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Kenny Atkinson puts struggling Nets through intense practice

Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson reacts against the

Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson reacts against the Raptors at Barclays Center on Feb. 12. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

MIAMI – Following a day off in Miami, coach Kenny Atkinson put the Nets through a practice on Monday that lasted more than two hours and that was loud and obviously intense. For a team that is 1-5 since the All-Star break and that has dropped to the eighth and final playoff position in the Eastern Conference, the best medicine is hard work.

“You’ve got to get a little uncomfortable when you’re not doing well,” Atkinson said. “You’ve got to feel that. It’s great having days like this, two days in between games allows you to really practice and get some things done. Felt like we got better today.”

As much as the Nets need to turn things around, they find themselves in a tough stretch of the schedule. They must try to break their four-game losing streak Tuesday night in Boston, which is the end of a four-game road trip and the first game of a back-to-back set that concludes with a game against tough Memphis Wednesday night at Barclays Center.

Although the Nets have lapsed badly on defense recently, the stats argue that the Nets are one of the NBA’s better defensive teams. As Atkinson sees it, they have struggled on offense much of the season. That was evident Saturday night in a loss to the Heat when they got five straight defensive stops early in the fourth quarter but failed to score five straight times on the offensive end before falling behind by 14 points in what became a 116-113 loss.

“This is our first time together as a group, and it’s not the worst thing in the world to go through these struggles,” Atkinson said. Referring to injured superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, he added, “KD and Ky are not coming in with their capes on and helping us achieve our goal, so, we’ve got to figure it out. Great challenge. But I do think this will help us going forward.”

One player who performed well offensively against the Heat was Joe Harris, who scored 11 of his 20 points on 4-of-5 shooting in the fourth quarter. The Nets called a play for him to shoot a potential game-winning three-pointer in the final nine seconds, but the Heat denied a pass to Harris.

Describing Monday’s practice, Harris said, “The point of emphasis was to make sure guys have a sense of urgency. Lately, we haven’t been super consistent, and I think a lot of it is more the mental aspect than anything else, a lack of focus. I think that’s why today’s practice was so intense. You want guys just locked in, ready to go, and, hopefully, it translates to tomorrow night.

“Winning is a confidence thing. Once you get one win under your belt against a quality team, that can translate into another win. That’s why tomorrow’s game is so important. It was the same thing before the break. We beat a good Indiana team and that translated to a win over a good Toronto team. If you get a good win against the Celtics, that can translate to a lot of great wins.”

Notes and quotes: Garrett Temple (right shoulder strain) is questionable.

New York Sports