It was a wild game last night in NYC and while the Nets showed some fight with a furious comeback in the 3rd quarter, they could not make enough plays in the end and fell 117-111 to the Knickerbockers. They've now lost 3 in a row and continue to have trouble putting together a complete game. The problem in China was scoring, when they were held under 90 in both games. Tonight it was clearly the defensive end that was the issue, as they gave up a combined 78 points in the 2nd and 4th quarters, and 117 for the game.
First things first, Joe Smith got the start again at power forward (as was expected), and he promptly took a charge on Amare on the first defensive possession of the game and then followed up an Anthony Morrow miss with a put back. If he can mirror that type of performance all season, he will give the Nets exactly what they envisioned when they acquired him. Brook Lopez looked like his normal self in the early going. He had a real nice running hook in the lane that must have made Knicks fans think of the days of Patrick Ewing, as Brook took at least two or three steps as he was strolling across the lane. After sitting the first 5 minutes, Derrick Favors came into the game, and promptly committed a foul. But on the next possession he showed his athleticism, beating Stoudemire down the floor to catch a sweet fastbreak feed from Devin Harris and slam it home. In the next minute, though, Favors committed two more fouls on Amare and had to come out of the game yet again. I realize this guy is very young and he will be good, but it gets increasingly frustrating to see him have to come out of the game so quickly after getting into foul trouble.
Anthony Morrow is a key piece to this team and his shooting will go a long way towards their offensive efficiency. With Harris' penetration and the production of Brook Lopez, that will certainly garner some double teams, he will get plenty of wide open three's. He got two in the first 7 minutes, and went 1-2. His overall shooting numbers last night were pretty poor at 3 for 10 for just 9 points and he knows he needs to make open shots with Terrence Williams breathing down his neck. Mark my word, if Morrow isn't effective at the shooting guard slot, T-Will is going to be a starter on this team (though I'm not exactly going out on a limb there).
Speaking of new acquisitions, Travis Outlaw and Jordan Farmar were on different ends of the spectrum last night. I'll start with the bad first. Everyone knows the Nets gave Outlaw an overblown contract at 35 mill for 5 years. But he needs to be more effective than he was against the Knicks. In 21 minutes he had just 5 points and took 4 shots. 4 shots?!?!?!? I know he isn't exactly the focal point of the offense but a starting small forward in the NBA needs to take more than 4 shots in a game. So now that we've got that out of the way let's get to Farmar, who was flat out fantastic.
The Knicks seemed to be in full control of this game from the late 2nd quarter to midway through the 3rd. But led by Farmar the Nets staged a furious comeback. He hit 3 three-pointers in the span of 2 minutes and 20 seconds and almost got the team back into the game by himself. His play in the second half was outstanding, and he finished with 21 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists. He will obviously not play 28 minutes a night backing up Devin Harris, but the production the Nets got out of him last night was extremely solid. The one gripe I would have about his game was the number of shots he took. While he was shooting the ball very well, I'm a guy who is in favor of a pass-first point guard, and Farmar did jack up 16 shots.
Two of the main issues for this team have been scoring draughts and defensive lapses; two things that mix together like oil and water. The defensive lapse in this game clearly occurred in the 2nd quarter (although the 4th was a close second) when they gave up 41 points to the Knicks. With Mike D'Antoni's style, the Knicks put up a lot of shots and do score plenty of points, but the Nets should not be giving up that many to any team, let alone one with the Knicks' talent. Although the scoring draught last night wasn't as pronounced as it has been, when you give up 17 points in the last 3 minutes of the first half, you can't only score 2. The Nets were down 48-47 with 3:12 remaining in the 2nd quarter, but managed just a Terrence Williams layup while the Knicks got whatever they wanted and were able to push the lead out to 16 by halftime.
Coming into this game one thing I wanted to keep an eye on was the power forward matchup. While Favors showed some very positive signs, including an absolutely insane dunk, Amare had his way with the Nets trio of power forwards. From the minute the game started he seemed to be forcing the issue and was at the foul line. In the end he put up 39 points (a 2010 NBA-wide preseason high) and was 16-19 from the line. The Nets three power forwards had a combined 18 fouls to work with, and they used up 13 of them. To no one's surprise Mr. Favors fouled out again, though as I said he did do some good things tonight, especially in the Nets comeback in the 3rd.
