James Harden says he is getting back to his best but admits the high standards expected will not come easy after a season-high 39 points as the Brooklyn Nets beat the New Orleans Pelicans 120-112.
Harden improved his season average to 19.8 points per game with his haul against the Pelicans where he landed five three-pointers and registered a double-double with 12 assists too.
The 32-year-old guard's offensive output this season contrasted dramatically with his career average of 25.0 points per game, along with career-best 36.1 points per game in the 2018-19 season with the Houston Rockets.
Harden had started the new campaign slowly after rehabbing his hamstring over the offseason but is starting to return to his best, with a triple-double against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday.
"I'm getting there. It wasn’t going to take long," Harden told reporters after the Pelicans win.
"This is the most talented players in the world. It's not going to be easy for me to just come out and do what I do. It takes a lot of reps, a lot of hard work to get to that point, to be playing at a point that you've seen me playing at.
"When I'm not scoring 30 points and I'm averaging 18-something points, it's like 'what's wrong with James?'. It's like, that's pretty solid still.
"I've been playing so well [in previous years], at another level where you guys set standards for me. I set standards for myself as well. for me I've just got to continue to work. I'm getting a lot better. The work don't stop."
Big night for The Beard pic.twitter.com/TgmdcSVZEx— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) November 13, 2021
Harden has shown flashes of his best at times throughout the early part of the season but is yet to put together a consistent run of high scoring, having reached 20 points in only four games this season prior to Friday's win.
The 2018 MVP's 39 points against the Pelicans bettered his previous season-high of 29, although he also had six turnovers.
"I can score, I know that," Harden said. "I've just got to put it together. Today was pretty solid, other than the turnovers. I've just got to continue to build.
"I felt last game at Orlando, my pace was good, I was getting to the basket, I was finding my teammates, I had that burst. Tonight the same thing, I've just got to continue to compound that feeling."
Nets head coach Steve Nash praised Harden but also urged patience as has consistently been their message this season.
"He played similar tonight as he did a couple of games on this trip," Nash said during his post-game news conference. "I think we've got to be patient with him. I think he's got some yards to go before he feels this was very night or feels at his best.
"There's the fitness, the rhythm and the confidence. For all those three things to come back it does take time. He was great tonight. He's been really good the last week or so and trending in the right direction. I don’t want to get too carried away. Let's give him time to get his game back."