Nets guard James Harden gestures to a referee in the...

Nets guard James Harden gestures to a referee in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Pelicans at Barclays Center on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The Nets are not going to attempt to trade their way out of this free fall by unloading one of their stars.

Shortly before they suffered their eighth straight defeat, a 124-104 loss to the Nuggets on Sunday in Denver, coach Steve Nash told reporters that the team has no plans to deal James Harden before Thursday’s trade deadline.

"Yes, that’s correct,’’ Nash said, adding that Harden has told him repeatedly that he wants to stay in Brooklyn.

Harden, who turned down a three-year, $161 million extension in the offseason, has been the subject of intense trade speculation as the losses have piled up. Harden missed his second straight game Sunday with a hamstring injury, and Nash said it had nothing to do with either the trade rumors or reports that he wants to leave the team.

"I’ve talked to James and he wants to be here. He wants to be here long term as well," Nash said. "I don’t think anything has changed other than noise from the outside."

It’s easy to see why there has been a lot of noise. The Nets (29-24), who were in first place in the Eastern Conference as recently as Jan. 22, have gone 2-9 since Kevin Durant suffered a knee injury and now find themselves in seventh, a play-in spot.

Durant is scheduled to come back sometime after the All-Star break, meaning the Nets will play a minimum of six more games without him. Kyrie Irving, the one member of the Big 3 who is fully healthy, will be available for only two of those games — at Washington and at Miami — because his unvaccinated status keeps him from playing at Barclays Center and Madison Square Garden.

Blake Griffin, who scored a season-high 19 points against Denver, was asked about the level of concern.

"Very high," he said. "Every team needs health. Every team needs their best players. I don’t think that’s a secret. Not having KD, not having James, not having LaMarcus [Aldridge], not having Joe [Harris]. I mean, you have four starters out. That’s obviously a problem. That’s not an excuse. No one likes losing eight straight, so you just have to keep playing."

The Nets certainly didn’t keep playing against Denver in the second half, scoring only 29 points and shooting 26.3%.

Their offense kept them in the game early as Griffin shot 5-or-6 from three-point range and scored 19 points in the first half. Irving also had 19 points in the half, which ended with the Nets trailing 76-75.

Denver (29-24) then took control with a 29-9 run coming out of the break.

The Nuggets, who ended a three-game losing streak, were led by Nikola Jokic’s 27 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in only 29:49. It was the 14th triple-double of the season for the NBA’s reigning MVP. Will Barton added 21 points and Aaron Gordon had 17.

Irving led the Nets with 27 points and 11 assists. Cam Thomas added 20 off the bench.

The Nets’ next game is against Boston at Barclays Center on Tuesday. It’s possible that Harden will be available for that game.

Nash said before Sunday’s game that the Nets decided to hold out Harden because they were "being conservative" and didn’t want to get into a situation in which he is out for an extended amount of time like last season.

Nash continues to believe his team will survive this period without Durant and come out stronger on the other side.

"There’s a good chance we’re in the play-in after the All-Star break," Nash said. "We’re not going to panic. There’s still plenty of games after the break when Kevin gets back, and hopefully we’ll have James and Kevin at home and James, Kevin and Kyrie on the road."

But he acknowledged it isn’t easy as the losses pile up.

"It’s hard not to drop your head," Nash said. "So try to get them to keep their heads up, keep that energy and keep getting better. They have. They’ve been great. The spirit has been there, and when we get some healthy bodies back, I think we’ll be in the game."

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