Kenny Atkinson still was, in his words, “not pleased” Monday, the day after the Nets’ coach saw his players lose their ID and their game. He didn’t think their signature style of play was there against Milwaukee at Barclays Center.
Now they have to try to contain the all-world backcourt of James Harden and Chris Paul and the rest of a three-point-happy Houston team with the NBA’s second-best record. The Rockets will bring a 38-13 bottom line into Brooklyn Tuesday night.
The Nets will be without Rondae Hollis-Jefferson for the sixth straight game because of a strained groin, and Quincy Acy is questionable with a sprained finger. Whatever happens, Atkinson wants the Nets to locate their missing form of identification again.
Despite their 19-35 bottom line, they’re known for their effort outside of five or six games in his estimation. Atkinson felt they weren’t ready to play Sunday. The Nets fell behind by 25 in the second quarter and 28 early in the third before cutting it to seven and then losing by 15. They got outrebounded by 18.
“I think we can live with mistakes, but I think there were a lot of 50/50 balls; I think there were a lot of [potential] rebounds,” Atkinson said at the HSS Training Center. “You’re talking about physicality, competitiveness, defensive competitiveness. That’s got to be our identity. That’s been our identity. With kind of these stinkers we’ve had, you lose a little bit of your identity.
“So we’ve got to get that back. We’ve got to have that. That has to be No. 1 and above all — a competitive culture. I’m not sure what happened.”
They will need to show up with their ID against Houston. Atkinson said he would “bet on our group” giving a more representative effort.
“But I thought they were looking forward to playing Giannis [Antetokounmpo], one of the best players in the world, and the Milwaukee team,” Atkinson said. “It’s fun competing against these really good teams.
“Obviously, Houston poses a whole other problem, I think, with the way they spread the court, the way Harden and Paul [play], their kind of two-headed monster . . . You could be really competitive and tough defensively and they could still put 120 on you.”
Harden is putting up an NBA-leading 31.2 points per game. “The Beard” lit up Orlando last week for the first 60-point triple-double in league history. He lit up the Nets for eight threes and missed a 37-point triple-double by two assists in a 117-103 win in Houston on Nov. 27.
“I think the most important thing is limiting his touches,” Caris LeVert said, “and after that, making everything else hard, make all the shots contested.”