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Oklahoma City Thunder preview: 'The Beard' James Harden blows up

BY JENNI CARLSON Published: December 18, 2011
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The Beard had quite the growth spurt last season. Grew particularly big during the playoffs.

Now?

“It's actually gotten a little bit bigger,” James Harden said.

The Thunder guard was speaking of the bush of a beard sprouting from his chin, which was noticeably wilder at the start of training camp.

But really, he might as well have been talking about the man behind The Beard.

Harden has grown into a budding star for the Thunder, a versatile scorer, a deft distributor and a third offensive option that can take some pressure off Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. He's being talked about as this season's breakout player in the NBA.

The Beard is about to blow up.

“He's going to add another dimension to our team,” Durant said. “You saw it in the playoffs, how well he plays.

“I'm excited to see what he does this season.”

For good reason.

Harden left everyone wanting more. While he improved from his rookie season to last season — his scoring average went from 9.9 points to 12.2 points a game — his performance in the Western Conference Finals wowed everyone. He played some of the best ball of his life against Dallas. He averaged 14.4 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists in the five-game series.

His best game was definitely his last.

In Game 5, Harden scored 23 points on 7-of-11 shooting. He dished six assists and snagged five rebounds. He even went to the free-throw line a game-high 10 times.

He carved up the Mavs on the pick-and-roll. He created plays for himself and for his teammates. He stopped and popped.

There were times he looked like the best player in the place.

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