The Brooklyn Nets (now 12-5) are in sole possession of first place. The Nets hosted the last place, (now 4-12) Orlando Magic, but Brooklyn was very short-handed so it was no cake walk. James Harden was able to lead a short-handed Nets squad by exorcising some of his early-season demons. He got to the free throw line early and often. Harden finished with 36 points, 8 assists, 10 rebounds, and while he was only 7 of 25 from the floor, he knocked down 19 of 20 free throws; including a pair late which made it a four-point game as the Barclays faithful serenaded the former MVP with some familiar MVP chants. This season it’s usually Kevin Durant who hears those but tonight was The Beard’s night.

After the game Harden’s team had some interesting reactions to his free throw parade.

Kevin Durant missed his first game of the season with the shoulder issue that has bugged him since a loss to the Chicago Bulls in early. Before the game, Steve Nash offered an update on that situation. The Nets were already without Paul Millsap (personal reasons), Joe Harris (ankle), Nic Claxton (non-COVID illness) and during the game Bruce Brown left with a new (being called a hamstring) injury.

But they still had Harden, LaMarcus Aldridge, and got some surprise contributions from folks like James Johnson (17 points, 10 rebounds) and Patty Mills (22 points) off the bench.

One major story this season has been Harden’s slow start and how the new rules (and his return from a hamstring injury he sustained last season) aimed at non-basketball plays have limited his efficiency. But he’s been getting to the line more recently. He has 63 total free throw attempts in his last five outings. His 20 free throw attempts on Friday was a season high as were the 19 makes.