A homecoming to remember for Harden

In a shorten NBA season Sun Devil fans had to wait nearly 60 games to watch former ASU standout, James Harden, make his only appearance near his old college stomping grounds. As it turns out, the long wait was certainly worthwhile. Harden was unstoppable scoring a career-high 40 points, as he led the Oklahoma City Thunder past the Phoenix Suns 109-97 Wednesday night at U.S. Airways Center.

 

James Harden was 12-17 from the floor, 5-8 beyond the arc and made all of his 11 free throws, in addition to collecting seven rebounds and posting four steals.

"It's always a good feeling when you have it rolling like that," Harden confessed after the game. "We came off a bad loss and we needed a win. It was fun."

The Oklahoma City guard actually notched his last career-high against the Suns earlier in the season, and in the last two contests against that squad he scored 70 points. He did however rebuff any notion that he does find it easier to play against the Suns compared to other opponents.

"I just want to be aggressive," Harden said. "It's not particular to the Suns it's just my attitude in all games. We came off a bad loss, a bad second half against the Clippers and I just tried to provide a spark off the bench."

His accomplishments as a reserve just may land him the coveted NBA six-man award this year. Through 59 games, Harden is averaging 16.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg and 3.7 apg, shooting 48.2 percent from the field, 38.4 percent from three-point range and 83.7 percent from the line. Harden also averages 31.6 minutes per game.

His overall play is by no means astonishing to NBA observes, as the Thunder guard was already emerging last season with his 12.2 ppg as one of the top reserves in the league.

"My comfort level is definitely higher this year," Harden stated. "I just know my role and stay aggressive. I worked on my entire game: playmaking, scoring, three-point shooting, mid-range game and attacking the basket."

Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks is naturally pleased with progress he's seeing from his guard, and cited Harden's confidence as one of the biggest differences in his game this season.

"The experience of playing significant minutes last season (Harden averaged 26.7 minutes per game)," Brooks said. "He knows that he can compete against any player in this league if he plays with force and energy on both ends. He's a terrific young man that plays hard. He will only get better.

"He has improved and we expect that to continue for the next few years."

Brooks said that Harden's unselfishness has also helped him excel.

"He understands his role," Brooks explained. "He does it very well. He comes in and whatever we need he seems to supply it, whether its offense playmaking or defense. He's a great teammate and he understands that Kevin (Durant) and Russell (Westbrook) are really good players, but we need James to play well to be successful.

"It's not a two-man team. Everybody has to do their job."

After Wednesday night, no one would claim that Harden did anything short of putting in an honest night's work.

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