James Harden vows Nets will improve with Kyrie Irving

James Harden was brilliant Saturday against the Lakers. But he can be even better once he’s got Kyrie Irving alongside him. 

Harden (36 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) became just the second player in history with a 35-point triple double on Christmas. Oscar Robertson did so in 1961 against the Lakers and two years later vs. St. Louis. 

But as dominant as Harden was, both he and the Nets insist he’ll be even better whenever Irving returns — even if it’s just for road games. 

“Obviously, we all know how special of a talent Kyrie is and what he means to this organization and our team. So just to be around him, even if it’s only for road games, will be huge for us,” Harden said. “He obviously makes all our jobs a lot easier. But just having him around and obviously he’s a very, very skilled basketball player but just having his personality around the team now.” 

James Harden (left) thinks the Nets will raise their game when Kyrie Irving (right) returns to the lineup.

Patty Mills had a season-high 34 points, with Harden saying the Aussie is having the best season of his career. 

“Yeah it could be. I think maybe in the NBA,” Mills agreed. “I think production-wise, playing for my country is probably where I tend to play the best as well, but to answer your question: Yeah possibly, but a lot of factors go into that I think. But like I said, I’m just having a lot of fun playing with this team and playing with these guys, and that’s definitely coming into play as well, so yeah. Possibly.” 

The Nets improved to an East-leading 22-9. Brooklyn is an NBA-leading 12-3 on the road and a league-best 16-4 on the road against Western Conference opponents since the start of last season (4-1 this season). 

Paul Millsap went into protocols Dec. 13, with LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre’ Bembry, Bruce Brown, Jevon Carter, Harden and James Johnson all going in the next day. All except Aldridge had cleared protocols and was available Saturday. 

Considering Aldridge was forced to retire last season due to an irregular heartbeat, there was concern the veteran center might be having issues because of his underlying condition. But coach Steve Nash reassured that wasn’t the case. 

“I don’t think he’s having any issues. I think if I’m not mistaken he’s either out or about to be out,” Nash said. “It’s just a matter of ramping him up accordingly. It has been an extended absence, and we just want to make sure that he’s right. So we’re not in a rush with LA.” 

The Nets started Harden, Mills, Brown, Bembry and Nic Claxton on Saturday. It was their 12th different starting five this season and the sixth in their past seven games. … Joe Harris (ankle) was still out. 

The Lakers’ Anthony Davis (MCL sprain) and Kendrick Nunn (right knee) were hurt, and Trevor Ariza, Kent Bazemore, Austin Reaves and coach Frank Vogel were in protocols. Avery Bradley and Malik Monk cleared protocols Saturday, and the Lakers signed Darren Collison and Stanley Johnson on Friday.