Harden: Nets building momentum in season

By Kristian Winfield
New York Daily News/TNS

NEW YORK - The Nets won three in a row ahead of their road matchup against the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday, and star point guard James Harden says he can feel the team building momentum. Brooklyn secured those victories with an increased attention to detail on the defensive end.

The Nets defeated the Pacers by holding them to 30 points in the first half, defeated the Warriors by limiting all players other than Stephen Curry to less than 20 points; and handled business against the Kings with a third quarter that featured 11 consecutive stops.

They also beat the Warriors without DeAndre Jordan (personal family reasons) and defeated the Kings without Kevin Durant (hamstring). Harden agreed momentum was building for the Nets because their victories have not fallen squarely on any one player.

“Yes, because it’s a total team effort. Obviously, we would love to have Kevin back for more than one game, but once we get our full roster and Kevin is back and we can kind of get a rhythm, we haven’t really had a whole roster where we can get a rhythm yet for multiple games,” he said. “So, once we can get that full roster, then we can really see what we got and we can really be something special.”

Until the Nets are at full strength, a status that has evaded the team as a byproduct of both the league’s health and safety protocol and injuries, Harden said the success will be predicated on what Brooklyn can do on the defensive end.

“Our communication has been a lot better. We’ve been doing the second level, second effort way better, being there for our teammates,” said veteran forward Jeff Green. “That’s what we needed, that’s what we needed to get over the hump but that’s only a couple of games. We have to continue the process of getting better at that end because we can be better. We just got to keep improving.”

The Nets’ newest acquisition should help them on the defensive end, too. Brooklyn waived center Norvel Pelle and signed former Thunder swingman Andre Roberson late Monday night. Roberson was immediately available for Tuesday night’s matchup against the Suns and was a 2017 NBA All-Defensive Second Team selection. He has ties to Durant, Harden and Green, having played with each of them during their time in Oklahoma City.

The Nets now have three defensive-oriented wings, including Bruce Brown, who most recently has earned a nod as a small-ball starting center, and Iman Shumpert, the spark plug who has yet to play while recovering from a hamstring injury.

Nets head coach Steve Nash has frequently noted his team is not defensive by makeup, but that has changed with their recent signings. Offense was never going to be a problem in Brooklyn, not with three superstars each capable of going for 40 in a moment’s notice.

Those stars, mainly Durant, have been in and out of the rotation, making defensive buy-in a must if this team wants to win a championship.

“Defensively, it’s going to have to be our mindset because offensively, like I keep harping on, we can score with the best of them,” Harden said. “So, you know, shoot arounds is helping us, watching film is helping us and communicating is helping us. And I think each individual guy comes in the game with that defensive mentality.”