Ben Golliver and Michael Pina dig in deep on James Harden's first two games with the new-look Nets. Why is Harden on his best behavior, and will it last? Do Kevin Durant and Harden share a telekinetic combination, and how does their partnership stack up to past duos involving Durant and Harden? Can Harden repair his reputation with casual fans, or is that a lost cause? Which role players benefit the most from Harden's arrival? How aggressively should Brooklyn seek trades involving Kyrie Irving? Should their thinking change at the deadline versus next summer? What type of players should Brooklyn target in an Irving deal? Who would win in an Eastern Conference finals between the Nets and Bucks? Is the pressure off Milwaukee now? Do the Bucks need to make a counter move to keep up after the Harden trade?
Ben Golliver: Yeah, you start with that 119 number, the greatest offense of all time. And the natural inclination is to be like, "Well, that won't sustain." It could sustain, these guys are absolutely ridiculous together. They kind of had a telekinesis, don't you think? I feel like they knew where they were going to be on the court together. Every time Harden was driving to the basket, he kind of just always knew where KD would be spotting up around the perimeter and just kind of hitting him with some laser passes right on target. I mean, same thing with KD, once he gets these passes from Harden, he's attacking, if he's drawing the defense and it's going right back into Hardens hands. And they worked really, really well together right off the bat in both of those games. And it wasn't just them. I think you could see the benefits for some of their teammates, too. DeAndre Jordan looks like he's going to have a second life now. All he has to do is kind of cruise along in James Harden's wake, going to the basket and every once in a while, he's going to get a free dunk. His life is so much easier. Shades of his partnership with Chris Paul and then their shooters too are just going to have all sorts of time, because you get put into these situations where if they do run pick-and-roll with James Harden and Kevin Durant, which they did a little bit against Orlando, you've got to choose. You either defend it straight up, which Orlando really did down the stretch, and those guys snipe you. Eventually teams are going to start throwing a third person over that direction. And it's going to be guys like Joe Harris just getting wide-open three-point shots all day long, or even Kyrie Irving potentially once he's back on the court having wide-open opportunities as well. So they have a lot that they can do together. It kind of cracks me up, Michael. I made a joke last week that Harden was going to ride the Peloton bike from Houston to Brooklyn to magically get himself back into shape. Did that happen? I mean, he definitely looks like he's had better conditioning already, just kind of to the naked eye. But he was also playing so motivated. I got to say, it bothered me a little bit, Michael. Didn't he seem more motivated for his first two games with the Brooklyn Nets than he did in like a number of big playoff games? He just came just out of the chute so hard, so fast, so aggressive, attacking downhill, orchestrating brilliantly, all of it in these first couple of games with the Nets. And he looks so happy and reenergized. It's like, wait a minute, where was this guy in some of these key playoff moments when we were kind of hoping for him? I don't know how you explain it, but I guess the takeaway is energized Harden is the most fun version by far. He wasn't getting into any of the sideshow stuff in these first couple of games, like really going hard for foul calls or any of that stuff. He was just kind of hooping out there like it was five on five and it was a reunion tour for him and Kevin Durant. And it was a lot of fun to watch. And I don't know really how you stop it.
Michael Pina: Offensively I agree with you. When KD and Harden are on the floor it's going to be really, really difficult to concoct a scheme to slow those guys down.
Golliver: Well, that was the ridiculous thing too, in the first game didn't harden had five steals or something like that? I mean, here is Jimmy, quick hands all over the court, just getting deflections and really working hard on that and trying to set a good first impression. A lot of people were joking that he is like the new guy at the office who's really trying make sure everybody knows he's fully committed to the group. You see it on his Twitter header with like fifteen pictures of him in a Nets jersey. For a while there in Houston, he had deactivated his Instagram. Now he's back on and he's promising scary hours. Once Kyrie Irving returns and the Brooklyn Nets are this new team. He's like employee of the month after his first day on the job, which again, I think if you're a Rockets fan, you're probably like, 'what in the heck is going on' after the way the last couple of years have gone at various points, but at the same time as somebody who's sitting here impartially, I would way rather watch this version of Harvard than the previous version, how about you?
Pina: Yeah, it's a lot of fun to watch this. I think that it really speaks to just the safety net that is Kevin Durant, and what he does for your mental health on a basketball court. There's no pressure for Harden to do everything. He knows that there is someone else on his team who is definitively better than he is, and maybe the only person in the entire world who he feels that way about. So, if he doesn't feel this need to aggressively charge through the paint with arms extended, trying to get fouls, trying to get to the free throw line. The step-back was there, but he wasn't really forcing it. And I mean, there was one play where he gave the ball up to KD early in a possession against the bucks and then just kind of drifted to the right wing. And DeAndre Jordan came up and set a flare screen on Harden's man. KD whipped him the ball and Harden took a spot up three wide-open. Like When is the last time that James Harden took a wide-open spot-up three like that? It must have just been a great feeling for him.