Nets' James Harden: 'I'm Really Good At This Game'

James Harden reminded NBA fans of everything he can do on the court in his return from a hamstring injury Wednesday night.

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Then he reminded the assembled media again after helping the Brooklyn Nets defeat the San Antonio Spurs.

Harden came off the bench in his first game in over a month and flirted with a triple-double in the Nets' 128-116 win over the Spurs. He finished with 18 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds in 26 minutes and shot 6-of-8 from the field and 3-of-4 on 3s.

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Despite the longest injury absence of his career, Harden said he knew he would be able to quickly shake off any rust.

"Not to brag or anything, but I'm really good at this game," Harden said. "I study the game. I'm very unselfish. I take the game and I play it the right way every single night. I don't try to do anything that I can't do, or anything that doesn't benefit our team. And that mindset right there keeps me in a really good place."

a group of men playing a game on the court: James Harden had 18 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds in his return from injury. © Wendell Cruz, USA TODAY Sports James Harden had 18 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds in his return from injury.

James Harden wasn't surprised how quickly he was able to get back into the flow of things for the Nets:

"Not to brag or anything, but I'm really good at this game" pic.twitter.com/jVpDkh6X1g

— Nets Videos (@SNYNets) May 13, 2021

Harden missed 18 games and hadn't played since April 5 after straining his right hamstring. He experienced a setback two weeks later which delayed his recovery. For his first game back, the former Sixth Man of the Year winner embraced a return to the role.

"That sixth-man role, I mastered that as well," Harden said. "I got an award for that role. That role is easy. Come in and impact the game. Do whatever it takes to win, whether it's defensively or offensively. But that's my role no matter what, especially on this team."

With Harden back, the Nets are hopeful they will have their full rotation up to speed for the playoffs, which begin May 22. Kyrie Irving did not play Wednesday after suffering a facial contusion the night before against the Chicago Bulls. However, Nets coach Steve Nash said Irving has been cleared and could play in the final two regular season games.

James Harden goes for 18 PTS, 7 REB, 11 AST in his return to action, pacing the @BrooklynNets win vs. SAS! #BrooklynTogether pic.twitter.com/30d3gUrXFX

— NBA (@NBA) May 13, 2021

The Nets have weathered injuries to their three stars all season in the hopes they are all healthy for the playoffs.

Harden has missed 22 games since coming to Brooklyn in the January trade. Irving has missed 18 games. Kevin Durant has missed 38 games. The three have shared the floor for just 186 minutes in seven games.


Video: James Harden: 'Right now I'm just focused on being here' with Rockets (Yahoo! Sports)

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Nash acknowledged they'll have to continue developing chemistry on the fly with the playoffs just over a week away. The most important thing is that all three are back on the floor for a potential NBA title run.

"If they can form any sort of cohesion or speed up that process, that's great, but we recognize there's no perfect solution here," Nash said. "They're not going to be totally formed and cohesive on one or two games. ... It's about them continuing to build their level and their confidence and their rhythm going into the playoffs."

Here are four more things to know today in the NBA:

Top six takes shape in East

The top six teams in the Eastern Conference are set after Wednesday's games. The Atlanta Hawks clinched their spot in the playoffs with a 120-116 win over the Washington Wizards. Then the New York Knicks secured their first playoff appearance since 2013 when the Boston Celtics lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers 102-94. The Miami Heat clinched a playoff spot with their win a night earlier. Seeding is still to be decided, but the six guaranteed playoff spots are locked up.

"Just knowing how hard it is to get to this position, to have to literally build our entire team to get to this position, makes it that much more gratifying that we're here," said Hawks guard Trae Young. "But we're not satisfied, that's for sure."

"Some of the guys on our team we just haven't gotten the recognition we deserve but it comes with wining. I know that and I've known that since the beginning ... That's the most frustrating part: When you feel like you don't get the recognition you deserve, but we here now." pic.twitter.com/noN7hzRsJJ

— Bally Sports: Hawks (@HawksOnBally) May 13, 2021

As the regular season enters the final weekend, Atlanta has a half-game lead on Miami and New York for the fourth seed and home-court advantage in the first round. The Philadelphia 76ers can clinch the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage throughout the East playoffs with a win against the Heat on Thursday.

Blazers surging in West

Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers continued their late-season surge Wednesday and moved closer to securing a top-six seed in the Western Conference. Lillard scored 30 points to help the Blazers hold off the league-leading Utah Jazz 105-98 for their fifth straight win and ninth in the last 10 games. The Blazers have risen to fifth in the West, tied with the Dallas Mavericks. Portland owns the head-to-head tiebreaker with Dallas, as well as the tiebreaker with the Los Angeles Lakers, who are just one game behind in seventh place. One more win will clinch a top-six seed and keep the Blazers out of the play-in tournament.