The 4th quarter of this game was actually quite exciting for a preseason contest. The Nets took a 1-point lead into the final frame and through the first 8 minutes of the quarter, the spread was never more than 3. Yet like some other games in this preseason the Nets were not able to make as many plays down the stretch as their opponent. Down 5 with just under a minute left, the Nets were able to make the game very interesting with a great possession. After Farmar missed a jumper, Lopez got the offensive board, but instead of shooting the elbow jumper, he dumped it down to Kris Humphries who put it in and got fouled. What followed was nearly one of the best plays you will see off a missed free throw as Farmar just missed dunking it home off the miss. He did get the rebound though and put in the layup. The Nets defense was as poor in the last minute as it was all night however, as the Knicks got a Toney Douglas three to go back up by 4.
I talked about turnovers before this game and they continue to be a major issue. The Nets turned the ball over 21 times but the biggest by far was Brook Lopez's awful pass that was intended for Farmar with 30 seconds remaining. Douglas was a pain in the Nets side on defense throughout the game (the guy had 6 steals) and after he showed a quick double team at Lopez on the right elbow, Brook panicked a bit and tried to hit Farmar with a bounce pass towards the corner. But the second-year FSU product made a real nice play and recovered to Farmar to steal the ball, basically sealing the deal.
“He tweaked his ankle a little bit, and I was just asking him if he’s injured of or is it hurting. He said it’s hurting. We talked to (the trainer), I said, okay, strapped up his sneaker a little bit harder,” Johnson said. “I was glad he fought through it - a 19-year-old rookie.”
What Favors did next - on the very next possession, in fact - was an alley-oop jam to highlight a 30-13 run for the Nets to start the second half.
“It’s great to see the bench playing well,’’ said Devin Harris, who sat the final 19:56 because Jordan Farmar went off and scored 21 points in that time. “The guys came and gave us great energy that third quarter. Jordan came in and gave us a tremendous effort. Terrence Williams found himself in the second half. Damion James came in and gave us quality minutes. We had a Derrick Favors sighting.”
Still, it's hard to beat up Farmar too much for his performance last night, and while Favors managed to pick up three fouls in his first two minutes, it was good to see that athleticism people talked so much about it. The biggest problem for this team offensively still seems to be the lack of gel amongst the starting five. I don't know what's going to improve that except time and patience.
Good afternoon Nets Fans! Tonight the team will cross the Hudson River into Manhattan to take on the rival New York Knicks for the first and only time this preseason. After a disappointing trip to the Far East where the Nets dropped both games to the Rockets, they will look to get back on track tonight at MSG. With the presence of new Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, I think this rivalry will have some added juice again, and that could start tonight. The Nets play the Knicks "for real" for the first of four times this season on November 30th.
A few things to keep an eye on tonight:
The Power Forward. With Troy Murphy still sidelined Avery Johnson has clearly been unable to find a reliable starting power forward. He has used Kris Humphries, Derrick Favors and now Joe Smith at the starting "4" slot so far in the preseason. None of them have been productive at all, with Favors and Smith each putting up a bagel in the scoring department in the last game each started. Murphy should begin practicing this weekend but in these final two games I'm sure Avery would like to see some consistency out of the power forward slot.
The Bench Besides T-Will. Terrence Williams was outstanding in China, averaging 18 points and 7 rebounds in over 30 minutes per game. But the rest of the bench was invisible in both games against Houston, scoring just 10 points in the 1st game and a pathetic 4 in the 2nd. The Nets need to see some more productivity out of guys like Farmar, Favors (or whoever is not the starting power forward) and Stephen Graham, in order to take some heat off the starters and not rely on those 5 and T-Will to handle all of the scoring.
Assist-to-Turnover Ratio. Taking care of the ball will be one of the keys for this incredibly young team this season, and they have not done a very good job of it during the preseason. In the first game in China, the Nets only turned the ball over 11 times but had just 11 assists on 81 points scored. Although they upped their assists to 16 in the second game, they also turned the ball over 17 times. Tonight I'll be interested to see if the Nets can keep their turnover numbers down while increasing their assist total.
The Nets seemingly made a few splashes to upgrade their PF depth this off-season, drafting Derrick Favors and trading for Troy Murphy. But with the season starting in about a week, the Nets are thin at the position, with Favors struggling and Murphy still hurting. Al Iannazzone reports that the starting nod could possibly go to 35-year-old journeyman Joe Smith:
"It’s a big question mark for us right now," Johnson said after Monday’s practice. "We’re trying to evaluate. We’ve given a few guys a chance to start. It’s going to be a revolving situation until Troy gets back."
Fortunately, the Nets received some good news yesterday and said that Murphy was making progress with his back strain, though his status for next week's opener is still in doubt:
New Jersey Nets forward Troy Murphy has made considerable progress following treatment for a low back strain/inflammation, but will not play in either of the Nets two preseason games this week against New York and Boston. Murphy is expected to resume practice with the team this weekend.
