The Nets were coping with a third loss in four games, facing the aftermath of another squandered home contest with another 118 points allowed, when they learned what their next opponent had done.
While the Nets were losing Wednesday night to the previously winless Pacers, the Rockets were on the right side of a 159-158 shootout against the Wizards, which marked the third-highest scoring regulation game in NBA history.
“I thought it was an overtime score,” Nets guard Caris Levert said. “[But] I wasn’t really surprised.”
Sticker shock rarely exists regarding a team, such as the Rockets, that features a pair of former MVPs — James Harden and Russell Westbrook — who have combined to lead the league in scoring four of the past five seasons. And that’s not to mention a coach — Mike D’Antoni — who built his legacy on scoring as many points as quickly as possible, with shooters given a green light that never goes dark.
Entering Friday’s game against the Nets (1-3) at Barclays Center, the Rockets (3-1) have averaged a league-high 128 points per game.
“Beyond them being just a great offensive team, in general, we’ve been really bad on defense,” Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie said following Thursday’s practice. “Typically, that’s not a good combination.”
It’s a combination capable of creating atypical results.
“If we don’t play at our best, we’re probably gonna give up 170,” center Jarrett Allen said.
The Nets’ perimeter defense has ranked among the biggest reasons for their slow start, as they have allowed a league-worst 43.3 percent 3-point shooting. Now comes an opponent putting up a league-high 47.8 3-pointers per game.
Coach Kenny Atkinson believes the Nets’ defensive approach has been sound, but the results have defied analytics, comparing it to a single slicing through an infield shift.
“The players look at you like, ‘What’s going on?’ They don’t love it, but we’ve trusted our principles and trust the numbers, and sometimes in the short term that can bite you,” Atkinson said. “We’re not giving up a ton of 3s but teams are making 3s, and if you look at some of the guys that are making them, they’re probably shooting above their so-called expected points. I think our process is right. I do think one thing we can lock into a little more is knowing personnel, knowing who we’re closing out to, who we’re not closing out to. … We just have to do a little better job of knowing the opposing personnel.”
Houston’s personnel is familiar to even the most casual fan.
Westbrook is averaging a triple-double (22.5 points, 12 rebounds, 10.3 assists) on his new team. Two-time reigning scoring champ Harden — whose 36.1 points-per-game last season were the league’s most since 1988 — tops the league again (36.8) and is the only player outscoring the Nets’ Kyrie Irving (35.3).
After shooting 18-for-63 (28.6 percent) — including 6-for-40 from 3-point range (15 percent) — through the first three games of the season, Harden broke out with 59 points Wednesday, while shooting 18-for-32 from the field.
Harden has also made 63 of 66 free throws this season, propelling the Rockets to a share of the league-lead in free throws attempted per game (33.8).
“These guys are some of the most talented offensive players in the league,” Joe Harris said. “They’re probably gonna be able to get their numbers, but making it tough, and trying to have them play less efficient games, and get other guys to try and beat you.”
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