Nets' offensive O begins with D-Will

Throughout what has become a $190 million mess of a season, Brooklyn Nets coach Jason Kidd has never seemed too concerned about his team’s offense.

Well, maybe he should be.

The Nets have pretty much never been able to defend, rebound or survive the third quarter.

But now it also seems like Deron Williams looks uncomfortable running the offense. And let’s be honest here: Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson should not play together.

Pierce, who had gone 5-for-26 from the field in his previous three games, scored 18 points in the Nets’ 105-91 loss to the Indiana Pacers Saturday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

But Williams had a very pedestrian 14 points and six assists, while Johnson went 4-for-12 from the field and had four turnovers.

“That’s been our season,” Kidd told reporters in Indiana. “One or two of our guys are going, and we can’t get the others to join. ... Paul was going, he just needed someone to join him.”

It finally appeared that Williams was over all the injuries that have plagued his tenure with the Nets. Maybe he is. But lately, he isn’t playing like it. In his last four games, Williams is averaging 12.5 points, 5.5 assists and 2.5 turnovers on 48.7 percent shooting.

Since Pierce has returned to the starting lineup (two games), Johnson is 6-for-24 from the field.

All three players need the ball in their hands to be successful. But Williams is the one in his prime, the one making max money, the one who needs to carry the Nets to the playoffs with Brook Lopez out due to a season-ending foot injury. So it’s time for Kidd to put his franchise point guard in the best position to be successful -- and that means splitting up Pierce and Johnson, which worked quite well for awhile.

Just look at these two-man lineup net ratings (offense/defense), according to NBA.com:

Pierce/Johnson: minus-4.2 in 478 minutes (96.0/100.2)

Johnson/Williams: plus-3.2 in 451 minutes (105.7/102.6)

Pierce/Williams: plus-0.1 in 342 minutes (101.1/101.0)

Saturday night’s game was just the latest example. On a number of occasions, it appeared as though Williams had open lanes for jumpers or layups, but he deferred to his teammates. He needs to stop doing that, take over games and get his confidence back.

“We’re an easy team to guard right now,” Pierce said, according to the New York Times.

The Nets (10-20) fought like hell against the Pacers (24-5) in the first half, then fell apart in the third (28-20), a common pattern for the team. A 58-56 game became an 86-76 game, and that was it. Brooklyn is 0-18 when trailing after three quarters.

“We’ve talked about [the third quarter struggles]. We’ve left it alone. But it’s something that we’ve gotta address,” Kidd said.

Defensively, the Nets failed to get stops. Lance Stephenson (23 points, nine rebounds, seven assists) and Paul George (24 points) got whatever they wanted. George Hill (21 points) frequently scored when guarded by Williams.

Overall, the Pacers, who are 3-0 against the Nets this season, shot 53.5 percent. They won the rebounding battle (41-28) and the points in the paint battle (42-34), too. Brooklyn is 0-15 when giving up more than 100 points.

“We didn’t make them uncomfortable on the perimeter,” Kidd said.

It’s not going to get any easier for the Nets, who next face the San Antonio Spurs (23-7) on New Year’s Eve. Then, they get the Oklahoma City Thunder (24-5) two nights later.

In the altered words of former minority owner Jay Z, the Nets used to have 99 problems, but offense wasn’t one.

Not anymore, it seems.

“We played for a half,” Kidd said. “The effort was there. But then in the third quarter, once we got down 10 ... it seemed like the guys felt like we were down 20.”