This is hardly the version of James Harden the Brooklyn Nets were expecting, but the veteran star guard knows that there will be better days ahead.
In Brooklyn’s 106-93 loss to the Miami Heat on Wednesday, Harden struggled to find his usually mercurial offensive game once again — recording just 14 points on 4-of-12 shooting with seven rebounds, and seven assists.
It’s the third straight game that he’s been held to 15 points or fewer, which hasn’t happened since his days with the Oklahoma City Thunder a decade ago.
Through five games this season, the nine-time All-Star is averaging 16.6 points per game, which is nearly nine points fewer than his career average.
“Just getting more confident, being aggressive and it’s getting better every single game,” Harden said. “As much as I want to get back to just, you know, 30 and 40 points, I can’t do that. As much as I want to, obviously, I would love to.”
Harden continues to ease his way back into the full workload of an NBA season after being limited last year due to a hamstring injury — one that he spent most of the offseason rehabbing. It did not offer many opportunities to get on the floor and work on maintaining his high-profile play.
“I had no opportunities to play pickup or nothing this summer,” Harden said. “Everything was rehab for three months from a Grade 2 injury that happened three times in one season. So this is my fifth game of trying to just play with competition against somebody else.
“As much as I want to rush the process and be back to hooping and killing, take your time.”
It’s a brand-new hurdle for Harden, who missed 13 or more games in a season just two times over his first 11 NBA campaigns. Last year, however, he was limited to just 44 of 72 games with the Houston Rockets and Nets because of that hamstring issue.
“My career, I’ve been blessed. Just not having surgeries or whatnot. So just this whole process last year was just like frustrating and draining,” Harden said. “It was draining for me to know that I couldn’t be myself and be out there on the floor and be the player that I am. But I’m finally slowly getting back to it.
“It just takes a lot of hard work and dedication. But it’s going to happen. But you got to just continue to keep fighting, and I will.”
Already without Kyrie Irving, Harden’s slow start has left the offensive scoring responsibilities mainly on the shoulders of Kevin Durant, who has answered the bell by averaging 29.8 points per game this season.
But the Nets are just 2-3 after five games with an offense that ranks 26th in the NBA — meaning a fully fit Harden will be a welcomed addition in Brooklyn.