The PF position has been a place of weakness of the Nets for years now, and I was really counting on seeing that trend come to an end this season. While I still have confidence in Favors, the key is Murphy, who was going to bring a veteran stability (not to mention three-point shooting and rebounding) to the floor. I think the Nets will also look a lot less lost on offense once Murphy is back and playing his game.
There are plenty of new things about the New Jersey Nets this season. They will begin their first regular season at the Prudential Center in Newark at the end of this month, playing under new owner Mikhail Prokhorov, with a host of new players on the roster. But my question will be the same as it has been over the past decade: Will anyone actually show up for Nets home games?
Let me give you a little bit of background before you continue reading. I was lucky enough to have season tickets for about 10 years from the late 1990s through the mid-2000s. I went to anywhere from 15-30 (depending on Playoff runs) games with my father each season, and to say we were diehards would be an understatement. There were some great games (2003 Eastern Conference Finals Game 4) and some tough ones (2004 Eastern Conference Semis Game 6) but I always found myself asking the same question when attending these games: Where are all the fans? Sure the place would be full in the regular season against teams like the Knicks and Lakers, but often times the fans of those teams would be louder than the Nets fans. The Playoffs were different of course, and that concrete dungeon in the Meadowlands was actually rocking at times. But I remember Game 1 of the First Round in 2002, when it wasn't even a sellout. This was the first playoff game for the top seed in the East, a very exciting team that had a great season led by Jason Kidd. It was arguably the highest point the New Jersey Nets franchise had ever reached (before the run to the Finals) and Continental Airlines Arena (at the time) was still 1,500 fans short of a sellout. As a fan I wanted to see the Nets win and play well, but I also wanted to see others around New Jersey get excited about the team and support them as I did.
Al Iannazzone gives a great breakdown of the Nets Chinese trip and notes while the team may talk of a great experience at practice today, there are scores of questions on the basketball side. Outside of Brook Lopez and Devin Harris, no one seems to know what the identity of this team is, and Iannazzone is spot on about Terrence Williams in his column:
The problem is that, aside from Terrence Williams, most of the other players are shooters. Also a problem is that Williams, who isn’t a shooter, tried to be one in China. He took eight more shots than Lopez and 18 more than Harris. That’s far too many for Williams, a spectacular athlete who is at his best setting up his teammates or getting to the basket. Williams didn’t do that enough in China, but scored 36 points, second most on the trip behind Lopez’s 42. Teams are going to let Williams shoot jumpers all he wants. It’s not a good thing for the Nets if he’s a volume shooter, as it's not his strength.
It's a delicate balance with TWill and I think he's on the wrong side of things right now. But he's also one of the few players on this team who seems capable of making his own shot.
Should all of this come together in a few years, the Nets would have pulled off something no other N.B.A. team could boast: transforming a downtrodden franchise into something akin to the Manchester United of global basketball. If not, they will still be the Nets, the team that went 12-70 last season and holds the record for the longest opening-season losing streak in N.B.A. history.
(Nets CEO Brett) Yormark earnestly insists that those Nets no longer exist, and that the building blocks for a renaissance are in place.
In typical Yormark fashion, he was slinging superlatives with the Times:
“I’ve been in the business now for 20-plus years,” Yormark said, “and I don’t think there’s a franchise in any sport right now that has the type of clarity and ‘runway,’ as I call it, over the course of the next couple of years, as we do.”
What Yormark and the Nets are attempting to do is quite fascinating - though I imagine it views better as a social experiment to outsiders than it does to fans of the New Jersey Nets. For full disclosure, I don't fell alienated by this, as I've lived in New York my entire life and currently live a few subway stops away from the site of their new arena. So I feel like I'm a rarity in that I still hold dear the past of this franchise in New Jersey, but I'm also part of Yormark's target audience as someone who can physically be part of something "new" in Brooklyn. But again, I acknowledge that not all fans feel this way, and when the CEO of the team goes around essentially saying everything we know about this team's past is dead - well, I can' imagine that sitting well for those out there who have stood by this franchise through thick and thin.
Although the Nets showed some very solid signs of life in spurts in this game, the final score reflected the same result as it did on Wednesday; that over the course of 48 minutes, the Rockets are ten points per game better than the Nets are.
