"Fatigue," Jason Kidd said after the game, scrawling another excuse for another lackluster Brooklyn Nets performance, one where they gave up a franchise-record nineteen three-pointers and 114 total points, all either in the paint, from beyond the arc, or at the free throw line.
"No one quit. It's fatigue," Kidd said, after benching most of his starters for the entire second half after losing the first 24 minutes by a score of 66-40.
There are reasons to point to fatigue. The Nets have had a brutal road schedule so far, with no back-to-back games at home and three road trips of at least two games. The Nets played a back-to-back, the first game on the road, before taking off to Houston on the Thanksgiving holiday. But it's shortsighted and reductive to blame the Nets' issues on the tryptophan in their system.
They haven't been fatigued for sixteen games. They've been bad.
They've been bad on offense. After ranking ninth in the league in offensive efficiency, they've plummeted to 22nd after replacing Reggie Evans and Gerald Wallace in the starting lineup with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Even with Brook Lopez back on the floor for the first time in two weeks, the team still struggles with a semblance of an offensive identity, fluctuating between trading off possessions and not getting the ball to Lopez before he's pushed out of position. Only the Cleveland Cavaliers have shot fewer shots from in the restricted area and from three-point range combined.
They've been awful on defense. The Nets signed lead assistant coach Lawrence Frank to implement a defensive "gumbo" with Jason Kidd, spearheaded by Kevin Garnett, a defense that Garnett wanted to be top-3 in the NBA. They're currently the worst in the NBA by a full two points per 100 possessions, allowing 107.2 points per 100 possessions. Their perimeter defense is appalling, their interior crumbled without Lopez in the paint. Watch the video above: on more than one occasion, the Nets just seem disinterested in keeping up with their defensive assignment, falling into screens like they're Tempur-Pedic mattresses.
They're one of the league's worst teams rebounding the ball. They're not defending three-pointers well. They allow the second-most transition points per game in the NBA. Teams get second-chance points, points in the paint, and points off turnovers with ease. They can't defend the high pick-and-roll and their highest-energy players (Mason Plumlee, Tyshawn Taylor, Reggie Evans) struggle with fundamentals.
The team's problems are clear. They're not athletic enough to defend quick guards outside, and they're not communicating well enough to deter penetrators and cutters swirling around the basket. But 16 games into the season, they've found few answers for their lethargy and inattentiveness.
There's still time. The Nets are still without Deron Williams and Andrei Kirilenko, two of the team's best six players (maybe five, depending on how good you think Kirilenko can be), and the team expected Jason Terry to be a significant cog off the bench too. Lopez was on a minutes restriction. It's a process, as Jason Kidd says. But how much more of the season can be chalked up to that?
The frustration is palpable in the home locker room after losses, and after another blowout loss on the road, the team's unwavering confidence is starting to rust. It's hard to blame them: for a team that glowed about championship aspirations on media day, it's a cold splash of water in the face to learn that their window of contention may have closed right then and there.