Harden cleared to play, makes practice debut

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NBA scoring leader James Harden practiced with his Houston Rockets team-mates for the first time in more than four months on Thursday, saying his arrival at the league’s restart bubble at Walt Disney World was delayed by family issues.

Harden came to Disney earlier this week, satisfied his league-mandated quarantine requirements and was cleared to participate.

“I’m happy I’m here,” Harden said. “It felt actually really, really good to be out here with the guys, getting after it, just pushing our way. Every single day is going to be a new challenge for us.”

Harden has been working out, but said Thursday was his first time playing actual 5-on-5, contact-laden basketball in more than a month.

“I pushed myself through it today,” Harden said.

Russell Westbrook and James Harden combined for 63 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists as the Rockets beat the Grizzlies

Harden’s arrival means Houston finally have half of their starting backcourt at Disney. On Monday, guard Russell Westbrook revealed that he tested positive for coronavirus. It is not known when Westbrook will be ready to arrive.

Harden wasted no time in impressing his team-mates.

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“He looked good,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said. “He probably was rusty for about 30 seconds. A good beginning.”

Rockets guard Ben McLeMore was more succinct: “Same James… didn’t miss a beat,” he said.

Russell Westbrook and James Harden combined for 63 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists as the Rockets beat the Grizzlies

D’Antoni did not expect Harden to do much 5-on-5 work initially, figuring he would need some time to build up his wind. But Harden arrived fully ready, in D’Antonis eyes, showing that whatever regimen he was following had paid off.

“James is smart,” DAntoni said. “He knows his body. He knows what he needs to do. He will come over late at night if he needs extra shooting or if he needs extra running, he will do it. But he loves to play. He is the ultimate professional on what he needs to do to get ready. So, I trust him totally.”

Harden is a virtual lock to win his third consecutive scoring title. He is averaging 34.4 points point per game, well ahead of second-place Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards. Beal, who isnt participating in the restart because of an injury, finished the season averaging 30.5 points.

The only way Harden could fall below Beal’s average is if he played in all eight of Houston’s remaining games and scored a total of 11 points or fewer. If Harden played in seven of the eight games and went completely scoreless in each, he would still finish ahead of Beal.

Harden would become the seventh player in NBA history to win at least three consecutive scoring crowns, joining George Mikan, Neil Johnston, Wilt Chamberlain, George Gervin, Michael Jordan and Kevin Durant.

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