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Resurgent James Harden, small ball ‘D’ part of Nets recipe for success. Can it continue?

Detroit Pistons v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The Nets win over the Pistons shouldn’t be seen as a big barometer of success. The Pistons are not a good basketball team. Only two teams have a worse record than Detroit’s 1-5 mark. Moreover they were on the back half of a back-to-back and without Cade Cunningham, the overall No. 1 Draft pick.

Still, Brooklyn is looking at the 117-91 victory for signs that the team is playing better and indeed there were good signs. The Steve Nash experiment with a small ball lineup has produced some defensive dividends and James Harden is finally getting there ... there being the way he’s traditionally played: aggressively.

“It’s a very active defensive-minded lineup,” Nash said of the unit that featured Bruce Brown, DeAndre’ Bembry, Devon Carter and Patty Mills, then later James Johnson. “I thought they’re a naturally defensive-minded group, but they’ve got to also find ways to score and play with pace and make each other better, and I thought they were good on both ends. So I’m really proud of everybody’s performance.”

Nash used the line-ups when Harden and Kevin Durant joined him on the bench. As Brian Lewis noted Tuesday morning...

Both worked, with the Johnson lineup a plus-6 in four minutes, and the Mills unit a plus-five over a two-minute stretch.

The Nets defense is indeed starting to look like what Sean Marks imagined when he remade the roster over the summer, returning only six players from the team that lost to the Bucks in Game 7 back in June.

KD liked what he saw as well, calling Bembry by his nickname, DB.

“I like that we’ve got … a good balance of players in that group. You’ve got scorers in LaMarcus and Patty, defenders who can cut and make plays, long, athletic guys, DB, Bruce and Jevon. DB, Bruce and Jevon, athletic, quick guys that can get out and play in space and great defenders.

“I like what we’ve seen with that group. Sure we’re going to keep trying to fine-tune what that looks like, but we put pressure on them with the offensive side of the ball and played great defense.”

Meanwhile, Harden has put together two Harden-like performances, going for 29 points (including 16-of-19 from the line vs. the Pacers and a triple-double, his first of the season, vs. the Pistons.

As Greg Logan pointed out Tuesday...

Through the first five games, Harden looked slow and hesitant because he is coming back from a severe right hamstring strain that forced him to spend the summer in rehabilitation and limited his on-court activity. He also was coping with rule changes that say he can’t make a non-basketball move to draw contact. Coach Steve Nash even labeled him the “poster child” for the rule.

But is he completely back?

“I think he’s improving in all areas,” Nash said of Harden. “I think his conditioning, his explosiveness, his confidence, his feel, his rhythm, everything is moving forward in the right direction.”

Harden also admits he’s changed his game a bit as he told reporters after the Nets win ovef the Pistons. He’s playing more with instinct he said, rather than seeking out mismatches

“I think my confidence and my rhythm and all that is coming back simultaneously together,” Harden said. “I kind of knew I was going to have a slow start because I wasn’t playing a lot [in the offseason], but I knew the work was going to catch up and, ultimately, I was going to get back to where I need to be. Game by game, I’m just feeling better, more confident, extra pep in my step.”

It’s all part of what Nash has said is a process with the ultimate goal still not in sight.

“I think we’ve got a ways to go. In many ways, we’re trying to still analyze how we can make some adjustments and refine what we do,” Nash said. “Finding a certain direction is maybe more difficult than it looks from the outside when you look at it.

“Having said that, we’ve got some really great pieces to work with and it’s just trying to find the balance between the different styles and backgrounds so they can find connectivity and connection out there with one another. That’s a process, and it takes time for coaches and it also takes time for the players.”

Of course, in the Hawks, who the Nets face Wednesday, are not the Pistons. They are the kind of young, athletic and solid rebounding team that have given the Nets fits early in the season. So it will be a test.