TORONTO — Two nights after overcoming a 19-point deficit to score a blowout victory over the bottom-feeding Hawks, the Nets found themselves in deep water against the Eastern Conference-leading Raptors. They needed an improbable upset to reach the .500 mark, but this time they floundered badly in a 122-105 loss Friday night at Scotiabank Arena.
The Nets held a nine-point lead in the first quarter but were overwhelmed in the second and third quarters by a combined 71-40. In the fourth quarter, their deficit reached 26 points.
A hamstring injury suffered by Jared Dudley that forced coach Kenny Atkinson to juggle his lineup again by starting Treveon Graham certainly was a factor in the disappointing performance. But now that the Nets have elevated themselves to playoff contender status, Atkinson essentially told his players they must do more to stay there.
“I rarely say this about our team, but I didn’t love the effort and execution,” he said. “When you have both of those go wrong, that’s when you get beat by 20. To beat an elite team on the road, our effort and our execution was nowhere near where it needed to be.
“We’ve got good guys. They understand it. They understand we’ve got Boston coming up, and if we have the same effort and execution, you’re going to take [a 20-point loss] on the chin . . . This was a little bit of humble pie.”
The Nets are in the midst of a tough stretch: the Celtics on Monday at Barclays Center followed by challenging road games at Houston and Orlando.
Led by D’Angelo Russell’s 12 points, the Nets (21-23) took a first-quarter lead of 35-28 that marked the most points they have scored in the opening period of a road game this season. Russell had 24 points, nine assists and six rebounds, but Shabazz Napier was the only other Net in double figures with 15 points. Injuries obviously have cut into their offensive efficiency.
Atkinson expressed some frustration with the play of Spencer Dinwiddie, who has been the NBA’s second-leading scorer off the bench but who had only eight points and shot 1-for-7 while being asked to guard Raptors star Kawhi Leonard, who had 20 points and 11 rebounds.
“We’re jumbling lineups again, lineups that have never played before, and it takes time for those to jell,” Atkinson said. “That’s a little bit of it. But listen, I think Spencer can play better. We need him to play better, and I think he’s in a little bit of a slump right now. He needs to get out of it for us to be a good team.”
Dinwiddie arched his eyebrows and shrugged when told of Atkinson’s “slump” comment. “I guess we’ll figure it out; I’m going to have to ask Coach,” Dinwiddie said. “I try to do whatever it takes to help the team. Tonight, my focus was to guard Kawhi Leonard . . . When they tell you that you’ve got to guard arguably the best player on the floor, you lock in on that. It’s not like I shot 20 times. I shot five, six, seven. It’s not a ton of looks.”
The Nets’ offensive struggles led to defensive breakdowns. They were outscored by the Raptors 35-10 in fast-break points and 62-42 in points in the paint. But Ed Davis disagreed that effort was to blame.
“I didn’t feel like we were taking plays off or being lazy or lackadaisical,” he said. “It’s a good team. They had it going. The top teams in this league, they’ve got that extra gear where they can just turn it up, and they did that when they built that lead. We couldn’t bounce back . . . It’s the NBA. I’m not saying it’s acceptable, but it happens.”