"We've been defending. We've been sharing the ball," Lillard said. "We've been able to sustain that level of focus and that level of play for longer periods of time. That's why we're winning games."

Dame and CJ lead the way in the @trailblazers 5th straight win... as they stay at #5 out West! #RipCity @Dame_Lillard: 30 PTS, 6 AST@CJMcCollum: 26 PTS pic.twitter.com/eIV2oHFxSF

— NBA (@NBA) May 13, 2021

Oladipo done for season

Victor Oladipo will miss the Miami Heat's playoff run after electing to have season-ending surgery on his right quadriceps. The team announced Oladipo will undergo the surgery Thursday in New York, with no timetable for his recovery. Oladipo ruptured his right quadriceps tendon in 2019 while with the Indiana Pacers. He missed a year and hasn't been the same player since returning in January 2020.

Oladipo has been traded twice this season. Indiana sent him to Houston as part of the James Harden trade in January. Miami then acquired Oladipo at the trade deadline in March, but he has appeared in only four games for the Heat and hasn't played since April 8. Oladipo will be a free agent this summer after turning down a $45 million contract extension from the Rockets.

Game of the night: Kings at Grizzlies

Sacramento's hopes of sneaking into the play-in tournament are on life support. The Kings are two games behind the Spurs for 10th place in the Western Conference with three to play. They face a must-win against a Memphis team that has already clinched its place in the play-in. The Grizzlies enter Thursday's game in ninth place, a half-game behind the Warriors. Climbing to eighth would mean going on the road to start the play-in but needing just one win to secure a playoff spot. Remaining in ninth would make the Grizzlies the home team in the 9-10 matchup.

Follow Matt Eppers on Twitter @meppers_.

