The Brooklyn Nets led for a significant portion of their game against the Chicago Bulls Saturday, but they didn't make enough shots when it mattered most.

The Nets drop to 16-7 and are now just a half game up on the Bulls, who emerged victorious in the second meeting between the two Eastern Conference powerhouses. Brooklyn took a three-point lead into the second quarter and a four-point lead into the half. At one point, the home team even held an 11-point lead in the third quarter, but Chicago never stopped fighting and the Nets couldn't buy a bucket from close range.

Zach LaVine led all scorers with 31 points. The former Slam Dunk champion also kicked in eight boards and six dimes, going 11-of-13 from the stripe. DeMar DeRozan was no less damaging with 29 points, on 13-of-24 from the field. Furthermore, he really gave the Nets problems down the stretch.

DeRozan was in his bag at Barclays Center.

Kevin Durant didn't struggle. The Nets MVP candidate had 28 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and two blocks. But the story of the night was James Harden's inability to finish at the rim. The Beard collected just 14 points on an abysmal 5-of-21 from the floor. The Nets as a team were just 20-of-46 on shots at the rim, many of those missed bunnies left Harden's fingers.

“Blame this on me,” said Harden, taking full responsibility for the L. “I had a lot of opportunities at the rim, I didn't convert. I could have settled this game down.

“When there's opportunities for me to go finish I went. I just didn't convert at a high level that I needed to. But I feel like me just putting the pressure on that rim throughout the course of a game that was good, tonight it just didn't- my paint finishes wasn't at a high level, I feel like that was the reason for the loss.”

One unfortunate theme for the Nets this season has been Harden's disturbing splits. He has been terrific in wins, but pretty bad (for his standards) in losses. Much has been made about the team's mediocre record versus top opponents. Harden simply hasn't been as effective during those contests.

Of course, his teammates didn't let him take all the blame.

“We just didn't make 'em, we didn't knock 'em down, they made timely shots we didn't, that's really what it is,” Durant shared.

“This is a tough loss,” he added. Durant was told his teammate tried to take the blame after the game ended but he wasn't having it. “I shoulda made more shots. Then I woulda took pressure off of [Harden].”

The Bulls shot 19-of-27 from the free throw line, the Nets just 7-of-9. That type of disparity from the line is difficult to overcome.

Paul Millsap played one of his best games. He had 12 points, two steals and a block. He was called upon to log 34 minutes in the second of a back-to-back. Blake Griffin (out of the rotation) and Nic Claxton (return from non-COVID illness) did not see the floor.

After the game, Millsap was asked about Harden taking the blame himself.

“You cant blame yourself, it's a team effort,” said the former Utah Jazz, Atlanta Hawks and Denver Nuggets forward. “Doesn't matter what goes on through the course of a game, what goes on down the stretch, who did this, who missed an assignment who missed a shot, who did whatever. At the end of the day it's a team sport and we all take credit from that and we all could get better. We all missed some shots around the baskets that we normally have [made]. It's unfortunate you have one of those days but we gotta continue to build each other up and help him through those stretches and hopefully, vice versa.”

The Nets could be said to have run out of gas a little bit. They're short on healthy bodies and they are relying on their stars to play big minutes and score lots of points. It's not a huge shock they looked fatigued in the second of a back-to-back against a team as skilled as the Bulls–undoubtedly one of the hottest teams in the NBA right now

But until James Harden can string together some big games against some top opponents and play at a high level more consistently, people will question his conditioning or if he is just not the same player we have seen in years past when he was donning a Houston Rockets uniform.