James Harden promises he won't be hesitant. Promises he won't be passive.
The last we saw of Harden on a basketball court, the Thunder guard was crumpled on the hardwood, the victim of Metta World Peace's vicious elbow in Los Angeles.
But Saturday night, Harden returns as the Thunder plays host to the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the National Basketball Association playoffs.
The teams play at 8:30 p.m. at Chesapeake Energy Arena in a renewal of a rivalry that spiked with the Western Conference Finals last May. Dallas won that series and went on to capture the NBA championship.
But now the Thunder is favored, and Harden, averaging 16.8 points a game, is a major reason. That's why the concussion he suffered last Sunday was so precarious to the Thunder's title hopes.
“He means so much to us, means so much to the city,” said Thunder star Kevin Durant. “It's tough not to see him right next to me in the locker.”
But Harden practiced Friday and declared himself fit and ready to go against the Mavericks. Fit and ready to be aggressive.
“That's how I play,” Harden said. “Can't be nervous out there. Just go out there, get the ball, and attack, play hard. Can't worry about it, getting injured or anything.”
Of course, it's not like Harden was injured within the flow of the game. World Peace's elbow came when the players brushed against each other a couple of seconds after a World Peace dunk.
“He's fine,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “It would be different if you go to the basket, one of his monster dunks, and he gets clipped and falls on his head. That might be a little different the next time he goes to the basket.”
Nope, said Harden. Not even that would change his aggression.
“Even if it was an injury in the flow of the game, that's still not going to stop me from attacking and making plays and being aggressive out there,” Harden said.
Aggression is Harden's style. He's been a solid 3-point shooter this season (39 percent), but Harden's primary production comes from his constant drives to the basket.
“He's an old-school type of player,” Durant said. “He gets going, he can find a way to get to the rim, get to the (foul) line. I'm sure he's just ready to play.
“James is a strong person. He's a positive person. He doesn't let anything like that bring him down.”
Harden has blossomed into a star in his third NBA season. He's the leading contender for the league's Sixth Man of the Year Award.
“He's a tough individual,” Brooks said. “He's a competitive player. He'll be fine. (Friday) helped. Just seeing him practice. It's good to have him back. We missed him.”