Nets guard James Harden talks to referee Pat Fraher in...

Nets guard James Harden talks to referee Pat Fraher in the first half of an NBA basketball game at Barclays Center on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Following the Nets’ loss to the red-hot Suns on Saturday night, James Harden admitted he lately has experienced some trouble deciding whether to be more of a shooter than a passer, and without mentioning Kyrie Irving’s name, he alluded to his absence because of his refusal to comply with the New York City vaccine mandate as a source of his indecision about what the Nets need from him.

Harden’s scoring average has dropped from 24.6 points last season to 20.3 points this season, but after averaging 28.4 over one recent five-game span, he dropped again to 15.3 over the three games before facing the Knicks Tuesday night at Barclays Center.

Asked what he wants Harden to emphasize, Nets coach Steve Nash said, "I always want James to attack and put pressure on the defense. If it ends in a shot more times than not, great. If it ends in a pass more times than not, great, too. I don’t necessarily want to pigeonhole him — ‘You have to score, you have to playmake.’ I want him to be aggressive, be himself and make plays . . . I think he’s trending in the right direction now clearly for a month."

Durant's minutes piling up

Because of the absence of Irving and injured Joe Harris and Harden’s recent struggles, Kevin Durant lately has been called upon to shoulder an even bigger load. He is averaging 35.6 minutes per game this season but has played at least 37 in four straight games, including 44:50 in the Suns loss.

"It’s not ideal to have him have such a burden, but I don’t know what options we have other than to play him less and lose more," Nash said. "He’s a great player, and we’re down a great player [Irving] and a really good player [Harris] and a few others. So I don’t know if we have the luxury right now .. . . He’s going to have a lot of responsibility. That’s just the way it is."

Griffin expected to be out of starter job, not the rotation

On Monday, center Blake Griffin admitted he expected to be replaced as the starter by hot-shooting LaMarcus Aldridge but said he was surprised to fall completely out of the playing rotation. "LA has been playing unbelievable," Griffin said. "Being completely out of it, though, I didn’t necessarily see that coming. As players, it’s our job to do whatever coaches see best, so at this point, that’s what it is."

Before the Knicks game, Nash compared Griffin’s situation to that of Nets veteran Kemba Walker, who also recently fell out of their rotation.

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