ready.’ It’s not something I take for granted.”
The Nets were quiet at the trade deadline while the Bucks, 76ers and Heat improved. The Heat were the big winners for acquiring Victor Oladipo — a 20-point scorer who is also a top defender and playing with motivation for a new contract — as well as stretch-four Nemanja Bjelica and athletic wing Trevor Ariza.
“Teams are all going to try and improve and get themselves a more comprehensive roster. You expect that,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “We feel great about our roster. We have great chemistry and environment. So, we’re just happy to go through the deadline and continue to move forward with this group and … put ourselves in position to compete at the end of the season.”
The Nets still could be players on the buyout market. They are one of four teams — along with the Heat, Clippers and Lakers — expected to talk with LaMarcus Aldridge (who reached a buyout with the Spurs on Thursday), according to Yahoo. This is the avenue they went down with Griffin, and adding Aldridge seems too repetitive. Aldridge reportedly prefers the Heat, anyway.
“I’m not going to comment on anything with the players not on the roster,” Nash said. “That’s for the front office.”
Harden said he hopes Irving (out for personal reasons) returns this coming week.
“The quicker we can get guys healthy and on the floor,” Harden said, “we can learn on the fly because there is really no practice time.”