Charles Barkley is never short on opinions and he voiced another big one Thursday.
Barkley said that while James Harden makes his Brooklyn Nets teammates better, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving do not.
“The key to this team is going to be James Harden,” Barkley said at halftime of the Nets 113-109 loss to the Dallas Mavericks. “Kyrie and Kevin are terrific players, but they don’t make the guys around them better. They get their individual numbers. James Harden, he gonna get Joe Harris, [Nic] Claxton, DeAndre [Jordan] involved. Those guys, they’re great players, but they don’t make the guys around them better. They get their own individual numbers. James Harden is one who’s different, to me he’s the key.”
For the record, the Nets are 5-2 this season with Harden, Durant and Irving in the lineup. They are 27-7 when Harden plays, and just 7-9 when Durant and Irving play but Harden does not.
Harden has not played since April 5 with a hamstring strain and the Nets are now 8-8 in those games. Brooklyn (43-24) is now 2 1/2 games back of Philadelphia for the No. 1 seed in the East.
Harden said Thursday he’s “very, very confident” he’ll be back before the postseason begins later this month.
“As much as I love to hoop, I want to be out there, but you gotta be smart,” he said. “And for me, it was like, alright let’s knock this thing out, let’s get this thing healthy so we can make a push.”
>World’s Most Valuable Sports Teams 2021
>Packers Quarterback Aaron Rodgers Is Losing In The Court Of Public Opinion
>Juventus’ Crumbling Empire Is Encapsulated By Cristiano Ronaldo
There was much hand-wringing around the NBA when Harden was acquired in a blockbuster trade with the Houston Rockets in January as to how Harden would fit in with Durant and Irving.
How would they all share one ball? Was he too dominant a ball-handler to fit in with the other two?
It turned out that Harden bent over backwards to play more of a facilitator role with the Nets and leads the NBA in assists at 10.9 along with 25.2 points and 8.0 rebounds. He played the point guard position so well, that Irving in February offered to move off the ball and play the two guard spot.
“He’s the one who’s going to make sure I can do my thing and get other guys involved,,” Barkley said. “These guys, if you notice, they don’t get other guys involved. They just get their own individual numbers, in my opinion.”
Durant entered Thursday averaging 28.3 points, 6.9 rebounds and 5.2 assists, while Irving was at 27.0 points, 6.3 assists and 4.9 rebounds.
“One of the things that a lot of teams don’t have is talent,” Harden said. “So we don’t have to worry about that aspect, but skill-wise we’re elite so I’m not worried at at all. It’s going to be very, very difficult for a team to beat us, so I’m just excited to get back. I love our energy, what we’re doing right now even though the outcomes of the game haven’t shown, but I love where we are as a team. Once I get back, it’s just uphill from there.”