The Brooklyn Nets will be looking for their 10th win in their last 11 games on Wednesday. The Houston Rockets will be looking to snap a 12-game losing streak. The game’s major storyline, though, will come down to just one player.
James Harden — and his return to Houston.
Harden, the nine-time All-Star whom the Nets acquired on January 14 in a mega four-team trade, had a messy breakup with the Rockets before his departure. Wednesday night’s game at Toyota Center will present his first time facing his former team since the deal.
Ahead of the highly anticipated matchup, Nets star Kyrie Irving made sure to issue something of a warning to the Rockets.
Kyrie Irving Doesn’t Hold Back
After Brooklyn’s 124-113 overtime win over the San Antonio Spurs on Monday, Irving didn’t mince words when asked if there will be any extra emotion for Harden’s return in Houston.
“There will be no tension and no s***-talking going on the court or about James in my presence or anybody else’s presence,” Irving said, per Brian Lewis of the New York Post. “We’re coming to Houston to enjoy the game of basketball.”
I asked Kyrie on if there will be any extra emotion for Harden's return to Houston: "There will be no tension and no sh1t-talking going on the court or about James in my presence or anybody else’s presence. We’re coming to Houston to enjoy the game of basketball." #Nets #Rockets
— Brian Lewis (@NYPost_Lewis) March 2, 2021
Still, it’s hard to imagine there won’t be some emotion on the court considering how long Harden spent in Houston — and how things ended between him and the Rockets.
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Harden’s Time With Rockets Didn’t End Well
Harden first requested a trade by the Rockets in the offseason. Then he was absent for the beginning of training camp while attending events in Atlanta and Las Vegas. Then, a couple of days before being dealt from the Rockets to the Nets, he had this to say after a blowout loss to the Los Angeles Lakers:
“We’re not even close, honestly, to that team (the Lakers) — obviously the defending champions — and all the other elite teams out there. You can tell the difference in these last two games.
“We’re just not good enough. Obviously chemistry, talent-wise, just… everything. It was clear. They’re a veteran team, a championship team, one of the best teams that we have in this league.
“I love this city. I’ve literally done everything I can. This situation is crazy. It’s something that — I don’t think it can be fixed.”
James Harden: We're not even close, honestly, to that team, the obviously the defending champions, and to all the other elite teams out there. I mean, you can tell the difference these last two games." pic.twitter.com/l6WDfBrtNS
— Adam Spolane (@AdamSpolane) January 13, 2021
Harden later expressed regret over how the situation unfolded to ESPN’s Rachel Nichols in an interview in late February.
“The drama, the extra whatever you want to call it, the negativity, for me I don’t really like negative energy, it’s draining,” Harden said. “I don’t like how it necessarily happened, I feel like it could’ve happened a lot smoother, easier, but it is what it is.”
Harden in MVP Mode
Where he used “draining” to describe the end of his tenure in Houston, Harden in his interview with Nichols said it was “relieving” to land in Brooklyn where he has co-stars in Kevin Durant and Irving.
Harden, after all, is playing at an MVP-caliber level for the Nets. On Monday against the Spurs he became the first player in 44 years to have 30-plus points, 15-plus assists, 10-plus rebounds and zero turnovers in a game.
James Harden is the first player to put up 30+ PTS, 10+ REB, 15+ AST with zero turnovers in a game since 1977-78. pic.twitter.com/kSrdtIP3af
— NBA History (@NBAHistory) March 2, 2021
— YES Network (@YESNetwork) March 2, 2021
It was Harden’s seventh triple-double in 22 games as a Net. How remarkable is that? It’s already the second-most triple-doubles in franchise history. Only Jason Kidd (61) has more, per StatMuse.
“I think we got to implement the phrase, ‘Get used to it,'” Irving said of Harden’s seemingly nightly triple-doubles.