For our second podcast of the season, Danny Savitzky & I talk about the early season, Brook Lopez's struggles, Devin Harris's resurgence, Terrence Williams, Derrick Favors, Carmelo Anthony, growing pains, & more. We also give our predictions for the rest of November to close it out.
It's a stated fact that the Nets move to the Prudential Center in Newark is a temporary one until the Barclays Center in Brooklyn opens. So how do the Nets sell a transitional arena to the buying public? According to a Wall Street Journal article, while the Nets (and the Devils) are constantly trying to innovate ways to sell tickets, they're eyes remain on the big prize in Brooklyn:
"Unfortunately, New Jersey never gave the team enough support on a consistent basis," said Fred Mangione, the Nets senior vice president of ticket sales and marketing, though he added, "We market and sell in New Jersey like we're never leaving."
"It's all about Brooklyn and it's all about the building," said Mr. Mangione, who said the team has commitments for 30 suites, though they have not begun selling regular tickets to the new building. "Yes, the team is there, but it's just as important for us to pitch the concerts and the boxing and everything else."
It's a tricky two-step for the Nets organization. They were wise to get away from the Izod Center, but it's obviously difficult for them to embrace The Rock, and vice versa. Mangione's argument that Jersey never embraced the Nets is difficult to counter considering the empty seats even during the team's playoff run. And even now, getting good seats in Newark is as simple as going to stubhub the day of the game and getting tickets at a very reduced price.
In last night's 91-90 loss, it was easy to see that the Nets were settling for jumpers against Orlando's tough interior defense. But one fact you may not know is that the Nets actually only attempted 5 shots at the rim - and didn't make one. That's the lowest number of at-the-rim attempts in any game so far this season, and the Nets are also the only team to not make one shot at the rim in any single game. (Devin Harris's late-game layup is probably he most notable of them all.) Now, it's only fair to note that Brook Lopez & Devin Harris combined to get to the line 15 times - the only players to get to the free throw line for the Nets, mind you - so a few attempts were certainly lost there, but even so, the average in the NBA is 22.3 attempts per team per game. 5 is a joke of a number.
You could take this two ways. One could argue that despite this glaring weakness, they were still so diverse offensively and were able to find so many different ways to score that they managed only a one-point loss against a top-3 team in the Eastern Conference. Conversely, one could also say that the Nets just got extremely lucky last night, and if there's a trend away from the rim, the Nets are going to go downhill fast. The truth likely lies somewhere in the middle.
AP Photo/Bill Kostroun
As last night's game agains the Orlando Magic ended with Devin Harris heaving and missing a near half-court shot (and maybe getting fouled by Jameer Nelson on the play? The way the NBA is these days, it's a call that certainly could have been made) I had to think that this was a game that needs to be stowed near the top of the season's time capsule. Because even though the Nets lost 91-90, they proved last night that they have the ability to hang with one of the league's elite teams for a full 48 minutes.
Yes, losses are losses and moral victories are typically for those making excuses for lack of execution, but by taking multiple shots to the chin throughout the night by the Magic, and still finding themselves in the position to come away with the victory is a major step for an organization that's still rebuilding its image from a horror show that was last year. I know Devin Harris and co. scoff at the ongoing comparisons to last season, but when you play on a team that's known for barely avoiding the worst record in NBA history, the comparisons are going to continue. Fortunately for Harris and the Nets' sake, the vast majority of these comparisons are, "wow, aren't the Nets playing so much better than last year?"
By my count there were three definitive points in this game where the Magic were setting up to close the door, and the Nets came back from the dead on all three occasions - cue the obligatory they would not have done that last season, but guess what, they wouldn't have. Down 12 in the first half, with the Magic cruising with primarily their second unit playing, the Nets went on a 12-2 run to end the second quarter, fueled primarily by 5 points each from Jordan Farmar and Travis Outlaw.
