PHILADELPHIA — In a sloppy affair indicative of a preseason matchup with a tanking team, the depleted-by-injury Brooklyn Nets (sitting seven players and two starters) threw out a host of random lineups to test exactly what would work against a depleted-by-lack-of-talent Philadelphia 76ers roster, and enough of it did, as the Nets cruised to a 127-97 victory.
The game, which was televised only sparingly throughout the tri-state area (Though it was not on YES Network, I heard rumors of Comcast NJ carrying it, ) had everything you’d expect from a preseason game: loosely defined offensive roles, random moments of excellence from bench players, multiple passes accidentally tossed into the backcourt, more pushups than ever for Deron Williams (42 on 14 three-pointers, to be exact), and Kevin Garnett getting into a shouting match with a fan. You know, the usual.
The 76ers are a unique test; they have no inside presence, and somehow, a worse outside presence. They’re built exclusively to play basketball poorly, and yet they hung around with Brooklyn’s first and second team for almost a full quarter. That was partly due to luck — rookie and notoriously poor outside shooter Michael Carter-Williams hit two three-pointers, and the Sixers drew eight fouls in the first quarter — but, oddly, the Sixers seemed more in tune with their system at times than Brooklyn.
For one, the Sixers were consistent in their pick-and-roll presence. Time after time, the Sixers “iced” the pick-and-roll, bringing the defender of the screen-setter down towards the baseline to force the ballhandler away, rightfully trading off a drive to the rim for a potential pick-and-pop. The Nets, who have made icing the pick-and-roll a point of emphasis early this preseason, didn’t seem to get into a consistent rhythm with their decision-making. Luckily, the Sixers were bad enough that it didn’t make a difference.
For the third straight game, the Nets starting five was paced by its one non-starter: point guard Shaun Livingston, who nearly put up a preseason triple-double with 17 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, hitting all six of his shots in 23 minutes. There were worries that the gangly, 6’7″ Livingston would never recover from his gruesome knee injury in 2007, but it looks like his quickness and athleticism have caught up with his basketball IQ. Livingston casually made behind-the-back dribbles and passes, led fast breaks and semi-transition offense, threw down two two-handed dunks, and ran an NBA-level offense to precision.
It wasn’t all Livingston — a point guard plays best when he props up his teammates, and they delivered. Brook Lopez followed a trend from last season by scoring early and often, pouring on ten points on four field goals (three in the paint) and two free throws in the first frame, propping up Brooklyn’s offense until the second unit entered the game. He finished with 17 easy points, adding five blocks against an undersized and under-talented Sixers roster. Joe Johnson coolly spotted up all around the floor, hitting four threes and finishing with 18 points while barely touching the ball. Mirza Teletovic had arguably the best game of his career, hitting five threes, and Chris Johnson did even better, hitting six threes — five in the fourth quarter and four in a span of 77 seconds.
The Nets now look ahead to Tuesday. They’ll take on the Boston Celtics in Brooklyn in Act Four of their #WeTalkinBoutPreseason tour, as Paul Pierce can for the first time see what playing against the Boston Celtics looks like. But for one night, the Nets can enjoy an easy preseason victory over a poor team without half their roster.
The regular season can’t come soon enough.