NBA

NBA playoffs 2021: Harden senses best chance to win title as Nets prepare for Bucks showdown

By Sports Desk June 04, 2021

Brooklyn Nets superstar James Harden believes this is his best chance to win an NBA championship as the star-studded franchise continue their quest against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving will lead the second-seeded Nets in an Eastern Conference semi-final showdown with Giannis Antetokounmpo and third seeds the Bucks, starting Saturday.

Brooklyn's 'big three' have the Nets as favourites to win their maiden championship in a playoff campaign also featuring the Philadelphia 76ers and Utah Jazz.

Harden joined the Nets from the Houston Rockets via a blockbuster trade in January, with the former MVP's eyes on a much-coveted title.

During his time in Houston, Harden reached two Western Conference Finals as the franchise never advanced to the showpiece – Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors often standing in the way, while LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers also thwarted the Rockets in the semi-finals last season.

Now, Harden senses his best opportunity to add an NBA ring to his list of league honours.

"I ran into some very, very good teams which is one of the reasons I've been short [of winning a title]," Harden told reporters via a Zoom call on Friday.

"[But] you look at our roster, we're elite too. It's going to be a showdown but I'm more than confident going into this postseason just because of the roster and our schemes and the things that we can control and the versatility that we have."

Harden added: "Obviously, there's only a handful of teams that have an opportunity. And we're one of those teams this year.

"So, the excitement is there, but I think just the focus is the most important thing for myself. And just trying to rub that focus level and that engagement to detail into every one of my team-mates."

The Nets saw off the Boston Celtics 4-1 in the opening round but will face a stiffer test against two-time reigning MVP Antetokounmpo and his Milwaukee support cast, including Jrue Holiday.

With Brooklyn's Jeff Green ruled out of Game 1, Nets head coach Steve Nash said: "I think the strategy we'll probably start with is probably similar from a team-defending standpoint.

"It's also the type of thing we have to work our way through as the series goes on and have a better feel for it, have more and more of an understanding collectively, and also be able to adjust and adapt within our schemes, not just change our schemes. The team concepts will be the same regardless."

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    Although they fell behind to a Fikayo Tomori strike, the Reds rallied to round off a perfect group-stage campaign.

    And this result meant Milan not only failed to join their opponents in the next round but also missed out on a Europa League spot.

    Liverpool saw out a historic win – their first at San Siro against Milan – with little trouble.

    Despite knowing the stakes, Milan wasted much of the first half-hour showing too much respect to a Liverpool team whose many changes were evident in their disjointed play.

    But when the first real chance of the game finally came, it went to the hosts, and they took it to give a raucous home crowd a deserved moment of release.

    Tomori is unlikely to have many easier opportunities than a five-yard tap-in that came about when a corner somehow squirmed past three Liverpool defenders.

    To their credit, the visitors improved immediately, and they were soon level courtesy of a cool Salah finish after an Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain effort had been parried.

    Liverpool kept up that new standard following the break, taking the lead for the first time 10 minutes after the restart.

    Fresh from scoring a late weekend winner at Wolves that saw him described as a "legend" by manager Jurgen Klopp, Origi was in the right place again to head home after Sadio Mane had been denied.

    With his team looking comfortable, Klopp looked to protect his big hitters, with Mane and Salah making way for Naby Keita and Joe Gomez.

    But those changes did little to disrupt the visitors' rhythm, or encourage Milan to push for the win that could have saved their European season.

  • Real Madrid 2-0 Inter: Wonderstrikes secure top spot for Ancelotti's side Real Madrid 2-0 Inter: Wonderstrikes secure top spot for Ancelotti's side

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    Toni Kroos gave the hosts a first-half lead at the Santiago Bernabeu with a wonderful effort from 25 yards.

    And substitute Marco Asensio sealed the points with a beautiful strike to match 11 minutes from time.

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    Marcelo Brozovic's dipping volley went just over, while Ivan Perisic saw an effort blocked in the box.

    But Madrid took the lead against the run of play; Kroos receiving the ball from Rodrygo before drilling a delicious 25-yard strike past Samir Handanovic.

    The hosts went close to doubling their advantage before the break. Luka Jovic chipped Dani Carvajal's precise throughball into the side-netting, while Rodrygo hit the post from 16 yards out.

    Barella squandered a great opportunity to equalise three minutes after the restart; blazing over with only Thibaut Courtois to beat.

    Handanovic was called into action again at the other end with smart saves to deny Jovic and Casemiro.

    Inter's task became harder as they were reduced to 10 men. Following a collision with Eder Militao, Barella threw a punch at the Brazil international's calf and was subsequently dismissed for violent conduct.

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    Andre Silva then doubled the hosts' advantage before Riyad Mahrez pulled a goal back for the visitors, who were hampered by the late dismissal of Kyle Walker for a reckless challenge on Leipzig's second scorer.

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    City failed to keep a clean sheet in any of their six group stage games and have only recorded one shutout in their past 11 European outings, but Guardiola was pleased with his team's work.

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    "The second half was much better but unfortunately we made one or two mistakes and they punished us. 

    "We played better in the second half. We were more aggressive, we played to win the game and we lost. Congratulations to Leipzig.

    "We made an incredible group stage, we qualified with one game left from a tough group, so I am more than satisfied with the performance in every single game and in February hopefully we can arrive in the best condition possible."

    Alongside Walker's needless dismissal, Guardiola also left Leipzig with two injury concerns, with Phil Foden – who became the youngest Englishman to reach 30 Champions League appearances – and Nathan Ake suffering knocks.

    "Phil [Foden] had problems in the beginning with his ankle, as a precaution I decided to play Raheem [Sterling] in his position," he continued.

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    Premier League leaders City return to domestic action at home to Wolves on Saturday as they look to return to winning ways.

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