James Harden ‘more than confident’ in Nets’ title chances

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Since James Harden arrived in Brooklyn, and even before then, the Nets haven’t shied away from their championship aspirations.

But Harden recently put them in plain sight.

“We’re more than confident that it’s going to be difficult for a team to beat us four times in a best-of-seven series,” Harden told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols in an interview aired Friday. “I’m excited about it and it’s only been a month. All of us are trying to get to one goal and that’s an NBA championship.”

Saturday’s game at the Warriors will mark Harden’s 14th game with the Nets, but only his seventh with both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving on the floor with him. The Nets are 4-2 when their Big 3 have suited up together.

The Nets will be without center DeAndre Jordan on Saturday as he tends to a personal issue. Coach Steve Nash said the Nets expect Jordan to rejoin them during their five-game road trip and to continue testing for COVID-19 in the meantime, which would allow him to play immediately once he is ready.

Jeff Green likely will slide into the small-ball center position — a role he has played often this season — especially with the Warriors missing rookie center James Wiseman (wrist).

“Let’s hope this isn’t the kiss of death, but actually the Warriors’ game is a team that’s playing extremely small right now with all their true centers out,” Nash said. “So I don’t want to say it’s fortuitous, because they’re such a difficult team to defend anyways, but it might have been a tough matchup for a traditional center anyways.”

The Nets also have newly signed centers Norvel Pelle and Noah Vonleh.

Some players have spoken about the mental strain this season has taken on them, with COVID-19 protocols not allowing for much beyond going to the arena for games or the team facility for practices. Durant has a different perspective.

“I mean [shoot], it’s not that bad,” he said. “We’re getting paid millions of dollars to hoop and do something we love every day. We’ll figure the rest out.”

Those protocols also make opportunities for team bonding, especially on a Western trip like the Nets are embarking on, more difficult in the traditional sense.

“In the good old days, I would have put my credit card behind the bar and told the guys to go out and have a good time,” Nash said. “But that ain’t happening in COVID for a while, so we’ll have to find creative ways to continue to grow and find that bond.”

Nic Claxton (right knee tendinopathy) will travel with the Nets and is expected to eventually begin working with their “stay-ready” group.

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