Fast forward to about 5 minutes to go in the fourth quarter and the Magic starting to pull away when they were up by 7. The Nets responded again, with some crafty short-range jumpers from Devin Harris - who was just fantastic last night with 26 points, 8 assists and 6 rebounds on 9-16 shooting - and Anthony Morrow's first three from the game, a shot from the corner that circled the drain before falling in. The Magic would go on to pull ahead by 7 AGAIN in the fourth quarter on some vintage, out-of-nowhere drives to the rim by Vince Carter and two free throws by Dwight Howard. With less than a minute to go, I was half-expecting the Nets to miss a shot on their next possession and seal the game for the Magic, but Outlaw came through again with a short-range jumper and then Farmar came through again with a three pointer (is it in his contract to hit a three in the final minute of every close game the Nets have played? It's uncanny how despite an otherwise poor shooting game he found a way to drain that shot. And Magic coach Stan Van Gundy's reaction to Dwight Howard giving Farmar room to shoot was absolutely priceless). Two missed free throws from Jameer Nelson gave the Nets life down one, and Brook Lopez obliged, attacking the rim, drawing the foul and sinking both his free throws. The only problem was there was still too much time left the clock. And with 11 seconds left, the Magic made the Nets pay when they went coast-to-coast and scored on a fadeaway baselines jumper from Nelson over Lopez's outstretched arms. It was vindication for Nelson, who's a good player and deserved the opportunity to right his own wrong, but it was a crushing blow all the same. Even with four seconds left, the Nets seemed doomed unless Harris had another miracle half court heave in him, which he did not.
So after a performance like that, it's my natural inclination to look on the bright side, rather than seek out the negative, because outside of being out-rebounded 43-31, and some quiet play from their PFs (Kris Humphries followed-up his breakout performance on Wednesday with a modest 4 point, 7 rebound, 2 block game), there wasn't a heck of a lot to be negative about. The Nets shot 49 percent from the field and held the Magic to 41.6 percent. Brook Lopez, after about 10 days of puzzling play, got his mojo back and scored 23 points on 9-17 shooting. Harris, for all extensive purposes, looks like the player he was two years ago when he was an all-star. Outlaw was a legitimate third offensive option all night, racking on 20 points and 7 rebounds on an efficient 8-12 from the field. Yes, the Nets and Lopez specifically were able to get a lot of this down with Dwight Howard be limited to 27 minutes, and in those 27 minutes, Howard was fantastic, scoring 16 points on 6-9 shooting. But Lopez went aggressively at Howard all night long, and were able to draw his 5th foul with nearly 11 minutes left in the game. Despite falling behind the Magic at various points throughout the game, Avery Johnson seemed to come up with a legitimate game plan, and the team stuck to it for all four quarters. That's progress, even if the Nets don't want to discuss where this progress is being born from.
A few more thoughts after the jump.
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Tonight, the 3-5 New Jersey Nets take on the Orlando Magic for the second time in the first nine games. While the Nets have struggled against the Florida powers - dropping two to Miami and the first matchup against Orlando - the Nets have the benefit of a gelling roster and home-court advantage tonight. Still, for obvious reasons, this is going to be a tough one - between Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson, Rashard Lewis, and ex-Net Vince Carter, the team will have its hands full.
A few keys to this game:
- Three-point shooting. Orlando, for the past few seasons, has been one of the best three-point shooting teams in the league - breaking the single-season record for threes made in a season in 2010. The Nets, however, have a plethora of players who can shoot it from deep, and oftentimes it's one of the big things that keeps them in games. If Anthony Morrow is hot or Troy Murphy (coming off the bench) can provide a surprise spark, we could be in for an interesting game.
- The resurgence of Devin Harris. In Wednesday's win over Cleveland, Devin was playing like the Devin we saw in the Vince Carter days - slashing, distributing, and most importantly, getting to the line. If he can help get guys like Dwight Howard and Rashard Lewis in foul trouble and play competent defense on Jameer Nelson, it could be a great sign not only for this game but for the future as well.
- The obligatory "Brook Lopez must do better." Dwight Howard is probably the hardest guy in the league to bounce back against for an offensive big man, but hey, he can't be this bad for this long, right? Something's gotta give.
For more Orlando Magic coverage, check out Eddy Rivera's TrueHoop Orlando Magic affiliate Magic Basketball.
Obviously, this is a New Jersey Nets blog, however, the NAS crew absolutely love the NBA in general. So, every week, Mark, Devin, Evan, Justin, Danny, and myself will answer questions regarding the L.
1) Kevin Durant seems to be having a "slow" start considering all of the praise and hype thrown his way before the season, particularly when it comes to preseason MVP predictions. That said, is he even the MVP of the Oklahoma City Thunder? Overall, Russell Westbrook is looking strong and has a higher PER (25.1) compared to Durant (20.0).
Mark: Well, it's a little chicken or egg here, but does Westbrook even put up his numbers without a player as good as Kevin Durant on the court pretty much demanding the attention of opposing defenses 24/7. Don't get me wrong, Westbrook is a very good player and would love someone with his talent on the Nets, but Durant is the NBA of that team, and by season's end, I think he'll be MVP of the entire league.
