Brooklyn Nets

James Harden's seamless fit in Brooklyn on display as Nets outlast Clippers in potential NBA Finals preview

It's early but the Harden-Durant-Irving 'Big 3' fit is taking a dangerous shape in Brooklyn.

Their star-studded clash with the LA Clippers on Tuesday, which turned into an entertaining contest that could have been a preview of the NBA Finals, was only the fifth time in 10 games since the trade, that the trio suited up together.

The Beard, a player Brooklyn only acquired 10 games earlier, seems to be playing the role of the team's engine - setting up his teammates with pinpoint passes for the best looks while also establishing his offence if he feels necessary.

Here's how he's been positively impacting the team.

Offensive boost

During his years with Mike D'Antoni in Houston, the league was witness to Harden's otherworldly dual skills of scoring and vision. Bringing that to Brooklyn, where he is averaging a career-high 12.0 assists through nine games, he reduces the play-making load on the other two superstars - Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

It allows Irving and Durant to score, and score efficiently as the duo combined for 67 points on 26-of-36 shooting from the field (72.2%) against the Clippers. Irving went off for a season-high 39 while KD had 28 on a super-efficient 11-of-13 efficiency.

Harden has recorded double-digit assists in eight of the nine games since joining the Nets. Against the Clippers, he dished out a season-high 14 en route to recording his 50th career triple-double and his fourth in nine games as a member of the Nets franchise.

Despite his sacrifice, in terms of shot attempts, Harden does take over if he believes the team needs a spark. Against the Clippers, he scored 15 of his 23 in the second half and combined with Irving to score 14 over a four-minute duration late in the fourth quarter (5:44 to 1:45). when the Nets pulled off a 19-6 run.

It was his clutch full-court dime to Jeff Green in this game, that ensured the Nets wouldn't let the second consecutive game slip in the final seconds.

He did something similar, just over a week earlier against the Heat, when he scored or assisted on 13 of the team's game-sealing 15-0 run. In an earlier close win against the Milwaukee Bucks, he scored or assisted on 21 of the team's 31 fourth-quarter points in the 125-123 victory.

Since acquiring Harden, the Nets' major offensive numbers - that were already among the league leaders - have seen a jump. The team is averaging a league-best 127.0 points (+8.4) while shooting a league-best 51.8% from the field (+3.1). The team's offensive rating has gone from 114.1 to 121.0 - the best in NBA history.

"I know we see his scoring or playmaking ability but his intelligence is special and defensively as well," Nets head coach Steve Nash said before the Clippers game. "He's been incredible to add to our group, and we're fortunate to have him."

Much-talked about defence!

Post the multi-team trade that saw the Rockets send Harden to the Nets, much has been talked about the defence - for both teams. Since the trade, the Rockets are owners of the best defensive rating in the league while the Nets are ranked 30th in the league with a defensive rating that's the worst in NBA history.

Although unfair, a part of that defence discussion is justified. The Nets have allowed the two highest-scoring games so far this season.

Even in this one, they allowed the Clippers to score 120 points as Paul George (26) and Kawhi Leonard (33) combined for 59 points but it would be unfair to put this solely on Harden.

Yes, the Nets lack players who can help them defensively, especially since the departure of center Jarrett Allen in the trade, but it's important to note the team also still has nearly 3-4 roster spots to fill.

"Once we get that down pat defensively, you're talking about blowing teams," Harden said after the game vs. the Clippers. "Offensively, we'll figure it out and continue to figure it out. Defensively, we have to figure it out. That's where it has to be in order for us to be playing at the end."

With smart decisions, the franchise has until the midseason trade deadline late next month and also the buyout market to fill out the roster with competent rotation players that can hold their own on both ends of the floor.

Despite, all the talk of defence, the Nets are 7-3 since acquiring Harden - 6th-best in the league but more importantly, with this win over the Clippers, they improve to a league-best record of 9-3 for the season against the teams with a .500 record or better.

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