Nets aim to stop skid as Kings visit

NEW YORK — The Brooklyn Nets have been focused on getting Jahlil Okafor back into game shape, and the rest of the Nets would like to revert to what they were doing before losing their last three games.

The Nets will attempt to stop their skid Wednesday night when they host the Sacramento Kings.

From Nov. 26 through Dec. 12, the Nets (11-18) won five of eight games by posting a 101.4 defensive rating and allowing 100.9 points per game, 43.1 percent field-goal shooting and 32.3 percent shooting from 3-point range. Offensively, Brooklyn averaged 101.8 points and 23.6 assists while shooting 44.1 percent.

Starting with a 111-104 loss to the New York Knicks on Thursday, the Nets have posted a 115.6 defensive rating, allowed 113.3 points, 52.7 percent shooting and 37.9 percent from 3-point range in their three-game slide.

Brooklyn is averaging 96 points on 42.9 percent shooting and 31.6 percent from 3-point range while averaging 21 assists and 18 turnovers.

The Nets followed up their loss to the Knicks by getting drilled 120-87 in Toronto on Friday. On Sunday, Brooklyn lost 109-97 at home to the Indiana Pacers; the Nets shot 42 percent and lost the rebounding edge 43-29.

“It is a little disappointing because our guys are high-level competitors and we are just not getting over the hump,” Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson said. “We are missing that physicality, that energy. We’ve got to find it, and we have to help them get it back.”

In the loss to Indiana, Allen Crabbe led the Nets with 17 points, but 14 came in the first quarter and he took one shot after halftime. Spencer Dinwiddie, whose steady play helped the Nets weather D’Angelo Russell’s absence, finished with five points and nine assists just two days after Brooklyn’s starting lineup totaled 28 points.

The Nets believe they will be improved once Okafor enters the rotation, but it won’t occur Wednesday. Okafor played 22 minutes Friday but sat when the Nets allowed 56.6 percent shooting Sunday.

Without Okafor, Tyler Zeller will remain the starting center. The Nets will attempt to shore up their interior defense after allowing 162 points in the paint in the losing streak. They will face a team with 7-footers Willie Cauley-Stein and Kostas Koufos and 6-9 forward Zach Randolph.

“It’s a little bit of an issue right now. We’ve been taken advantage of in the post,” Atkinson said. “They say the post game has disappeared, but somehow they (the Pacers) found a hole in our post defense.

“We know Zach is a load; Cauley-Stein can get down there. We have to do a better job resisting in the post on an individual basis and our help defense.”

Sacramento (10-20) is playing its league-leading 19th road game and owns a 5-13 record in those contests. The Kings dropped nine of their first 10 but have split their last eight after rallying from 16 points down to get a 101-95 win at Philadelphia on Tuesday.

“We had some bloopers that will go on the reel tonight, but we got better, we kept fighting,” Sacramento coach Dave Joerger said. “The thing about this group is they won’t quit. Every day that we come to the gym we have fun. They work hard, they are a joy to be around every day and they go out and compete.”

Sacramento is seeking consecutive wins for the second time this season and is averaging 101.4 points on 47.6 percent shooting in its last eight road games. Before beating Golden State on Nov. 27, the Kings had averaged 90.8 points in their first 10 road contests.

In the win over Philadelphia on Tuesday, Randolph led the Kings with 27 points on 12-of-19 shooting. He also grabbed five rebounds and enters Wednesday needing one to become the 39th player in NBA history with 10,000.

Randolph is one of few veterans on a team relying on youngsters such as Buddy Hield and rookie Frank Mason Jr. Hield scored 10 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter Tuesday, while Mason finished with a career-best 16 points.

“It’s real big for us,” Randolph said. “It’s developing our players and our young players are playing with a lot more confidence.”

Sacramento is facing the Nets without DeMarcus Cousins on its roster for the second time since trading him to New Orleans. Brooklyn broke a 16-game losing streak with a 109-100 win at Sacramento on March 1.