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After last night, I refuse to believe the 2009-10 New Jersey Nets are the worst team in NBA history. Their final record may very well suggest otherwise and the schedule-makers certainly haven't done them any favors as 12 of their final 17 games are against teams in the thick of their respective playoff races. But the Nets should be better than a 7-win team right now. Forget should. The Nets are better than a 7-win team right now.
If you want physical proof of why I believe this, look no further than the first quarter between the Nets and Dallas Mavericks last night. Yeah, you could say that the Mavs were caught napping and were taking the Nets lightly, and went on to eventually take care of business in their 96-87 victory, but the worst team in basketball history doesn't come out on the road against a team that has just won 12 straight games, and knock them silly en route to a 33-19 first quarter. The Mavs missed some open shots in the period, but the Nets also took it to them, by being aggressive in the pain. During a two minute stretch where the Nets grew their lead from 9-1 to 17-3, Jersey made five consecutive field goals off layups and dunks.
Granted, NBA games are 48 minutes long, and no championship has ever been crowned after just one quarter of play. In the second and third quarters, the Mavericks demonstrated why their currently the second-best team in the Western Conference (pushing the draft pick of theirs we own, further back in the first round). Dallas tightened their interior D, took Brook Lopez completely out of the game (all 10 of his points were in the first quarter), and they methodically picked the Nets apart over the game's next 24 minutes, culminating with an atrocious third quarter where the Nets shot 19 percent and were outscored 31-15. Brook Lopez epitomized the Nets frustration, when on the final play of the quarter, who caught a pass on a pick-and-roll and proceeded to get stuffed by the rim and turning the ball over. He then, stupidly, grabbed Erick Dampier to pick up his fifth foul, taking Lopez out of the game until there was about two minutes left in the fourth quarter. Lopez was so bad after the first quarter, it was the first time I believe this season where I wasn't screaming at the television for the Nets to feed him the ball more down the stretch.
But even with the second and third quarter performance, the Nets showed me something tonight. Earlier in this season, when I honestly though the Nets were the worst team in NBA history (think back to those back-to-back road thrashings by Golden State and Utah and tell me you'd disagree), the Nets would have turned off the switch for good after that third quarter, maybe make a small run with about 5-6 minutes left to cut the Dallas lead to single-digits, before totally disappearing into the night and losing by 15 or 20 points. But the Nets hung in there, starting with Jarvis Hayes, who drilled a long two and two threes to open up the scoring for the Nets. Terrence Williams (18 points, 13 rebounds) came up huge, early and late in the fourth, as the Nets closed with two points. t the 6:20 mark in the fourth, TWill outleaped Shawn Marion to grab an offensive rebound. A few minutes later, a layup where Williams dribbled behind his back to get into the paint, cut the Dallas lead to 90-87.
The Nets were even playing better defense. Kris Humphries and Josh Boone both played a solid game defensive on Dirk Nowitzki, who had so many of his shots challenged early, that even when he started getting open looks down the stretch, he missed, en route to a 3-16 night. But two plays stand out to me for the Nets defensively. At the 5:16 mark and Caron Butler looking to take over for Dallas, Butler was trying to back down TWill in the post. After making a spin move to get around him, he was met by Kris Humprhies who disrupted the shot, causing Butler to miss the layup. About two minutes later, Jarvis Hayes was actually playing suffocating man defense on Dirk, who was trying to get space for his historically automatic elbow jumper. As Jarvis kept his body on Dirk, not allowing him his customary push off for the jumper, Courtney Lee blindsided Nowitzki and stole the ball, leading to a fast break. But a three pointer by old friend Jason Kidd, his fifth of the game, put Dallas up by 5, where they never looked back.
So you tell me: can the worst team in basketball honestly be expected to accomplish all this in a given night? After being legitimately angry with this team and organization for the better part of the last four months, I can honestly say I now sympathize with these guys. Between the young talent of guys like Lopez, Harris, Williams and Lee, and some veteran good-guys like Keyon Dooling, Hayes and Hassell, these Nets need to find a way to get out of this discussion as being among the worst ever, because they just don't belong there.
A few more thoughts after the jump:
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