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Poor foul shooting a major reason for Nets' struggles, Kenny Atkinson says

Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson looks on during

Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson looks on during the second half against the Detroit Pistons at Barclays Center on March 11. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

As the Nets fight down the stretch for a playoff berth, they are struggling to improve the one big weakness that is akin to shooting themselves in the foot — missed free throws. Nets coach Kenny Atkinson blamed poor foul shooting as a major reason for two losses on their recent 2-5 road trip.

The Nets converted only 18 of 25 in a three-point loss to the Clippers that was decided by a buzzer-beating three-pointer, and it most certainly was at the heart of a four-point, double-overtime loss to the Trail Blazers, where the Nets had a miserable 31-for-44 night at the line.

Asked before the Nets faced the Celtics Saturday night at Barclays Center, how he might address the problem, Atkinson said, “It’s curious. We’re [third] in the league in free-throw attempts. So, we’re getting there. It’s not like we don’t get there. We get there a ton.”

The Nets shoot 25.7 foul shots per game, but their 74.3 percent success rate ranks 24th in the NBA. The top five teams all are over 80.0 percent. The Nets performed slightly better in a 110-96 win over the Celtics with a 22-for-28 effort.

“We work on it more in practice when we do practice,” Atkinson said. “We haven’t practiced since our last game or held a shootaround. It’s a little difficult. I think it’s up to the individual to understand how important they are. Quite honestly, it cost us a couple games on that road trip. If we make our free throws, we’re probably coming home with two more wins. I think the guys understand it.”

At the same time, Atkinson doesn’t want to belabor the subject with his players and possibly create a bigger mental barrier to overcome. “I don’t want it to be the big elephant in the room and everybody is scared to step up there and make their free throws,” Atkinson said. “But I do like our process in terms of getting [to the foul line]. I love that we get there a ton.”

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