For what it's worth, the Nets instantly looked stronger at the beginning of the game then they did on Wednesday. Maybe it was adjusting to the time difference, maybe it was just a few more days together, maybe it was skipping the shootaround to start. But the Nets started the game 6-6, and every shot was well created - three shots from Brook inside, two jumpers from Outlaw, and a Harris slash to the basket that looked like it came two seasons ago. They also simply looked more active - Joe Smith, in his first preseason start this year, looked like he'd turned back the clock defensively - moving around quickly and on one occasion blocking a shot with serious force. Devin was diving for loose balls, Terrence Williams was locking down on defense, and while the Rockets still had a very crisp offense the Nets did not look nearly as overmatched as they did early last game.
Well, until after that sixth shot. After starting the game 6-6, the Nets suddenly fell apart, hitting only one of their next 14 shots. Some of that was bad luck, some of it was bad execution, but one thing is for sure: it was bad. The main culprit? Terrence Williams.
It's clear that Terrence has carried over some of the issues that he had last season. Don't get me wrong, he's still chock-full of the positives that make him an exciting player - bouncing around all over the floor, showing off his elite athleticism and throwing laser-beam passes. His weaknesses, though, are still prominent: he was forcing contested shots and rushing through the offense. After Avery's first timeout, he seemed to get the message, stepping back to distribute and run through the offense, but that didn't last too long. He hit a wide-open three off a Farmar slash-and-kick early, and his form looks as good as ever, but Avery will need to work with him on his poor selection this season for him to really have a net positive scoring impact. I hope this is just preseason experimentation, because you can't justify some of the shots he was taking. With his court vision and passing ability, it's downright criminal.
To put it in numerical terms: In his first 12 minutes, T-Will took 13 shots, most of them self-called isolations. The rest of the Nets up to that point had combined for 14. He finished the game with 16 points on 7-18 shooting. God, he sure can dunk though; one a slam in transition and one Harris alley-oop that he caught high above the rim.
The Nets also showed some signs of laziness defensively. Much of their "activity" was at the end of plays, after the Rockets had run their plays, confused the Nets perimeter defenders, and gotten open looks. The perimeter defense was particularly bad; guards seemingly had no interest in running through screens and instead settled for letting the big men deal with their laziness. Good defense stops good offense at the source, not the end result, and while the blocked shots early were great they shouldn't all be help-side. One particularly egregious play found Brook Lopez and Joe Smith clobbering Kyle Lowry, who'd gotten a wide open lane to the basket without really doing anything to get it.
Another place the Nets consistently struggled was in transition. The Nets were consistently beaten out on the break, allowing easy layups & dunks throughout the game. While I don't have a record of the fast break points, it's surely a huge difference. It's clear the Nets have a lot of work to do defensively before they become effective on that side of the floor.
If Avery wanted offense from the power forward position, he's got to be upset after this game. The three true power forwards on this team: Joe Smith, Derrick Favors, and Kris Humphries - combined for a rock-solid zero points, missing four shots from the field in 31 minutes of play. I appreciate Joe Smith's energy and veteran leadership as much as anyone, but he is assuredly not an offensive weapon. It's becoming more and more evident that Troy Murphy's injury is going to hurt a lot to start the season. But hey, anything's better than Yi again, right?
I'm of the opinion that when run correctly, the pick-and-roll is probably the best play in the NBA. When two guys are really zoned in together offensively, it's unstoppable. One thing that's clear early is that Avery Johnson wants the Nets to run it - running with Favors & T-Will three times in the first quarter - but it never worked; twice Terrence made a poor decision (jacking a contested shot or just dribbling away frivolously) and once Derrick missed a layup. I really hope they keep working on it, because those are two absolutely ideal guys to run the pick & roll - two ridiculous athletes at their positions who can dominate when given the right look.
I think playing a team like the Rockets these past two games has been a good contrast. You could argue that the Nets have the more rawly talented players, but the Rockets run their system much more effectively - as they always do. The Nets turned the ball over 17 times and appeared to have no true game plan offensively other than "Give it to Brook/Devin/Terrence and get the hell out of his way." If this is what It's All New is supposed to be, I've certainly got some concerns.
Overall, the Nets looked just a little off all game. The offense wasn't perfect, the defense had lapses, but every now and then they gave us a glimpse of just how good they can really be. Devin slashing to the basket for a layup. Brook lofting the ball over Yao & Brad Miller for two. Morrow hitting jumper after jumper. T-Will destroying the rim with no regard for anyone or anything. Outlaw spacing the floor and knocking down jumpers with a man in his face. It's a good thing that we're in preseason, because right now the Nets are at a good starting point - one they can hopefully leapfrog off when the season kicks off in eleven days.