Nets need to get their sputtering offense in gear — and fast

SALT LAKE CITY — For every stride the Nets’ defense has taken since the All-Star break, their offense has stumbled. And if they want to make noise in the playoffs — or even be assured of making those playoffs — they need to fix it.

“I don’t subscribe to the only-defense-wins-championships. You have to be good on both sides of the ball,” coach Kenny Atkinson said. “You need a good balance.”

Going into Saturday’s game versus the Jazz, the Nets are as unbalanced as a seesaw with a feather on one side and a Cadillac on the other.

Though their offense and defense were both middle-of-the-pack going into the All-Star break, their defense is tops in the NBA since. But that offense? It’s plummeted to second-worst in offensive rating in the entire league (105.2). And a big part of that fall has been their sudden lack of long-range shooting.

“Globally we have not been good offensively since the All-Star break, so we’re going to have to look at it. Our decision-making has got to be a little quicker. We’re passing up shots, quite honestly,” Atkinson said. “Allen Crabbe, I’d love for him to shoot nine 3s [he went 2-for-7 in Wednesday’s 108-96 loss at Oklahoma City]. To beat a team like [the Thunder], you’ve got to let it go when it’s open. They had us on our heels.”

Joe Harris (right)AP

Foes have put the Nets on their heels by taking away their perimeter game. The Nets were ninth in the NBA in 3-point shooting in the first half of the season (35.8 percent), but they’re just 25th since.

Opponents have blitzed primary ball-handlers D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie, forcing quick decisions. They’ve focused extra attention on Crabbe and Joe Harris.

“Other teams are locking into [Harris]. They understand he’s a big part of what we do,” Atkinson said. “We’ve got to find ways to get him more shots, no doubt about it.”

Considering Harris’ 3-Point Contest win at All-Star Weekend, Russell said it’s not a surprising tactic. It’s just one the Nets have to adjust to and take advantage of.

“He’s the [freaking] 3-point champion. I hope so. We’ve just got to figure out ways to keep him involved,” Russell said. “When teams are doing stuff like that — forcing us to make quick-hit passes — the green light has got to be green, and force them to respect it. They can’t trap us when guys are making shots.”

Harris and Crabbe averaged a combined 4.9 3-pointers in the season’s first half, with Harris hitting a torrid 47.1 percent and Crabbe a solid 40.5.

But their attempts, makes and percentages are all down since the break. They’ve hit a combined 3.5 per game from 3-point range, with Crabbe struggling at 29.7 percent. Harris has made 42.6 percent, but just 34.5 in his past five games.

“Teams are doing that, blitzing. … It’s up to us to step up if they’re going to take the ball out of D’Angelo and Spencer’s hands. I’ve just got to have the mindset to keep shooting. That’s all that it is,” Crabbe said.

“I’ve just got to have the mindset that, regardless of me missing three, four, five in a row, I’m doing a disservice to my team by not shooting the next one.”

Dinwiddie said he and Russell — as well as the rest of the team — have to do a better job creating looks for Harris and Crabbe.

“We’ll continue to try to find him and do a better job as point guards to make his job easier,” Dinwiddie said. “A lot of times it’s not all on the shooters. It’s on us as guards in terms of plays we call and things we look for. As a team, even Ed [Davis] and [Jarrett Allen] screening, from man-to-man we can all do things better to help get AC — and Joe as well — shots.”

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