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Nets are confident their system will result in offense

Head coach Kenny Atkinson of the Nets reacts

Head coach Kenny Atkinson of the Nets reacts in the first half against the Knicks at Barclays Center on Thursday, Dec. 26, 2019 in New York City. Credit: Jim McIsaac

HOUSTON — Coming off a historically poor offensive showing in Thursday’s home loss to the Knicks, the Nets were hoping their recent shooting slump didn’t make the trip with them on Saturday night to Toyota Center, where they faced the high-octane Rockets offense powered by James Harden and Russell Westbrook.

Against the Knicks, the Nets shot an NBA season-worst 26.9% from the field, and their eight two-point field goals was the lowest number in an NBA game since 1950. The Nets shot poorly across the board, but the numbers for starters Taurean Prince and Garrett Temple jumped off the stat sheet because their combined 3-for-20 effort was part of an eight-game slide for two of the Nets’ key offensive producers while they are without injured Kyrie Irving and Caris LeVert.

Prince, in particular, has struggled of late. Coach Kenny Atkinson recently noted that he is an accomplished three-point shooter with a career .377 percentage, but over the previous eight games, Prince shot only 25% (23-for-92) and 21.7% from three (10-for-46) while his scoring fell from 12.1 points per game to 8.0 points in that span.

Temple, who has been doubling as two-guard with the first unit and point guard with the second unit, actually has seen his scoring go up the past eight games from 10.8 per game to 13.0, but his overall shooting percentage has dipped to 28.6% in that span and his three-point percentage is down slightly to 38.5%.

“Those guys, it’s like a baseball player,” Atkinson said of Prince and Temple after the Knicks loss. “Sometimes, they go five or six games and you’re swinging (and missing). I trust those guys, I trust how they shoot. They’re just going through a bad stretch right now. But we have to have other guys pick them up. It can’t be those guys every night.”

As always, Atkinson insisted the solution for Prince is to “keep shooting. His overall game was good, made some really good passes, his decision-making was quick. Shots didn’t go in, they’ll go in. He works too hard. He’s too good of a player. Obviously, we need him to get back on track.”

Prince understands the critical offensive role he and Temple are playing for the Nets right now as they cope with injuries, but he noted to Newsday that they are a key part of the defense as well.

“I think the fact that we have the ability to defend at a high level and do the little things other than just shooting keeps the defense honest and keeps us in the game when shots may not be falling,” Prince said. “We’re able to do other things like rebounding or be able to slow down the best player on the opposite team. We find ways to get ourselves going and rally up the team and carry on the momentum. It doesn’t have to be shooting the three.”

Both figure to be matched against Harden and Westbrook at times in the effort to slow them down, just as the Nets did earlier this season at Barclays Center when they held the Rockets’ dynamic duo to combined 3-for-22 three-point shooting in a win. The Knicks loss was disappointing, but Prince expressed confidence in the resiliency the Nets have shown when asked to rate how they have responded to injuries.

“Ten,” Prince said. “I know the record probably doesn’t show just that yet, but at the end of the day, we’re a seventh seed. That gets us into the playoffs. We trust our work, we trust the process, we trust the coaches, our training staff, our weight staff, and that’s all we can do from a day-to-day basis and continue to try and get better each and every game.”

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