Nets guard James Harden dribbles the ball up court against...

Nets guard James Harden dribbles the ball up court against the Bulls in the first half of an NBA game at Barclays Center on Dec. 4. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

DETROIT – After averaging 40.7 minutes in the first three games played over four nights of the Nets’ four-game road trip, James Harden got a break Sunday night in Detroit with a well-deserved night off for load maintenance.

During those first three games, Harden averaged 22.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 10.3 assists. Following the Nets’ comeback win Friday in Atlanta, Harden said he was willing to carry such a heavy burden because his only concern is winning games, but he went along with the strategy of resting against the 4-21 Pistons.

"He was open to it," Nets coach Steve Nash said before the game at Little Caesars Arena. "He had a heavy stretch of games, and we’re going to steal some games for these guys here and there. We’ll miss him tonight, but I think it’s important and it pays forward, hopefully, to the end of the season."

First-rate fourth quarters

The Nets began their road trip with a fourth-quarter comeback in Dallas in which they outscored the Mavericks, 27-13, and they put together another fourth-quarter comeback in Atlanta, where they outscored the Hawks, 24-14. Even in their loss to the streaking Rockets, they cut a 20-point deficit to four points before losing.

"It’s incredible," Nash said of the Nets’ resilience at crunch time. "To play teams on the road and be able to shut them down in the fourth quarter down the stretch is a coach’s dream. It’s something for us to build on, something for us to gain confidence with. To put together longer stretches every night defensively gives our odds a boost. I’m proud of the guys, and I think we showed a glimpse of the higher levels of our defense."

Net-cetera

Kevin Durant was fined $25,000 by the NBA for directing an obscenity at a fan in Atlanta, but Nash said he had "no idea" what prompted the incident … Paul Millsap missed the Detroit game for personal reasons but is expected to rejoin the team Monday.

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