James Harden, Clippers aim to click against Nets

James Harden’s debut with his latest new team was adequate from an individual standpoint but a dud for the Los Angeles Clippers.

Coming off their most lopsided loss of the early going, the Clippers meet one of Harden’s former teams when they visit the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night.

The Clippers are off to a 3-3 start and their first two losses were by a combined seven points. On Monday, Harden debuted after having his fourth career trade request granted by the Philadelphia 76ers last week and contributed 17 points in a 111-97 loss to the host New York Knicks.

Los Angeles led by four at halftime but allowed the Knicks to turn a close game into the Clippers’ biggest defeat of the season. The Clippers were outscored 35-21 in the fourth quarter, took only 13 shots and allowed 12 points off seven turnovers.

Harden made 6 of 9 shots and handed out six assists to go along with three rebounds in 31:22. Kawhi Leonard led the team with 18 points in his second-lowest scoring night, Russell Westbrook finished with 17 and Paul George was held to 10 on 2-of-11 shooting in his worst shooting performance of the season.

“I was out there just basically winging it,” Harden said after the game, “but I tried to go with my basketball instincts and what I’ve been doing for the last few years and whatnot, and just going out there and playing and thinking the game and trying to make the game easier for everybody else.”

Brooklyn was two trade requests ago for Harden, who sought an exit due to frustrations related to Kyrie Irving’s availability issues in 2022. The Nets traded him at the 2022 deadline before moving Irving and Kevin Durant a year later and are off to a mixed start in their first full season with Mikal Bridges as the focal point of their offense.

Brooklyn’s four losses are by a combined 20 points, mostly because of an inability to make plays down the stretch of those games. The latest instance was Monday’s 129-125 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks that dropped the Nets to 0-3 at home.

A 12-0 run midway through the fourth quarter gave Brooklyn a 111-108 lead, but with the game tied at 123, the Nets missed seven of their final eight shots in the final minute. The loss to the Bucks came two nights after the Nets were outscored 25-17 over the final seven minutes of a 124-114 loss to the Boston Celtics.

“That fourth quarter just got to be everybody locked in and doing everything right. Help rebound, be in the right shifts,” Bridges said. “It’s just that fourth quarter. Learn now. Just got to get better.”

Brooklyn’s latest fade in the fourth occurred when Cam Thomas and Bridges enjoyed their most productive nights this season. Thomas, who is averaging 28.7 points, scored 45 — two shy of his career high — while Bridges finished with a season-best 31.

The Nets played their sixth straight game without Nic Claxton, whose sprained right ankle will keep him out again Wednesday.

Dorian Finney-Smith, who is coming off his least productive showing of the season, will likely start at center for the sixth straight time.