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Harden, Rockets roll through depleted Nets, 117-103

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NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

They battled.

Heading into the game, the Nets announced that D’Angelo Russell (knee), Allen Crabbe (sore lower back), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (sprained ankle) and DeMarre Carroll (upper respiratory) would all sit out, along with the long absent Jeremy Lin.

That was the story going into the game.

The story coming out is about Brooklyn’s 13th loss following a 117-103 defeat to Houston. But again they fought, despite the circumstances, as they have all season. It’s just tough for the Nets to gain any momentum or continuity with the injury bug they’re facing.

The game was notable for at least one stat. The teams combined for 51 3-point attempts in the first half and 89 on the night. The record was 88, previously set by the Nets and Rockets last season.

The Nets had hoped for a little momentum after Sunday night’s victory against Memphis, but this game almost felt like a throw-away before it even started.

Houston took advantage of the depleted Nets right from the start, dropping 43 points behind 20-first quarter points from James Harden, in what Kenny Atkinson called a “hurricane. The Rockets led by as many as 21 in the first quarter, but the Nets pushed through and held Houston to just 23 in the second quarter, thanks to a new-look zone defense, which was somewhere between a 3-2 and a 1-2-2.

“When they scored 43, it was: ‘We’ve got to do something, guys.’ … They still scored a lot of points. It helped slow them down. It made them pause and think a little,” Kenny Atkinson told the media post-game.

“Maybe in a game like this, you discover something. Maybe it’s a strategy we can use going forward. But for not having practiced it much, it was interesting,” the Nets coach admitted.

“I’ve always thought about it, never had the guts as a new coach, ‘Man, I’d love to play a zone. No one does. Why can’t I?’ I know Don Nelson did it, Rick Carlisle does it, those guys who have some credibility in this league. A guy like me [doesn’t] … We threw it out at a timeout. We got a stop. If they would’ve scored we probably never would’ve played it again. We got a stop and we kept playing it.”

For one Net, the game was an opportunity.

Early Monday morning, Isaiah Whitehead was in the G-League with the Long Island Nets, coming off a 32-point, 10-rebound performance in 39 minutes. Less than 12 hours later, he was matched up against Chris Paul. Whitehead did all he could to weather the storm in the first half, coming off the bench and scoring 13 points in the first half and 24 on the night, tying a career-high.

Along with 13 points from Caris LeVert, Whitehead gave the Nets a chance. Brooklyn trailed by 11 at half behind a 29-point second quarter. LeVert finished the night with 13 points and a season-high six assists.

They pushed and got the score within four early in the third quarter, but every time they cut it close, Houston would answer with a run of their own. Harden and the Rockets put the Nets away late in the third quarter following a 21-6 run, 19-point lead.

Harden finished the night with 37 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists on 8-of-13 shooting from deep. The Nets had no answer for him, no matter what they tried.

The teams play a similar style of ball: push the ball and shoot a ton of threes. That’s what they did. Houston, who attempts the most threes in the NBA, hit 13 3-pointers in the first half and 20-of-50 for the game. The Nets, who attempt the second-most threes, hit just five in the first half and 10-of-39 for the game.

A loss is a loss, but the Nets hung around much longer than anybody anticipated. They’re now 7-13 on the season and will face the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday.

For a difference perspective, head on over to The Dream Shake.