Former Portland prep star excels with Brooklyn
It's probable that not many Portlanders have heard of Mike James, but he has turned into a genuine Portland success story.
He's No. 55 and playing big minutes alongside Kevin Durant with the Brooklyn Nets in the NBA playoffs, albeit mostly because James Harden has been injured. In fact, the Nets signed James to a 10-day contract April 23 during the regular season, and then to another 10-day contract and then a contract for the rest of the season, because of Harden's bothersome hamstring injury. And, in Sunday's game against Milwaukee, Kyrie Irving hurt an ankle, meaning James has become even more important; Irving was for Game 5 on Tuesday, and Harden was presumed to be still out.
(UPDATE: Harden returned for Game 5, and Durant had a triple-double with 49 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists as Brooklyn won 114-108 to take a 3-2 series lead. James played only three minutes). Game 6 is Thursday at Milwaukee.
He averaged 7.7 points, 4.2 assists and 2.5 rebounds in 13 regular-season games (one start), and scored in double figures six times. He played three games against Boston in the first round of the playoffs, and then the first five against Milwaukee; in two previous wins, he had a combined 22 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in 54 minutes.
James, now 30, prepped at Grant High School, and was part of a great Generals team that won the 2008 Class 6A state championship. His teammates included Mike Moser, who later played at UCLA and Oregon, and Paul McCoy, who played at SMU.
The 6-1 point guard continued to improve in his college years at Lamar University and Eastern Arizona College, and then set out for a pro basketball career that took him overseas — Croatia, Israel, Italy, Greece, Spain and most recently in Russia with CSKA Moscow, where he had been considered a EuroLeague MVP candidate, before signing with Brooklyn. He played 32 games with Phoenix and four with New Orleans in 2017-18.
"It's a big ask to play on a different team in a different country, league, for a different coach, different rules, to come back here and adapt quickly into a team that has big aspirations and clearly has some superstars and a hierarchy already set," Nets coach Steve Nash told reporters. "We love his talent, we love his potential, there's been some inconsistency in his play, which is really natural, considering all those parameters I expressed. He's still been really valuable to us, and he's added a lot to our team."
James told reporters that he plays a complementary role (on a healthy Nets team).
"Coming in and trying to push the pace and trying to get us into the offense quick and quick hitters," he said during the regular season. "I think Steve just wants me to be aggressive. He just wants me to push the pace and play defense. … I think I've been trying to figure out my role specifically just because I'm used to being a heavy scorer, and obviously with the people who are on this team, I'm never gonna be a heavy scorer."
It helps James that another Portlander, Ime Udoka, serves as an assistant coach with the Nets.
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