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Feb. 1: Suns guard Devin Booker hits the game-winning 3-pointer over Mavericks defender Josh Richardson (0) in the closing seconds in Dallas.
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Jan. 28: Suns guard Chris Paul (3) and Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) get all sorts of tied up trying to corral a loose ball during the second half in Phoenix.
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Jan. 25: Lakers forward LeBron James (23) knocks down a big 3 in front of dejected Cavaliers defender Taurean Prince (12) during the fourth quarter in Cleveland. James scored 21 of his season-high 46 points in the fourth.
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Jan. 24: Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) tries to drive between Knicks defenders Mitchell Robinson (23) and Julius Randle (30) during the first half in Portland.
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Jan. 23: Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio (9) gets fouled on the shot attempt by Pelicans defender Brandon Ingram (14) during the second half in Minneapolis.
104/134 SLIDES © Eric Hartline, USA TODAY Sports
Jan. 22: Sixers center Joel Embiid celebrates after knocking down a late 3-pointer to seal a win over the Celtics.
105/134 SLIDES © Kelley L. Cox, USA TODAY Sports
Jan. 21: Knicks forward Julius Ranlde gets fouled by Warriors defender Kent Bazemore on a dunk attempt during the first half in San Francisco.
106/134 SLIDES © Bill Streicher, USA TODAY Sports
Jan. 20: Sixers guard Furkan Korkmaz (30) throws down the two-handed reverse slam against Celtics defender Javonte Green (43) during the third quarter in Philadelphia.
107/134 SLIDES © Isaiah J. Downing, USA TODAY Sports
Jan. 19: Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) knocks the ball away from Thunder forward Darius Bazley during the third quarter in Denver. The Nuggets won the game, 119-101.
108/134 SLIDES © Brad Penner, USA TODAY Sports
Jan. 18: Nets forward Joe Harris (12) fights for a rebound against Bucks defenders Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) and Donte DiVincenzo (0) during the first quarter at Barclays Center. The Nets won the game, 125-123.
109/134 SLIDES © Cary Edmondson, USA TODAY Sports
Jan. 17: Pelicans guard Kira Lewis Jr. (13) looks to pass around Kings defenders Marvin Bagley (35) and Richaun Holmes (22) during the first half in Sacramento.
110/134 SLIDES © Wendell Cruz, USA TODAY Sports
Jan. 16: Newly-acquired James Harden celebrates with Kevin Durant after a big shot during his first game with the Nets. Harden became the first player in NBA history to log a 30-point triple-double in his debut with a new team.
111/134 SLIDES © Ken Blaze, USA TODAY Sports
Jan. 15: Cavaliers center Andre Drummond (3) gets fouled by Knicks defender Mitchell Robinson (23) during the second quarter in Cleveland.
112/134 SLIDES © Gregory Fisher, USA TODAY Sports
Jan. 14: Sixers forward Ben Simmons (25) drives to the hoop past Heat defender Precious Achiuwa (5) during the first half in Philadelphia.
113/134 SLIDES © Rick Osentoski, USA TODAY Sports
Jan. 13: Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo drives to the hoop against Pistons defender Blake Griffin (23) during the at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.
114/134 SLIDES © Brad Penner, USA TODAY Sports
Jan. 12: Nets center Jarrett Allen (31) blocks a shot attempt by the Nuggets guard Will Barton (5) during the third quarter at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
115/134 SLIDES © Soobum Im, USA TODAY Sports
Jan. 11: Raptors guard Norman Powell (24) drives to the basket against Blazers defender Gary Trent Jr. (2) during the second half in Portland.
116/134 SLIDES © Carmen Mandato, Pool photo via USA TODAY Sports
Jan. 10: Lakers forward Markieff Morris (88) exchanges some heated words with Rockets center DeMarcus Cousins (15) after a hard foul. Double technical fouls were issued, and Morris received a flagrant 1 and was ejected for the altercation.
117/134 SLIDES © Trevor Ruszkowski, USA TODAY Sports
Jan. 9: Pacers guard Victor Oladipo (4) throws down the one-handed flush over Suns defender Mikal Bridges (25) during the third quarter at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
118/134 SLIDES © Kelley L. Cox, USA TODAY Sports
Jan. 8: Kent Bazemore celebrates a big 3-pointer with Steph Curry and the Warriors during the fourth quarter against the Clippers at Chase Center in San Francisco.
119/134 SLIDES © Wendell Cruz, USA TODAY Sports
Jan. 7: Sixers guard Tyrese Maxey puts up a shot over Nets defender Chris Chiozza during the first quarter at Barclays Center.
120/134 SLIDES © Bill Streicher, USA TODAY Sports
Jan. 6: Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) shoots over 76ers defender Joel Embiid (21) on his way to a career-high 60 points.
121/134 SLIDES © Ron Chenoy, USA TODAY Sports
Jan. 5: Timberwolves defender Jake Layman fouls Nuggets forward JaMychal Green during the second quarter at Ball Arena in Denver.
122/134 SLIDES © Dale Zanine, USA TODAY Sports
Jan. 4: Hawks guard Trae Young (11) tries to corral a loose ball against Knicks defenders Elfrid Payton (6) and R.J. Barrett (9).
123/134 SLIDES © Kelley L. Cox, USA TODAY Sports
Jan. 3: Warriors guard Steph Curry celebrates after knocking down a fourth-quarter 3 on his way to a career-high 62 points against the Blazers.
124/134 SLIDES © Stephen Lew, USA TODAY Sports
Jan. 2: Raptors defender O.G. Anunoby (3) knocks the ball away from Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram (14).
125/134 SLIDES © Ron Chenoy, USA TODAY Sports
Jan. 1: The Denver Nuggets' Will Barton (5) shoots the ball over the Phoenix Suns' Devin Booker (1) and guard Chris Paul (3) in the fourth quarter at Ball Arena. The Suns won the game, 106-103.
126/134 SLIDES © Reinhold Matay, USA TODAY Sports
Dec. 31: Philadelphia 76ers forward Ben Simmons shoots over Orlando Magic guard Karim Mane and center Khem Birch during the second quarter at Amway Center.
127/134 SLIDES © Scott Wachter, USA TODAY Sports
Dec. 30: San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon, who took over head coaching duties after Gregg Popovich was ejected, questions a call from official Derek Richardson in the third quarter of the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at AT&T Center.
128/134 SLIDES © Kelley L Cox, USA TODAY Sports
Dec. 29: Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. dunks the ball over Sacramento Kings forward Richaun Holmes during the second quarter at Golden 1 Center.
129/134 SLIDES © Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports
Dec. 28: Los Angeles Lakers forward Montrezl Harrell collides with a Gatorade cooler after attempting to save the ball from going out of bounds in the fourth quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center.
130/134 SLIDES © Stephen Lew, USA TODAY Sports
Dec. 27: New Orleans Pelicans guard Eric Bledsoe drives to the basket during the first half against the San Antonio Spurs at the Smoothie King Center.
131/134 SLIDES © Adam Hunger, USA TODAY Sports
Dec. 26: Philadelphia 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey (0) looks to pass over New York Knicks forward Kevin Knox II and guard Dennis Smith Jr. (4) during the second half.
132/134 SLIDES © Isaiah J. Downing, USA TODAY Sports
Dec. 25: Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard is tended to by head trainer Jasen Powell after a collision in the fourth quarter against the Denver Nuggets. He needed eight stitches.
133/134 SLIDES © Brian Fluharty, USA TODAY Sports
Dec. 23: Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo trips over Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart at TD Garden.
134/134 SLIDES © Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports
Dec. 22: Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James looks at his championship ring before a game against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Nets' James Harden quickly shakes off rust in return from injury: 'I'm really good at this game'

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