Danny: I think Durantula is pressing a little bit now that, for the first time, he's bearing the weight of lofty expectations on his shoulders. His team gave the Lakers a run for their money in the playoffs last year, and he was the clear leader at 21-years-old for the USA Basketball team in the World Championships this summer. Taking all that into account, the slow start isn't a total surprise. But I don't anticipate that his slump (if you can really call it that) will last much longer. He's only shooting 36 percent from the field and 30 percent from beyond the arc, and there's no doubt those rates will normalize to past levels over the course of the season. Not to mention his block, steal, and rebound numbers are up so far this year. As for the comparisons to Russell Westbrook, he showed that he can also be a great player in this league. But he won't be the MVP of that team until he can hit jump shots regularly and convert in late-game, high-pressure situations. If you're just going to go on PER, Pau Gasol was the MVP of the Lakers last season.
DV: Durant will be fine. Perhaps he's dealing with the high expectations, not only on the court, but off the court as well. Durant has basically been labeled the Golden Child (Numpsi!) and juxtaposed to the "evil" LeBron James, which heightens Durant's paragon status. While Westbrook will be a great player in the NBA, he'll never be as naturally talented as Durant. However, a Scottie Pippen type of role is more than achievable for Westbrook. Considering Pippen is an NBA Hall of Famer that ain't bad at all.... MORE →
Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images
Remember when I questioned what Kris Humphries' role on this Nets team would be? Yeah, me neither. After two very good performances in the past week – 13 points on 6-7 shooting last Friday on the road against Orlando and Wednesday night’s monster 13 point, 18 rebound performance against Cleveland – I’m rethinking my statements that Humphries just didn’t have enough of an all-around game to be a solid rotation contributor on a team that’s expected to win more than 12 games in the regular season.
Not that he’s an all-star who’s finally starting to peak either, though, thanks to the wonder that is small samples sizes in November, Hump is certainly mighty might efficient. Thanks in large part to 72 percent shooting from the floor, Hump has a true shooting percentage of 69 percent. Combine that with his rebound rate of 17.8, his current Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 19.8 is looking pretty good. What’s even more shocking is Humphries is finally starting to rack up some assists. His current assist ratio – the percentage of a player’s possessions that ends in an assist – of 11 is close to double his season average of the past few years.
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The Star-Ledger's Colin Stephenson asked Brook Lopez about his recent struggles, including his 21-73 shooting the past five games. Those hoping Lopez was just brushing off his poor play will be sorely disappointed:
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t, a little (concerned),” Lopez said after his foul-plagued, four-point, six-rebound performance in Wednesday’s road victory over the Cavaliers. “But I’ve been working before games, getting shots up (and) in practice, obviously. I’ll look to get shots up tomorrow. And just, continue to fight through it. I feel like most of the shots I take are my normal, typical shots. They just haven’t gone down.”
In the same article, Avery Johnson said he was confident in Lopez, and I think we in fans should be the same. However, this is worth watching. It's certainly the first time in his career that he's struggled this much, and I wonder if he's still not fully recovered from his case of mono this past summer.
As has been widely reported by a number of sources this morning, the Nets are entering into a single affiliation partnership with the Springfield Armor, an NBA D-League team. Per the agreement, which is for three-years and begins in 2011-12, the Nets have a "hybrid affiliation" with the Armor, enabling them to control the team's basketball operations: pick their roster, hire their coaches and assistant coaches, and more or less implement an organizational philosophy all the way down to the NBA's equivalent of a minor league team. The team will be able to send rookie and second-year players who aren't getting playing time to the D-League team and recall them when need arises. The caveat is if an Armor player doesn't have an NBA contract with the Nets, they are free to sign with whoever they want around the NBA.
This is a huge move for the Nets. For one, it's clear demonstration that ownership is serious about creating a winning atmosphere around the organization. When you look around the league, many of the better run teams - i.e. San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder - have single D-League affiliates. The Houston Rockets, another organization that seems to have a clue, are the only other franchise to have this "hybrid affiliation" model the Nets will be using. This is obviously a serious investment in time and resources for Mikhail Prokhorov. The assumption seems to be he may use the Armor as a way to get some of Russia's players over to the states where they can play ball, but regardless, this move instantly puts the Nets in an elite class around the league.
