James Harden made a concerted effort to “get downhill” Saturday night, but that’s exactly where the end result headed against the Bulls due to his latest subpar shooting night.
Harden matched his season-high with 14 assists in the Nets’ 111-107 loss at Barclays Center, but the nine-time All-Star connected on just five of 21 shot attempts from the floor for a season-worst 23.8 percent field-goal percentage.
On a night the Nets outworked the Bulls on the boards with a 54-47 rebounding edge, dominated in second-chance points (23-4) and committed only five turnovers as a team, Harden absorbed a “blame this one on me” approach in his postgame press conference.
“We just had a lot of opportunities at the rim that we just didn’t convert that would have made the game a lot easier for us,” Harden said after Saturday’s game. “We definitely built something this game.
“Obviously it’s tough. We did more than enough to win. Sometimes it doesn’t work out in your favor, but I think we take the positives from this game and continue to build on those. Obviously a loss is a loss but from this game we can take a lot of positives and things that we did well and try and build from here.”
With Kyrie Irving away from the team all season due to his refusal to get vaccinated for COVID-19, Harden continues to assume the majority of the Nets’ ball-handling duties. His 9.5 assists per game through Sunday ranked him second in the league behind Suns point guard Chris Paul (10.1).
Still, the 32-year-old Harden’s 40.3 shooting percentage easily marks the lowest of his 13-year NBA career since he posted that same number as a rookie with Oklahoma City in 2009-10. He was 4-for-12 from the floor in Saturday’s first half before missing eight of nine shot attempts after intermission.
“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.”
The Nets (16-7) now are facing a four-game road trip beginning Tuesday in Dallas, followed by a return for Harden to Houston the following night to face his former team, the Rockets. The Nets’ 8-2 record on the road is second-best in the league, behind only the Suns’ 9-2 mark.
“Every game for us is a good challenge,” said Harden, who leads the Nets with 14 double-doubles through 23 games. “We’re still learning each other, we’re still growing as a team. From [Friday] night’s [home win against Minnesota] to [Saturday] against a really good Chicago team on a back-to-back is a learning experience for us.
“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.”
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