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Kevin Durant gets little help as Nets drop home opener to Hornets

Charlotte Hornets forward Cody Martin (11) takes the

Charlotte Hornets forward Cody Martin (11) takes the ball from Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant (7) during the second half at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn,NY on Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021. The won 111-95. Credit: Noah K. Murray

Coming off a thrilling comeback victory Friday in Philadelphia, the Nets were brimming with confidence going into their home opener against the Hornets Sunday afternoon at Barclays Center, but it was as though the visitors pulled the plug and turned off the Nets’ normally formidable offense.

Kevin Durant still got his 38 points, but the only other Net to reach double figures was James Harden, who suffered through a poor game with just 15 points and eight turnovers. The result was a disappointing 111-95 loss in which the Nets managed a mere fourth-quarter 17 points.

The Nets led by as many as 10 points in the second period, but they were held to only 37 second-half points. They shot a miserable 25.7% from three-point range (9-of-35), were outscored in the paint, 56-42, and their 17 turnovers turned into 29 points for the Hornets, who only allowed the Nets to score 13 points of 12 Charlotte turnovers. That was the backbreaker.

Prior to the game, Nets coach Steve Nash warned his team of the importance of limiting turnovers that can fuel the Hornets’ fast-paced offense, but his words fell on deaf ears. "They got some run-outs, easy baskets in transition," Nash said. "We got static, we stopped attacking the basket, and we just were not ourselves in the second half.

"I think we settled for too many tough three because we weren’t going to the basket. They were playing without a rim protector, and we settled. If we’re not attacking the paint, that’s what you’re going to get some nights – tough threes."

Through three quarters, Mikal Bridges and LaMelo Ball combined for 47 points, but the Hornets only had a one-point lead heading to the fourth quarter. Suddenly, reinforcements arrived in the unlikely form of veteran guard Ish Smith, who scored nine points in a 23-10 run that gave the Hornets a 107-93 lead with 2:43 left. That was all she wrote.

Bridges totaled 32 points and nine rebounds to lead the Hornets (3-0), Ball finished with 18 points, six rebounds and five assists, and Smith had 15 points.

The season is only three games old, but the Nets (1-2) still are searching for their identity without Kyrie Irving, who is in exile because he is unvaccinated in violation of the New York City COVID-19 mandate. He is barred from playing at Barclays Center, and the organization had decided not to use him unless he is eligible for all games.

So the pressure is on Durant and Harden to do more. But Harden is coming off a tough finish to last season, when he was inactive for 21 of the last 24 regular-season games with a hamstring injury and then reinjured it in a second-round playoff loss to the Bucks. He is averaging just 18.3 points this season, and he admitted his turnover woes were costly.

Asked what mistakes the Nets could have controlled, Harden said, "For me personally, it was my turnovers. I think a lot of them were just indecisive. They got out in transition getting easy ones. For us, 17 turnovers, that’s how they get active and have their transition and make threes."

Harden only is shooting 38.7% from the field through three games, but Nash expressed confidence that he will find his prolific scoring rhythm before long.

Asked how where his game is at after a summer spent rehabbing, Harden said, "I’m just getting my confidence back. I’m a little hesitant. Just going through a lot of ups and downs last year and then coming into training camp healthy and making sure my conditioning is where it needed to be…My confidence will rise as games go on and I get that burst of speed like I’m normally used to. No worries at all."

New York Sports