Tuesday night, the Houston Rockets Twitter account posted a video with four simple words their fans base have been dying to read, “The Beard has arrived!” Dressed in a long white t-shirt, camouflage pants, and his signature beard covered in a mask, James Harden made his way inside the Grand Floridian Hotel four days after the initial arrival of his team.
At the time, the reason for Harden’s absence was unknown. Some reports cited that Harden was planning to show up in Orlando alongside his running mate and best friend, Russell Westbrook. While an unreliable media company proclaimed that the league’s leading scorer (34.4 PPG) had tested positive for the coronavirus.
Unsurprisingly, neither was the case.
“I had some family issues, but I’m happy I’m here. It felt really good to be back out here with the guys and getting after it. Every single day is going to be a new challenge for us, but I think we have taken the right steps.” — James Harden
The NBA lockdown period forced all 30 teams to close their training facility for safety precautions. Several players around the league revealed their lack of resources made it difficult to prepare for a season restart, but Harden took advantage of the opportunity. The three-month hiatus gave Harden a chance to enhance his conditioning, as his day-to-day quarantine workout consisted of running, weight-lifting, and yoga.
Although he came back into the season with a more slender body frame than usual, nothing can replace participating in a full-court scrimmage. Thursday afternoon was the first time Harden played five-on-five basketball with his teammates since March.
“I feel like I’m in a good place. Individual working out and conditioning is totally different. You can do track workouts and all kind of conditioning workouts. But when you are actually out there getting bump and trying to make plays, it’s totally different. I felt really good today. I push myself...and like I say every single day, the goal is to continue getting better.” — Harden
Since Houston began practice last Saturday, Mike D’Antoni has been pleased by his team’s effort. Each day the Rockets have ramped-up their intensity, and Harden’s late arrival to the party did not have a negative effect on the team’s progress.
D’Antoni said Harden probably looked rusty for the first 30 seconds, but was then was back to himself.
“He’s been going hard before he got here. I didn’t see any difference whatsoever. We’ll watch tomorrow. If he’s sore, maybe we’ll back him off. He looks like he’s ready to go. You forget how strong he is. He’s one of the strongest players in the league.” — D’Antoni
As for Houston’s other All-Star guard, D’Antoni said there was no new update on Westbrook’s status — who is currently recovering after testing positive for COVID-19. Similar to Harden, D’Antoni expects Westbrook to enter the bubble in shape and ready to work.
The Rockets are two weeks away from the restart of the 2019-20 season, as they open up against their South West division rival Dallas Mavericks on Friday, July 31. With eight games left before the start of the playoffs, Houston has an opportunity to move up to the third seed of the Western Conference, as they currently sit sixth with a 40-24 record.
“I think the world knows no matter what’s going on, James Harden loves to hoop. Today in practice, we got after it. We played a couple of quarters. We pushed ourselves. And I’m doing a lot of the trash-talking, as usual. Just to get the guys motivated.” — Harden