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James Harden on his ‘difficult’ quest to make an impact: ‘I’m trying to figure all that out’

Phoenix Suns v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Triple double or not, it was a tough night for James Harden.

The Nets failed their latest test Saturday night before a sellout crowd of 18,071 — the biggest turnout at Barclays Center since the team relocated to Brooklyn. The latest failure against one of the NBA’s elite, the loss also shined a bright light on the long path Brooklyn has ahead.

“We’re a team that’s still forming, still trying to find an identity,” Steve Nash said after the Nets’ 113-107 defeat to the Suns Saturday night. “This team [Suns] has a clear identity, a clear understanding of what they’re trying to do offensively and defensively — something we’re still in the early stages of.”

The Nets ability to unlock their level best will come down to the play of James Harden, whose role has been complicated by the loss of Kyrie Irving. The Nets superstar is still trying to figure what to do without having Irving next to him on the hardwood ... and not knowing when, if ever, things will change. Harden said his hamstring is fine but figuring out his needs has been “a little difficult.”

“Honestly, I’m trying to figure all that out now. I’m trying to figure it out” Harden said. “[I’m] trying to figure out when to score, when to be a play-maker, when to run an offense and when to do a little bit of everything. I’m just trying to figure it out. It’s been a little difficult. It’s been a little difficult and I’m trying to figure it out.”

Phoenix Suns v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Harden ended Saturday’s loss with his fourth triple-double of the season, but it came on a poor shooting night, one of his worst as a Nets. He finished with 12 points (4-of-15 shooting from the field and scoreless from three on six shots) 14 assists and 13 rebounds in 40 minutes. However, the superstar coughed up seven of Brooklyn’s season-high 20 turnovers . Following his seventh turnover, he received loud boos from the record-setting crowd, a first since he joined the Nets 11 months ago.

“It was a tough night for him,” said Nash on Harden’s performance. “Some turnover issues and didn’t get a lot of good looks, but that’s a part of our growth too; is trying to figure out ways for him to be effective even if he’s not getting to the rim all night. Can we draw a crowd and generate offense on the second side? He can still rebound and make plays for others, but can we take advantage of those nights where he gets into the paint and it’s not all or nothing on him. That’s a part of our growth.”

There’s also the issue of the new rules on non-basketball moves ... and how they’re called. Against the Suns, he went to the line only four times. A week ago, over the course of three games, he took 43 foul shots.

Through 20 games, Harden is averaging 20.3 points, 9.4 assists and 7.9 rebounds in 35.2 minutes per game. The assist number puts him second in the NBA to Chris Paul, his opposite last night. Although his scoring average is the lowest since the 2011-12 season, his teammates aren’t worried about him regaining his truest form.

“James is great. He does everything for us. Obviously, it wasn’t his best shooting night but we all know he can score the ball, he can pass the ball and he’s one of the smarter players on our team,” DeAndre’ Bembry said. “It happens. He wanted to play a better game. I think that’s more so where that’s coming from but we have full trust in James in every way. I know he’ll get back to it. He sees the game better than a lot of players. That’s the last thing we’re worried about.”

The silver lining of all that difficulty has been the winning. Brooklyn holds an Eastern Conference-best 14-6 record and has won 12 of their last 15 contests. It’s also the Nets best 20-game start in franchise history but they’re now 4-6 against teams .500 or better. Above all is the importance of finalizing an identity.

“We’re a team that’s still forming, still trying to find an identity,” Nash added. “This team [Suns] has a clear identity, a clear understanding of what they’re trying to do offensively and defensively — something we’re still in the early stages of.”

How long will it last? No one is saying. How long before Irving returns ... if he does? That too is a mystery as is how long it will take for the Nets to make one more adjustment.