DALLAS - “One of the things a lot of teams don't have is talent," said James Harden is his typically modest style. “We don't have to worry about that aspect. … Skill-wise, we're elite. I'm not worried at all."
Harden will not be a part of that “elite” attack on Thursday at Dallas as he will miss his 16th game due to a hamstring injury. That should benefit Luka Doncic and the Mavs in this AAC meeting, but the Nets guard has a point: Brooklyn’s lineup is loaded even without him.
Harden said Thursday he is "very confident" he'll return to Brooklyn's lineup before the start of the NBA postseason. That means his return is coming as the Nets have just six regular-season games left in the 2021-22 season before the playoffs begin on May 22.
The Nets are 43-23 and in second in the East. The Mavs are 37-28 and in fifth in the West.
The Nets acquired Harden after he forced his way to bring traded out of Houston in January. The perennial MVP candidate was averaging 26.1 points and 11.2 assists per game in his first 33 contests with the Nets.
But this game will feature the Nets (oddly, losers of three straight) being led by Kyrie Irving Kevin Durant … and will feature a Dallas team playing without the injured Kristaps Porzingis while contemplating lineup fluidity - but with the MVP-level work of Luka Doncic.
Dallas will be alert of the Nets' "elite talent'' and are alert as to the standings as well.
"We're just going day-to-day with what we need to do to prepare for each given game," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "Players are aware of standings and all the machinations going on there. We've got to stay in the present, we've got to stay process-oriented and we've got to do the things that bring us success."
James Harden not playing? That helps.