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Solid defense has been a surprise element to Nets' strong start

The Nets' James Harden blocks a shot by

The Nets' James Harden blocks a shot by the Cavaliers' Isaac Okoro during the second half of an NBA game on Wednesday at Barclays Center. Credit: AP/Frank Franklin II

The Nets remain a team trying to cement their identity, and it makes sense why it hasn’t completely formed yet.

Besides the absence of Kyrie Irving, the Nets have been battling injuries and missed time throughout the early stages of the season. Joe Harris has missed the last two games with a left ankle sprain and Paul Millsap has missed the last three games for personal reasons.

But the Nets have continued to remain successful in the win-loss column, opening their first 16 games with an 11-5 record, in first place in the Atlantic Division and tied for first in the Eastern Conference entering Thursday.

This can be largely credited to the duo of Kevin Durant and James Harden playing all 16 games, including three back-to-backs. But the Brooklyn defense has played a key role, which many may not have expected.

"I think we’ve started to move in a direction defensively where I think no one expected us to be, kind of a Top 10 defense," coach Steve Nash said. "We’re in that range. So that in a sense has been our identity. That’s taken a lot of pride and concentration from our group."

The Nets rank ninth in the NBA in points allowed per game (104.1) and sixth in opposing field-goal percentage (42.9%).

Brooklyn is coming off a 109-99 home victory over Cleveland Wednesday, in which the Nets held their opponent to fewer than 100 points for the seventh time in 16 games. Last year, the Nets didn’t hold their opponent to fewer than 100 points for the seventh time until the 34th game.

"I think the guys have been great as far as buying into what we want to do defensively," Nash said. "No one would have picked us as a Top 10 defense to start the year, and we’re defending, we’re finding a way."

The offensive numbers may not be where the Nets expected to be as the team ranks 15th in scoring (107.0 points per game). The Nets finished second in scoring last season, averaging 118.6 points.

But Patty Mills, who had 21 points and shot 6 of 12 from beyond the arc in the victory over Cleveland Wednesday, said the team remains focused on improving each day, regardless of injuries or obstacles.

"As hard as it might be at that point in time, the big picture, I think, I understand the big picture and where we want to be at the end of the day," Mills said. "Last team standing and what it takes to get there. It’s hard, it’s not easy. Nothing is going to be handed to us on a silver platter. It’s a grind, it’s a marathon."

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