Kenny Atkinson making things ‘uncomfortable’ to spark Nets

BOSTON — After a long, intense practice Monday in Miami, the Nets were tired and probably a little shaken. And that’s a good thing.

Desperate times call for desperate stuff. And a four-game losing streak probably should light a fire under the Nets. And if it doesn’t, Kenny Atkinson aimed to.

Injured stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving aren’t riding to the rescue, so they’re going to have to figure out how to save themselves — or at least their playoff hopes.

“You’ve got to get a little uncomfortable when you’re not doing well. I think that’s part of the philosophy. You’ve got to feel that,” Atkinson said. “It’s great having days like this, two days in between, allows you to really practice and get some things done. Felt like we got better [Monday].”

If feeling a little tired is what’s needed for a turnaround, or a little disquiet is what’s required to regain their discipline, so be it. Maybe even a visit from Durant at practice — the first road trip he has taken all season — will help. By any means necessary.

Monday’s marathon session at the University of Miami came on the heels of a fourth straight defeat Saturday against the Heat, with Tuesday’s night’s game looming against the Celtics, third in the Eastern Conference.

Joe Harris
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson talks to Joe HarrisAP

Having fallen into eighth in the East — and Washington having closed within four games of the final playoff spot — the Nets need to get their edge back — and need to stave off this skid before it derails their season.

“We had a long, intense practice. The point of emphasis was to make sure guys have a sense of urgency,” Joe Harris said. “Lately, we haven’t been super consistent, and I think a lot of it is more the mental aspect than anything else, a lack of focus. I think that’s why [this] practice was so intense.

“You want guys just locked-in, ready to go, have that mindset and, hopefully, it translates to [Tuesday] night.”

The Nets haven’t been as locked-in as the need to be, from top to bottom. And while the offense has been a season-long issue — not shocking for a team that’s played without Durant and largely without Irving — the usually sound defense has sprung leaks.

They coughed up a season-high 141 points at Eastern Conference cellar-dwelling Atlanta. Then 20 seconds into Saturday’s game in Miami, when Kendrick Nunn got wide open for a bucket, Atkinson immediately got Rodions Kurucs up off the bench.

It only took until 2:03 for Atkinson to get Taurean Prince out for Kurucs, with Atkinson and Prince having a tactical conversation on the sidelines. It was typical of a team that hasn’t quite been in sync, digging a 14-point fourth-quarter hole before rallying to lose by three.

“It’s not just Taurean. There’s just focus, communication, whatever you want to call it, we can be better,” Atkinson admitted. “But overall, listen, this is a group — our first time together — not the worst thing in the world to go through these struggles.

“We have to figure it out ourselves. KD and Ky, they’re not coming in with their capes on and helping us achieve our goal, so we’ve got to figure it out. Great challenge. But I do think this will help us going forward, this will help this group going through these struggles.”

Atkinson has said the Nets are more confident when Durant is around, and several players have said his presence helps because he sees the game on another level. There was certainly plenty to go over in an extensive — and much-needed — practice.

“Yeah it was, pretty intense. But at the end of the day, we’re trying to get back on track. So we can’t worry about a little bit of fatigue,” Spencer Dinwiddie said. “We’ve got to get back on track.”

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