Knicks seek to overcome uneven start vs. James Harden, Nets

On the surface James Harden’s numbers seem to indicate a decent balance between facilitating and scoring for the Brooklyn Nets.

Yet after the Nets fell to another opponent with a winning record, Harden admitted he is struggling at finding the right mix.

Harden gets another chance to figure it out Tuesday when the Nets (14-6) host the Knicks (11-9) in the first meeting of the season between the intracity rivals.

Harden is averaging 20.3 points and 9.4 assists this season as the Nets deal with the absence of an unvaccinated Kyrie Irving. Harden averaged 24.6 points per game in 36 games last season and enters Tuesday with his lowest scoring average since averaging 16.8 points in his third and final season with the Oklahoma City Thunder in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season.

Harden is coming off one of his worst games of the season and it was one where he still produced a triple-double of 12 points, 14 assists and 13 rebounds in Saturday’s 113-107 loss to the red-hot Phoenix Suns to negate 39 points from Kevin Durant.

As the Suns posted their 16th straight win, Harden shot 4-of-15 and committed seven turnovers, marking the seventh time Harden missed at least 10 shots and the 12th time he committed at least five turnovers.

“Honestly I’m trying to figure all that out right now,” Harden admitted after the Nets saw a four-game winning streak snapped in a game where they never led and trailed by 22. “I’m trying to figure it out. I’m trying to figure out when to score, when to be a playmaker, when to run the offense, when to do a little bit of everything.”

Despite Harden’s uneven start, the Nets are 12-3 in their past 15 games and have yet to drop consecutive games this season.

New York is also trying to figure out its point guard situation. Kemba Walker has started each of the 18 games he has appeared in but is averaging a career-low 11.7 points, and on Monday, coach Tom Thibodeau said the New York native was out of the rotation and Alec Burks would be the starting point guard.

Burks made his first start of the season Saturday when Walker sat out and in a 99-90 win at Atlanta, he scored a season-high 23 points.

“It’s a tough decision to make, but you always have to do what you think is best for the team,” Thibodeau said at practice Monday. “I’ve got great respect for who Kemba is as a person, number one, and all that he’s accomplished in this league. But I do what I think is best for the team.”

While Burks will start, it is unclear who his backup will be. Derrick Rose is averaging 12 points but was 5-for-19 in his last two games before sitting out New York’s next three games with an ankle injury that has left him questionable for Tuesday.

Regardless of what the lineup looks like, the Knicks are hoping to start putting together some consistency. They began with five wins in six games and are 6-8 in their past 14 after getting 20 points from Evan Fournier to go along with Burks’ best game on Saturday.

“Consistency is key,” Fournier said. “We have to take the good stuff and do it all over again.”

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