Secondly, from a pragmatic standpoint, having this hybrid affiliation is worthwhile and is it will allow the Nets to implement the organization's defensive and offensive systems to the lower levels. So if a replacement player is ever needed, they will not have to be versed on specific plays or team philosophy. Plainly said, it gives the Nets more of an edge if the need ever arises.
Kudos to the organization for this move. Looking forward to seeing how this relationship works out.
The Nets needed to have short memory for this game; a day after dropping a home game to the Cavaliers, both teams turned around and flew to Cleveland for the second half of their home and home series.
Right off the start the Nets were shorthanded. Terrence Williams missed his second straight game with an abdominal strain and new power forward Troy Murphy sat out with a sore right foot which put Kris Humphries into the starting lineup at the four.
In the early going, the tenor of this game was changed immediately when Brook Lopez picked up two fouls in the first two minutes of the game. With Murphy scratched for the day, this made our already thin front court rotation even thinner. Johan Petro made a cameo in the first half to relieve some of those minutes as well as some added time for Derrick Favors.
For a team who was trying to prevent lay ups and dunks, the Nets surely did a poor job of that in the early going. The Cavaliers were able to get to the rim at will as both J.J. Hickson and Ryan Hollins each converted multiple dunks.
The Nets offense conversely was looking flat and unimaginative. Most of what we were getting was provided by what Devin Harris could create from his dribble, which the Cavs did a nice job of containing.
In the first half the Cavaliers built leads of ten, and with the Nets offensive woes, they really had a chance to bury the Nets right then and there, however, the Nets managed to stick around and keep the game manageable. Still, at the break the Nets trailed by 10 points 52-42.
New Jersey proved to be a much more resilient bunch on this night though. In the third quarter behind the scoring of Harris, Morrow and Humphries, the Nets put themselves back in position to win the game in the fourth. Outscoring the Cavs 25-17, the Nets entered the final quarter trailing 69-67.
In the fourth quarter the Nets really did a nice job of getting stops and making timely buckets to stay within a basket of Cleveland through most of the quarter. With the Nets winning by a point, 80-79, and just under five minutes remaining in the game, J.J. Hickson of the Cavs had a monster dunk, putting his team back up one. This a time in which I thought the Nets could potentially fold, yet credit to them, from that moment New Jersey outscored the Cavs 15-6 to put an end to their five game losing streak, beating Cleveland 95-87.
Some more thoughts after the jump.
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Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov blogs about his first impressions of the NBA, and NetsDaily kindly provides us with a translation provided by Prokhorov's Onexim. In the post, Prokhorov talks about the Miami Heat situation, and debates what might happen if other "stars" continue to join each other in the NBA:
What's also interesting is how globalization is affecting the NBA, too. I mean the way that two great players, LeBron James and Chris Bosh, joined the Miami Heat to form a Big Three with Dwyane Wade. We clearly see a new model in which the top players agree between themselves where they want to play, and understand full well that their individual statistics will be lower as a result. Almost no one likes this - not the owners, not the managers, not the agents or the fans, although it's not a violation of NBA rules. It will be interesting to see what the upshot of this trend will be.
Keep in mind that it doesn't sound like Prokhorov is necessarily endorsing the "star" model, but it is an observation. I still personally hesitate to call this a real trend as the events of this past summer were a conversion of some extraordinary events that started with Wade, Bosh and LeBron all coming out of the same draft class, then playing together on Team USA, then simultaneously becoming free agents. The Boston model of star power came together in an entirely different fashion - via trade - and I still have doubts if that Boston team wins a championship without Rajon Rondo or Kendrick Perkins, or without the defensive mastery of assistant coach Tom Thibodeau. With that said, we all now have the Carmelo Anthony/Chris Paul situation to keep an eye on and I'm sure while writing this post, that's what's on Mikhail Prokhorov's mind. The NBA's CBA situation also will play a role in this "trend," as while Miami Thrice took pay cuts to join forces, they're still getting paid handsomely and more than what the new CBA will likely allow future players.
Yesterday, Mark did a dissection of the disturbing trend in Brook Lopez's rebounding in his career - he's been trending downwards at grabbing boards since his first year and has taken a particularly precipitous drop in the first seven games of this season. But what's arguably even more disturbing has been his scoring production. Despite scoring nearly the same amount of points per game as last season, Lopez has been one of the most inefficient scorers on the Nets this season and by far the most inefficient of his carer. What's going on with Brook? Let's try to break it down.
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