Even with Jeremy Lin in the starting lineup, the Nets were challenged offensively in terms of experienced scoring and ballhandling. But in the seven straight losses since Lin returned to the injury list with a strained left hamstring, their offensive problems have become glaring.
The Nets, who are a league-worst 8-29, scored fewer than 100 points in five of the past seven games and averaged 98.9 points, losing by an average of 12.4, with only two single-digit losses. Atlanta used a trapping defense in a 20-point win Tuesday night to force the Nets into 18 turnovers leading to 28 points and held the Nets to just 14 second-quarter points.
Rookie point guard Isaiah Whitehead is starting ahead of former D-Leaguer Spencer Dinwiddie. Joe Harris made his fifth start at shooting guard against the Hawks and has been backed up by Sean Kilpatrick. Both Harris and Kilpatrick got the majority of their playing time in the D-League last season.
“They’re learning,” coach Kenny Atkinson said Wednesday of his young backcourt. “We’re in a little bit of a rut now in terms of Spencer learning what we’re doing and Isaiah adjusting. Teams are pressuring a little bit now. A lot, actually. We’ve got to get back to playing the way we were earlier.”
The Nets shot only 40.2 percent against Atlanta and had 12 shots blocked. That’s a bad omen considering they face the Pelicans and 6-11 center Anthony Davis, one of the premier shot blockers in the NBA, Thursday night at Barclays Center.
Harris has been a consistent contributor off the bench, averaging 8.5 points. But he went scoreless twice before sitting out a couple games with a hip pointer, and in his past three games, he totaled only four points. Over his past nine games, Harris is shooting 26.5 percent.
“Honestly, my hip feels fine,” Harris said. “I think it’s just adjusting to the new rotation and being in the starting lineup. But I need to pick it up individually. I’ve got to stay with the same aggressive mindset I had coming off the bench.”
This season has been a learning experience for most of the Nets because many have larger roles than they had in the past. Harris discounted the notion of any carryover from their Dec. 30 loss in Washington, where players bickered among themselves on offense.
“Sometimes, you might see us get on one another, but it’s not because we don’t care about each other,” Harris said. “I think this team is definitely very close. The whole learning experience is about growing together through these losses, and it really does build character. I know it’s cliché, but this is the point in the season where you see everybody’s true colors come out.”