Despite being championship favorites, it’s hard to picture the Nets hoisting the trophy without James Harden playing at an MVP level.
If that starts to happen, they may look back to a courtside conversation with Reggie Miller before Tuesday’s victory over the Knicks as the turning point.
“Yeah, it was definitely that. Reggie is the one that got me going. He’s got me going for sure,” Harden said. “But yeah, it was just ultimate confidence, the best-player-in-the-league type of mindset. That was motivation before the game, something I needed.”
Miller wouldn’t get into the details of that conversation with The Post, politely declining because he didn’t want make Harden’s performance about him.
But here’s the thing: It was at least in part about him. Miller provided some needed tough love, one Hall of Famer to a star sure to end up there.
“He came over and I was like, look, you do know you’re James Harden,” Miller said on TNT’s broadcast of the Nets’ win. “You are a former MVP, right? Now, what are you talking about you don’t know when to score and when to facilitate? You never had this problem when you were in Houston. Go back to what you know best — and that’s scoring the basketball.”
It was a reference to Harden’s 4 of 15 shooting, seven-turnover outing Saturday against Phoenix. After that defeat — when he got booed by the home crowd — Harden admitted he’s struggling to find a balance between being a scorer and facilitator with Kyrie Irving away from the team.
“Honestly I’m trying to figure all that out right now,” Harden said. “I’m trying to figure out when to score, when to be a playmaker, when to run offense, when to do a little bit of everything. Just trying to figure it out. It’s been a little difficult, especially since — well, whatever — it’s been a little difficult. But I’m just trying to figure it out.”
It would bode well if Harden is starting to figure it out, with the Nets beginning a back-to-back Friday against Minnesota and Chicago before hitting the road.
Harden came into Tuesday having shot just 31.7 percent overall in his prior four games, 7 of 30 from deep. And he’d been 13 of 50 from behind the arc over his last seven.
But after coach Steve Nash told him to not worry about whether to pass or shoot — just attack — Harden did exactly that against the Knicks. He poured in 34 points and attacked the rim — including a nasty follow dunk, only his seventh since the start of last season.
“I always want James to attack … and put pressure on the defense. If it ends in a shot more times than not, great. If it ends in a pass, more times than not, that’s great, too,” Nash said. “I don’t want to pigeonhole him into, ‘You have to score, you have to play-make.’ I want him to be aggressive, be himself, and make plays.
“I just want James to play, be aggressive, have fun out there, be himself and continue to chip away at his rhythm, confidence, timing and physicality. … I just want him to stick to that task of trying to have fun, enjoy, and attack. Be aggressive and continue to find his health, his rhythm and his confidence.”
He looked to have found all three Tuesday.
His first 3 made him just the fourth player with 2,500 (behind Ray Allen, Steph Curry and Miller). After his second, he pointed over at Miller, calling the game courtside. And his jumper set up his drives.
“Just being aggressive. That’s the only thing every night is my aggressiveness. I’ve just got to continue that,” Harden said. “Just not thinking about anything but being aggressive the entire game.”
After scoring 28 of his 34 points in the first half, he had six of his eight assists (and nine of his 10 rebounds) in the second, shifting to the role of facilitator.
“He started the game off scoring the basketball, and it just opens the game up for everybody,” Kevin Durant said. “Then you saw him in the second half start getting the rest of the team going.”
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