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Nets’ Kevin Durant, James Harden disagree on significance of showdown vs. Bulls

James Harden, Kevin Durant, Nets

Kevin Durant and James Harden are usually on the same page. Harden is 2nd in the entire NBA, behind only Phoenix Suns point guard Chris Paul, in assists per game with 9.3. Many of those land in Durant’s hands.

But while Harden may have a sixth sense for where many of his teammates are on the floor, after a Friday night 110-105 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, Harden and KD appeared to have a slight difference of opinion on the significance of their next game. Saturday will mark a rematch between two of the top teams in the East as the Chicago Bulls visit the Nets.

“Then tomorrow is gonna be a big test for us,” said Harden. “Up in Chicago [back on November 8th] we played three quarters really, really good. And then 4th quarter we just had a meltdown so its gonna be an opportunity for us to beat a team that’s been playing very, very good basketball and it’s gonna give us that confidence.” Indeed the Nets were outscored 42-17 in the fourth period in that loss.

While Harden acknowledged the game was a big test, Durant was less eager to grant even a little added significance to the showdown between the East’s top two teams in the standings.

“No, not special significance,” said Durant. “I mean every game is important….I know Chicago is a contender, but every game is important and we wanna go out here and set a tone every night. So tomorrow is gonna be an intense game and we gotta match that to start.”

The Nets are 16-6, the Bulls are 15-8. If Billy Donovan’s group, led by Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan, can steal a road win, they’ll trail the Nets by just half a game in the standings. The Nets will be on the second leg of a back-to-back and are a bit short-handed at the moment missing key players like Joe Harris (ankle), Blake Griffin (not playing well enough to see the floor) and of course, Kyrie Irving (unvaccinated).

There is at least some added significance mathematically, because at a point in time there will be the issue of home-court advantage to keep an eye on down the road. But viewing any one game as a barometer or “measuring stick” has been something the Nets’ stars have both pushed back against.

Fans might recall Harden downplayed the significance of the loss to the Golden State Warriors, citing that wins and losses count the same in the standings, no matter who the opponent.

And remember when they were asked about the showdown against the Phoenix Suns? Was that game a measuring stick?

“Measuring stick for who? For y’all? Not for us,” said Harden. “If anybody is looking at Saturday as a statement game, it’s not the Nets.

Durant echoed that sentiment. “We obviously want to come out there and stick to our principles,” said KD, “and keep getting better at that stuff. From the outside looking in, I understand the records and the narratives around games and stuff, but I don’t think this can tell us too much about what may happen down the line.”

So if you’re really keeping score at home here, James Harden doesn’t mind calling big games a “test.” He referred to the Suns game and more recently Saturday’s Bulls game as “tests.” But both Harden and KD tend to push back if asked if there’s added significance to a particular game or if a game is a measuring stick. “Tests” good, “measuring sticks” not good, got it?

These two players are two of the best to ever play the game. None of this seems like a big deal. But it’s funny to learn the idiosyncrasies of these top stars and how they prefer to phrase certain things; the Nets version of Bill Belichick’s infamous “we’re onto Cincinnati.”

One the one hand it just seems like some lines and phrases stars who have to give too many interviews may rely on. On the other, it may reflect a window into the type of thinking that allows a person to perform at his or her best without a history, without a future. At the end of the day, these players want to maximize being in the moment. And fussing over language nuance may give us a glimpse into just how they strive towards presence.

Durant after yet another clutch performance in defeating the T-Wolves shared more about his mindset in crunch time. Does he view shots in crunch time differently? Do they require more focus or does he try to view them like shots in the first quarter?

“Yeah I pretty much try to treat everything the same. I know how important that fourth quarter is. Especially in a tight game but try not to put too much pressure on myself and just shoot my shots and I was able to get to my spots there in the fourth and knock some in.”

KD, locked in, clearly not worried about whether or not this is a test for the Nets, or measuring stick, poetry in motion.

Seeing a shot the same whether it’s the opening minute or the final minute, seeing a game the same whether it’s the Wolves in December or the Miami Heat in May, it may help these guys go out there and worry about their task and nothing more. If there were a business psychologist paying attention that person might have some key takeaways for us here. But like KD and Harden might say, we’re just onto Chicago.