James Harden on shorthanded Rockets: ‘My goal is to make everybody better’
Ahead of Saturday's regular season opener in Portland, Houston superstar James Harden wasn't interested in discussing the safety protocol violations that resulted in him being quarantined for much of that week.
"Tonight we have a good opportunity," said Harden. He was asked about the strange series of events that led to the notice on Saturday, including the NBA's decision that allowed him to clear the quarantine the day before. "I'm starting my 12th year in this league and I'm looking forward to it."
However, after having diverted several questions about his personal circumstances, Harden seemed happy to analyze issues related to the entire team. While the missiles will be severely understaffed and six players will be out due to positive COVID-19 tests or contact tracing, the all-star guard said this could provide an opportunity for others to improve.
"It's difficult. We miss three players in our rotation who play difficult minutes for our team, they are big pieces for our team," Harden said after Saturday's shootaround of veterans John Wall, Eric Gordon and DeMarcus Cousins . "It's an opportunity for guys to step up and play big minutes. We trained for it. We are ready for it. "
According to the team's injury report, there are nine players available for Saturday's game in Houston, which is just one above the minimum requirement for an NBA game. On the active list, alongside Harden, are the guards David Nwaba, Sterling Brown and Brodric Thomas. forward Danuel House Jr., PJ Tucker, and Jae’Sean Tate; and centers Christian Wood and Bruno Caboclo.
Of those other eight, House and Tucker are the only two players Harden has previously played significant minutes with. However, at the start of his 12th NBA season, Harden stated that he would take on the responsibility and challenge of leading in rare circumstances.
"My goal is to make everyone better," said Harden on Saturday afternoon. “They have an IQ of basketball, how to play, their places where they like to be. I know our staff. My job is to run the show and get guys in positions to be successful. "
The 31-year-old Harden has led the NBA to scoring goals for the past three seasons and has been an MVP finalist for four years. That includes 2018 when he won the award. As such, "The Beard" was confident when asked about his prospects for the season.
"For me, it's the best basketball player on the floor every night," said Harden. "Then we have to make sure that my team-mates are the best player they can be every night." Obviously it doesn't work that way every night. But when I have that mentality, most of the time things will go that way for our entire team. I'm just trying to get out there and be the best that I can be. "...
"I feel like 21 again," added Harden. "In reality, I'm not. I'm just ... trying to find you in this league. Some people never do. I know myself overall. That's why I'm so confident and ready."
Harden called the shootaround on Saturday "very important" given the sudden changes in the squad and expects the Trail Blazers (0-1) to perform well after a home loss to Utah in the opening game.
"Obviously Dame [Damian Lillard [and CJ [McCollum] are a really good team," said Harden. "They didn't play their first game well, but it's the start of a new season. They want to jump back. We're playing our first game. It's always hard to beat them in Portland, with or without fans. It'll be one Challenge for us. "
As usual, Harden was not referring to his reported request to trade in the recently completed off-season. "To get out of here and play, I never want to take playing basketball for granted," Harden concluded.
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