James Harden tells me he's "very, very confident" the Rockets can win a title this year. We also discuss his thoughts on the MVP race - "I feel like I'm the best player" - and the criticism his style gets around the league: "When it’s said & done, they'll appreciate it more." pic.twitter.com/vyapPRYccl— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) February 28, 2020
The comments come just a few weeks after Antetokounmpo made some pointed comments to go with passing on Harden to select Boston Celtics guard Kemba Walker to play for Team Giannis in the NBA All-Star Game.
TNT’s Charles Barkley asked Antetokounmpo if he was going overlook “the dribbler.” With a smile, the 25-year-old replied: “I want somebody who is going to pass the ball. That’s who I want.”
Nichols asked Harden about those comments.
“I averaged more assists than [Walker] I think,” Harden said. “I don’t see what the joke is. But I didn’t even see it. I don’t pay attention to stuff like that. I just know that none of them can mess with me.”
After the game, in which Team LeBron beat Team Giannis, 157-155, the typically reserved Antetokounmpo wasn’t finished with Harden, saying the plan for his squad that night was to target Harden while the eight-time all-star played on defense.
“Offensively, we were just trying to find whoever James Harden was guarding,” Antetokounmpo said. “That’s who we thought we had an opportunity to score on.”
The back and forth between the two stars can be traced back to last summer, when Harden guard took umbrage with the Milwaukee Bucks forward taking home MVP honors. The “Greek Freak” led the Bucks to their first 60-win season in almost four decades while averaging 27.7 points and 12.5 rebounds.
Harden, the 2018 NBA MVP, dismissed the idea of the award going to Antetokounmpo, saying the decision was driven by a narrative that the media didn’t want to adjust as the 2018-2019 season went on.
“Once the media creates a narrative about somebody from the beginning of the year, I think they just take that narrative and run with it the entire year,” Harden told Houston’s 97.9 The Box in August.
On the heels of Harden’s not-so-subtle jabs, Antetokounmpo tried to downplay the notion of a feud between himself and Harden.
“There hasn’t been a back and forth. Like I’m not that type of guy — I never try to take stabs at somebody,” Antetokounmpo told ESPN. “Maybe sometimes it might come out like that, but I’m definitely not. I’m just trying to do my job, which is win games and go back home to my family and my kid. But at the end of the day, if that’s what he believes, that’s what he believes. I can’t say anything about it. I’ve just got to keep being focused …”
Already a hot ticket, the dialogue will make the March 25 rematch between Milwaukee and Houston a must-watch. The Bucks topped the Rockets, 117-111, on opening night.
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