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Nets rest as questions continue about James Harden

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Chicago Bulls v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

A couple of days off from work is always good, particularly when things are hectic. It gives the employee a little time to recharge and maybe contemplate where things stand. And by the time the Nets play the Mavericks on Tuesday night in Dallas, they’ll have had one of their longer rests of the young season which has already seen five back-to-backs.

There’s plenty to think about for Brooklyn after their loss to the Bulls in the final minute Saturday night. The game was close throughout but as has happened more than once this season, a team with a winning record beat the Nets. For Chicago, second in the East, it’s the second time they’ve beaten the Nets in two tries. That could be significant if the race for the No. 1 seed comes down to the two teams.

Probably no one has had more to think about than James Harden who post-game Saturday said simply the loss was on him.

Blame this one on me,” said Harden on the loss. “I had a lot of opportunities at the rim that I didn’t convert that could’ve settled this game down. I thought we played a pretty good game. A pretty solid four-quarter game. They made some tough shots at the end.”

When Kevin Durant was told Harden took responsibility for the loss, the Nets superstar also took his share of the blame.

“I should’ve made more shots. That would have took more pressure off him [James Harden],” Durant said, not just taking some of the blame but deflecting it away from his superstar teammate.

But there continues to be concern, not yet worry about the 32-year-old point guard. The Beard hasn’t appeared to be his old self. After a big game on Tuesday vs. the Knicks — 34 points, 10 boards and eight assists, Harden had two subpar outings vs. the Timberwolves and Bulls. His shooting was worrisome. In the two games, his splits were 28/10/79 and even the good free throw shooting carried an asterisk. He got to the line only four times vs. the Bulls. Harden did hand out 14 assists without a single turnover, but the Nets need his scoring.

For the season, his shooting percentage is a career worst 40.3 percent. His 3-point shooting is also down, to 34.7 percent. He’s never shot worst for a season, having two other years where he finished with that same number.

Equally disturbing was that he could get to the rim but not finish vs. the Bulls. After going 4-of-12 in the first half, he went 1-of-9 in the second. More than one analyst suggested that his failure at the rim was due to a lack of explosion, perhaps attributed to his off-season long hamstring rehab and lack of practice time. Or maybe he needs some rest. Harden leads the Nets in minutes, 820 to KD’s 792. He’s also played in every game.

Brooklyn needs his his scoring punch. As Alex Schiffer writes Monday...

Brooklyn is 9-2 this season in games in which Harden scores 20 or more points, 5-0 when he scores 25 or more and just 7-5 when he scores less than 20. But he isn’t the only problem the Nets have.

The Nets have been careful not to raise any alarms about Harden’s play. Steve Nash played things down in the post-game, and his teammates chalked it up to one bad game. Harden, while accepting blame for the loss, found some positives as well.

“Honestly, I was just trying to get downhill, trying to create some energy, create some tempo, especially at the end of the game,” Harden said. “Throughout the course of the game there were opportunities for me to go finish, I just didn’t convert at the high level that I needed to.

“But I feel like me putting pressure on that rim throughout the course of the game was good tonight. My paint finishes weren’t at a high level, and I feel like that was the reason for the loss.”

Opponents of course are taking advantage of the Nets loss of Kyrie Irving and Joe Harris. They have started to leave a lot of the offensively challenged Nets open, focusing on Harden and Durant.

Harden is looking forward to the Nets road trip, which also includes a Wednesday night game in Houston, his first return to the Toyota Center with a full house of fans in the stands.

“To go on the road to Dallas and a back-to-back with Houston is a really good challenge for us. Every game is going to be a different challenge. It’s going to be good for us. All these games are building our character and building our togetherness as a collective group.”