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3 key takeaways from Nets’ home loss to red-hot Suns

Nets, Suns, Nets Suns takeaways

The Brooklyn Nets hosted the flaming-hot Western Conference champions from last season in the Phoenix Suns on Saturday night. The Nets trailed the whole way, sometimes by more than 20 points. They climbed back because of a late-game barrage, but ultimately fell 113-107 as the Suns picked up their 16th straight win. The Nets are still in first place at 14-6, and it’s actually the best record the team has had through 20 games in franchise history. But they’re now just 4-6 against teams with winning records. Let’s look at some key takeaways from Brooklyn’s loss to Phoenix.

3 Brooklyn Nets takeaways from loss to Suns

1. The Nets are still a work in progress

The Nets have some pretty big questions looming over them. Their defense has been better than expected through roughly a quarter of the season. This was the first loss they’ve had where they weren’t outrebounded. But they had 20 turnovers, and that’s indicative of their overall lack of cohesion and focus they exhibit at times, especially when playing an elite opponent.

The big question remains: Without Kyrie Irving in the fold, who else can they truly rely on for buckets besides Kevin Durant?

“I just think we’re a team that’s still forming,” said head coach Steve Nash after the loss. “Still trying to find an identity. This [Suns] team has a clear identity and clear understanding of what they’re trying to do offensively and defensively, something that we’re still in the very easily stages of. You couple that with sometimes we get away from our game when we go behind, those are signs of a new team, a team that’s trying to understand each other and form some clarity and identity out there.”

At another point Nash added this: “That’s just a part of our team, recognizing nights like this where it’s not gonna be classic or perfect or easy.”

He wants his team to get to that point the Suns are at.

“Great look at what it takes to play at the highest level in this league,” Nash explained.

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2. DeAndre’ Bembry continues to make the most out of his opportunities

Offseason addition DeAndre’ Bembry got his fourth start of the season and was terrific. In a game that didn’t include a ton of bright spots besides Kevin Durant, the St. Joe’s product provided a spark. He chipped in a season-high 18 points to go with nine rebounds, two steals and some solid defense against the Suns’ superstar backcourt featuring Devin Booker and Chris Paul. Bembry is also a very deft cutter, providing a backdoor option for Harden or KD on drives.

After the game, Steve Nash took the time to praise Bembry.

“Well, he gives us some speed and athleticism,” said the second-year head coach who once led a 17-game winning streak for the Suns in 2006-2007. The Suns will have a chance to match and then possibly beat that streak whey host the Golden State Warriors and Detroit Pistons next.

“[Bembry] gives us a defender out there,” continued Nash, “who can guard No. 1 options on the other team and also is a cutter for us offensively, so he’s been great. We’ve been working with him to really understand his role, and I think he’s been fantastic with his willingness to compete and to grow as a player. So, really proud of his effort and he’s getting better.”

3. James Harden is still searching for his role

James Harden has been a consistent playmaker for Brooklyn. He is averaging 9.4 assists per game, second only to Suns point guard Chris Paul. But The Beard’s scoring has been a mixed bag by his own three-time scoring champion standards. Averaging 20.3 points per game on 40.6 percent from the field with a league-leading 5.0 giveaways per contest, he’s not as efficient as they hoped coming into the season. He has eight games with 15 points or less this season, having appeared in all 20.

When the season first started, the contrast between the way Harden was officiated in years past and this year was shocking. The good news is that, since then, he has increased his free-throw attempts per game, and it’s now up to 6.8 FTA per contest. Perhaps he’s getting used to the new rules and the officials are calling things a little less extreme now than they did to start the season.

We also heard a lot about how Harden couldn’t practice much this summer because he needed to rehab his hamstring issue from last year. But after the Sun’s game Saturday, the nine-time All-Star admitted his hamstring felt OK (he gave an emphatic “nah” when asked if it was still bothering him) but did acknowledge he was still figuring out his role. 

“Honestly, I’m trying to figure all that out right now,” Harden admitted. “I’m trying to figure it out. Trying to figure out when to score, when to be a playmaker, when to run offense, when to do a little bit of everything.”

Nash defended his player after a tough game.

“It was a tough night for him,” explained the head coach. “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.

Nash even posed his own rhetorical questions for his team to address during future nights when Harden isn’t posting eye-popping scoring numbers.

“Can he draw a crowd and get off and generate offense on the second side? Can we take advantage of those nights where he gets into the paint and it’s not all or nothing on him?”

The head coach was also asked specifically if The Beard is passing too much.

“I think tonight it was crowded in [the paint] and we didn’t move the ball enough, so we gotta be able to move it, get off it quicker. For him to draw a crowd and get off it, he’s done his job.”

The Nets will get a couple of days to shake this one off and get a little healthier before Tuesday’s home game against the rival Knicks.