No KD? No problem in Brooklyn. James Harden has transitioned from one of the game’s highest volume shooters to the league’s best passer.

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No KD? No problem in Brooklyn. James Harden has transitioned from one of the game’s highest volume shooters to the league’s best passer.

Harden’s Transformation

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

When James Harden was traded to the Brooklyn Nets in January, he hammered home one word to describe his role in getting the team to where it needs to be: sacrifice.

He’s done just that. The eight-time All-Star is attempting the fewest shots per game of his 10 seasons since 2011-12, but he leads the league in assists with 11.1 per game and 289 total.

The Nets are the hottest team in the NBA with six straight wins — now a ½ game out of first place in the Eastern Conference. 

Last night, Harden finished with 37 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists to cap off a perfect five-game road-trip in which the Nets defeated elite teams like the Suns, Lakers and Clippers. He recorded his 77th career 35-point double-double. Only LeBron James has more with 78.

Brooklyn is 14-6 since acquiring the former MVP. He’s currently playing the most minutes of his career (38.4).

One of the most impressive things about the Nets this season is that they’re 12-2 against teams above .500, and 6-1 against the Lakers, Clippers, Jazz, Bucks, and 76ers. And they’ve done it with Durant sidelined for 13 games.

“It’s going to be difficult for a team to beat us four times in a best-of-seven series,” Harden told ESPN.

The Raptors Are Back

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Raptors are above .500 for the first time this season following an assertive 110-103 victory against the Philadelphia 76ers.

They’ve dug themselves out of a daunting hole after starting the season with a 2-8 record. Since then, they’re 14-7 and winners in nine out of their last 12 games — good for the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference.

“Tonight was a real big game. [The 76ers are] obviously number one in the East. Super talented,” forward DeAndre’ Bembry said. “We beat a couple good teams recently, and we still think we can do a lot more.”

Their season turned around after Fred VanVleet dropped 54 points in a Feb. 2 win over the Orlando Magic. Since that night, the rest of the team has been hot:

  • Pascal Siakam is scoring 22 points per night. 
  • Norman Powell is averaging 21.5 points. 
  • Sixth man Chris Boucher is chipping in 13.5 points.

But tough defense is the true source of the team’s come-up. They’re forcing 15.6 turnovers per game — the most in the NBA. They’re second in the league for steals with 8.7.

Last night, the Raptors held Sixers superstar Joel Embiid to 6-of-20 shooting. The lethal big passed out of his post-ups on 72.2% of his chances, almost 40% more than he normally does. Embiid had described himself as “unguardable” after a 50-point game against the Bulls the night before.

“​As soon I crossed half court, they just sent two or three guys on me, to make sure that I wasn’t going to be the one that beat them tonight,” Embiid said.

Zion Stuns The Celtics

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans completed a miraculous 24-point comeback in an overtime win against the Boston Celtics. 

“We rallied back,” Zion Williamson said. “Everybody — coaches, players, ball boys — everybody was just engaged.”

Zion scored 24 of his 28 points in the second half, continuing his impressive play of late. 

In February, the 20-year-old is averaging 26.8 points on 66% shooting. Dwight Howard, Charles Barkley, Bernard King and Wilt Chamberlain are the only players to score 25 points on 65% shooting in one month.

Zion played more than 40 minutes for the first time in his career. The 2019 No.1 overall pick struggled to deal with heavy minutes restrictions in his rookie campaign last year.

“It’s very tough… as soon as I start to break that sweat, I look over and that horn is for me and I have to come out the game,” he said in August.

With coach Stan Van Gundy at the helm, Zion is playing five more minutes (32.8) this season. He’s also eclipsed the amount of games played last season (24) — suiting up for 29 of New Orleans’ 30 contests.

The Pelicans (13-17) trail the No.8 seed by 2.5 games. Maybe this game will be the spark they need to turn their season around.

Around The Association: Jarrett, Trae, Vucevic

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

– Cavs center Jarrett Allen became the first player with a 25/15 game on 100% shooting since Dwight Howard in 2010. They’re the only two players to accomplish this feat in the past two decades.

– Hawks guard Trae Young finished with 35 points and 15 assists in a win against the Nuggets. He tied Luka Doncic for the second-most 35/15 games by a player 22 or younger (4).

– Magic center Nikola Vucevic became the fourth player in Magic history with at least 35 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks in a single game. He joins Shaq, Dwight Howard and Tracy McGrady.

Game To Watch: Trail Blazers at Suns

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers have won six of their last seven. The Phoenix Suns have won eight of their last nine. Only one game separates the two teams from the fourth and fifth seeds in the Western Conference.

Portland Trail Blazers at Phoenix Suns (-6), 9:00 p.m. ET

  • Trail Blazers +188 | Suns -230
  • O/U: 227

Shoutout to David Nagelberg, who was only three points shy of accurately predicting how many points Zion Williamson would score on Friday night.

Pick ‘Em: Reply to this newsletter with your prediction for how many total points the Suns will score tonight. Whoever nails it gets a mention in the next edition of The Association!

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