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James Harden backs himself for MVP after another huge performance for Brooklyn Nets

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After dropping 44 points in a win over the Pistons on Friday night in Detroit, James Harden said that he doesn’t simply believe he belongs in the Most Valuable Player award conversation — he should sit atop the list.

“Do I feel like I belong in it? I feel like I am the MVP,” the Brooklyn Nets star said. “I mean, it’s just that simple. I don’t want to be speaking individually on myself. I am just going to leave it at that.”

When asked to bolster his MVP case, Harden chuckled and added: “Numbers are showing it for itself, and we’re winning. That’s all I can say.”

In the 30 games Harden has played for Brooklyn since it acquired him from the Houston Rockets, he has averaged 25.4 points, 8.7 rebounds and 11.5 assists. The Nets have gone 24-7 when Harden is on the floor.

Harden won MVP in 2018. That year, he led the league in scoring with 30.4 points per game. This season, Harden leads the league in assists with 11.2 per game.

“I just go out there every single night and try to give my teammates everything I can bring to the game,” Harden said Friday.

Several players who were considered to be at the top of the MVP race — including the Lakers’ LeBron James, the 76ers’ Joel Embiid and Harden’s teammate Kevin Durant — have been sidelined with injuries in recent weeks, further broadening the field.

“Its sad,” Harden said of the injuries plaguing the league’s stars. “It’s a massive situation because we have eight, 10, 12 of the best guys that we have in this league that are out with injuries. So, I’m sure the fans — it’s taking some of the excitement away from them, but it’s part of our game.”

According to Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill, Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets is the current front-runner for MVP at -110. Harden has the fifth-shortest odds at +900.

The MVP award is voted on by members of the NBA media.

Harden was traded to the Nets in January. A player who was traded during the season has never won MVP that same year.

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Mike D’Antoni announces departure from Nets coach Steve Nash’s staff

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NEW YORK — Mike D’Antoni is leaving the Brooklyn Nets, forcing Steve Nash to make another change on his coaching staff.

Nash announced the 70-year-old D’Antoni’s decision in a statement Wednesday, saying having the two-time Coach of the Year was “invaluable” in his first season as a coach.

“I will be forever grateful for his guidance and will carry on a lifetime of lessons from the many years we’ve spent together,” Nash said in the statement. “Our players and staff all benefited from this time in Broolyn and we wish Mike, Laurel and their family the very best in what lies ahead.”

D’Antoni won the 2005 Coach of the Year award in Phoenix when Nash was his point guard, then another in Houston in 2017. He has long been regarded as one of the NBA’s best offensive coaches and helped the Nets reach the second round of the playoffs, where they lost to eventual champion Milwaukee in seven games.

The Nets already lost one assistant this offseason when Ime Udoka left to become Boston Celtics coach. David Vanterpool was hired to replace him.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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Oklahoma City Thunder downtown arena renamed Paycom Center

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OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma City Thunder have announced an exclusive 15-year naming rights partnership to rename the city’s downtown arena after Paycom, a local company that offers online payroll and human resources services to employers.

The arena was renamed to the Paycom Center effective Tuesday, according to The Oklahoman. Terms of the deal were not released.

The Thunder said exterior signage changes, including Paycom’s green logo, will be completed by the start of the 2021-22 NBA season in October.

“We are especially proud to enhance our alignment with this innovative and visionary Oklahoma company that is not only a top job creator, but a nationally recognized technology leader,” Thunder Chairman Clay Bennett said in a statement.

Paycom Center will be the 16th NBA venue with “center” in its name.

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New Orleans Pelicans gathering information after Jaxson Hayes reportedly arrested in Los Angeles area

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New Orleans Pelicans center Jaxson Hayes was arrested in the Los Angeles area early Wednesday morning following an alleged altercation with a police officer, TMZ Sports reported.

“We have been made aware of the incident involving Jaxson Hayes,” the Pelicans said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “We are working in conjunction with the NBA and Jaxson’s representatives to gather more information and will have no further comment at this time.”

According to TMZ’s report, police were called to a Los Angeles area home because of a domestic disturbance, and Hayes tried to prevent officers from entering the property.

A fight reportedly ensued that sent Hayes, who was tased, to a local hospital, where he was treated for minor injuries. An officer involved in the incident also sought treatment. The officer’s condition is unknown.

Hayes, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft, averaged 7.5 points and 4.3 rebounds for the Pelicans last season.

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