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James Harden has triple-double in return from thigh injury

Despite Houston’s hot streak since trading James Harden — with some pundits opining the Rockets are better off without him — the Nets couldn’t have been happier to get him back after a one-game absence with a thigh injury. He had yet another triple-double to lead the way to a 124-120 win over the NBA-leading Clippers.

Harden had 23 points, 14 assists and 11 rebounds for his fourth triple-double in nine games as a Net. He’s already just the second player in franchise history to notch four triple-doubles in a season, joining Jason Kidd. Brooklyn is 7-2 when he plays.

“Largely it’s been great. He’s an incredible player,” Steve Nash said. “I know we see his scoring and playmaking ability, but his intelligence is special, defensively as well. He sees it, he reads it, he has an understanding at that end of the floor as well.

“So I think he’s in a position where he’s grateful for this opportunity. He wants to win, and he’s willing to sacrifice, and so his leadership has been great. And as he plays himself into shape here, his production’s been amazing. He was [Eastern] Conference Player of the Week. So he’s been incredible to add to our group, and we’re fortunate to have him.”

James Harden defends Paul George during the Nets' 124-120 win over the Clippers.
James Harden defends Paul George during the Nets’ 124-120 win over the Clippers.
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg

Tuesday was Kenny Atkinson’s return to Brooklyn after being let go by the Nets in March. He’s an assistant with the Clippers. When Clippers coach Tyronn Lue was asked if there was anything extra for Atkinson facing his former team. Lue laughed and followed up with a smiling, “No comment. No comment.”

With Tuesday’s victory, Brooklyn ran its season-best home winning streak to six and earned its fifth win in the last six games and in its last 12 overall.

Norvel Pelle was available Tuesday, but Nash admitted it’s probably a little soon to see the newly acquired center into the fire, despite the Nets’ need for defense and rim protection.

“It’s I’d say, probably too soon,” Nash said. “But we can’t say that forever. So we want to make sure we get a chance — we haven’t been in the gym with him, to be to be honest. We were on the road, and then we had the day off [Monday] after the road trip. And we just got in, the guys just got in this evening for the game.

“So we’ve got a couple practice days coming up where we can get a look at him and have a much better kind of scope of how ready he is and when he could jump in there.”

Pelle hasn’t played an NBA game since Aug. 23, when the 76ers got eliminated in the playoffs.

Iman Shumpert — signed Saturday but still awaiting clearance to join the team — has been idle for far longer. He hasn’t played an NBA game since Dec. 11, 2019, with the Nets. He’d been working out in Atlanta and has said he’d only need a week to get game-fit, but that could be ambitious. If he keeps posting negative COVID-19 tests he could be cleared to join the team by this weekend, according to a source.