James Harden of the Nets reacts during the fourth quarter against...

James Harden of the Nets reacts during the fourth quarter against the Heat at Barclays Center on Wednesday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The last question of the night for Kevin Durant after the Nets’ 106-93 loss to Miami Wednesday night at Barclays Center was the trickiest. What is wrong with the Nets’ offense compared to last season when they were the second-highest scoring team in the league?

A small smile played around Durant’s lips before he answered. "I know what you want me to say," Durant said. "Yeah, we do miss Kyrie. We do. He’s a part of our team, but we’ve been generating great shots, we’ve been getting into the paint. It’s just a matter of us knocking them down. I think they’ll come."

The Nets simply aren’t the offensive juggernaut they were last season on those rare occasions when the "Big 3" of Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden were healthy together or even when two of them were healthy. They have tried to move on without Irving who is not in compliance with New York City’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate and has been told by the organization he cannot practice or play until he is eligible for all games.

But the Nets are off to a rough 2-3 start before facing the 1-4 Pacers Friday night at Barclays Center. They were manhandled physically by the Heat, who had 20 more rebounds and grabbed 17 offensive rebounds that produced an unfathomable 31-4 margin in second-chance points. Yet, the Nets trailed by just three points with 6:08 left on a night when they shot only 38.8%.

In Durant’s view, the Nets missed open looks. "In [isolation] situations, they were showing a lot of bodies towards James and myself…but a lot of shots just didn’t fall for us tonight," Durant said of the Heat. "I think we got a lot of open looks, a lot of [driving] lanes.

"They want to play physical and shock you with the switches and the people in the paint. But once you slow down, get to the rim, drive, I think we got what we wanted. It’s just a matter of us knocking it down."

The Nets are averaging 102.0 points per game, which is 25th in the NBA, their minus-6.6 point differential also is 25th, and they have an offensive rating of 100.8 points per 100 possessions, which is 6.3 below the league average.

Durant has been brilliant, averaging 29.8 points per game, but Harden is struggling to come back from a severe hamstring injury suffered late last season and has seen his scoring average plummet from 24.6 to 16.6. Joe Harris’ average is down from 14.1 on league-best 47.5% three-point shooting to 11.2 on 37.5% three-point shooting. Former All-Star Blake Griffin is averaging a mere 4.5 points and is 1-of-11 from three-point range.

Harden said the Nets’ poor rebounding and turnovers put pressure on their offense. "It’s not going to be a smooth sail," Harden said. "We need days like this because, once we figure it out, we’ve already been through the tough times."

That was a hopeful sentiment on Harden’s part, but the question that will follow the Nets this season is whether they ever will get all hands on deck for the journey that lies ahead.

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