No one said it better than John Schuhmann: tonight's Game 7 is a "referendum" on all things Brooklyn and all things Nets. In their first playoff series in the borough, the Nets have a chance to win a Game 7 at home for the first time in Brooklyn history -- and that includes the Dodgers.
In honor of Game 7, here's seven things I'm keeping a close eye on heading into tonight.
Deron Williams signed with the Brooklyn Nets in July knowing that this was coming: perhaps not a Game 6, but an opportunity to lead the Brooklyn Nets past the first round of the playoffs in their inaugural season in Brooklyn and for the first time since the 2006-07 season. Williams has had a sometimes-scintillating, sometimes-quiet first round: Williams has had two excellent games (1 and 4), three solid games (3, 5, 6), and one awful shooting night (1-9 in Game 2) in this series. He's had a game-defining dunk and disappeared for the better part of an entire half. Williams's performance in Game 7 could be a career-defining moment.
The two-man tandemAndray Blatche and Brook Lopez played 13 minutes together in Game 6 after playing 16 minutes together in three games all series. It was their worst tandem performance of the series -- the team only shot 5-17 with the two on the floor -- but they still outscored the Bulls 24-21. In 49 minutes this series (or basically one full game), the Nets have outscored Chicago 115-74 when Blatche-Lopez share the floor, and have been outscored 509-488 when they don't. The Bulls will play shorthanded again tonight, and Joakim Noah has played 176 playoff minutes on one plantar-fasciitis-plagued foot. P.J. Carlesimo may not alter his starting lineup -- and in a game like this, I don't blame him -- but if there is any time for these two to get as many minutes as possible to pound a weakened Chicago frontline into submission, it's tonight.
The big man
Key to that two-man tandem is Brook Lopez, the team's steadiest contributor all season. He hasn't skipped a beat in the playoffs, scoring 20 points in each of his first five playoff games before a 17-point performance in Game 6. Offensively, Lopez hasn't done anything special or different in these six playoff games: he's finding open space in the paint, backing down Noah in the post (though Nets interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo called curiously fewer post-ups for Lopez in Game 6), and supplementing easy points near the rim and put-backs with his 18-foot jumper. Lopez's defense has been surprising this series: while he's still struggled to defend pick-and-rolls, Lopez has keyed in more defending the paint, and the numbers reflect it: the Bulls shoot 48.2% in the paint with Lopez in the game, compared to 58.7% with him on the bench, and Lopez has had multiple blocks in five of six playoff games (including a seven-block explosion in Game 3).
One indictment of Lopez's defense: through six games, Joakim Noah leads the playoffs with 24 offensive rebounds on one foot. He's taken advantage of weak team defense to slip to the rim for easy points. He's without a doubt been limited -- he's shooting just 38% from the field in the playoffs -- but Noah's been a key cog in non-scoring offense for Chicago.
The Nets need Lopez to do what he's always done, plus just a bit more, to ensure sealing the deal tonight.
Nets starting small forward Gerald Wallace, in the midst of one of the worst shooting seasons of his career, told the New York Post on April 8, "My confidence is totally gone."
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Some pointed to the lack of production and inability to space the floor from forwards Gerald Wallace and Reggie Evans. At SBNation, Mike Prada delves into these spacing issues with a thorough piece on how much the Bulls have been sagging off of Evans and Wallace in order to double, sometimes triple team the likes of Joe Johnson, Deron Williams and Brook Lopez. In conclusion, Prada says:
But something has to change if the Nets are to come back in this series. Carlesimo may be reluctant to give up size on the defensive end, but his offense is in such bad shape that the tradeoff is necessary. If I were Carlesimo, I wouldn't play Evans and Wallace together for another minute this series.
PJ doesn't necessarily need to change his starting lineup, but he also doesn't need to play Wallace & Evans together for the entire quarter.
— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) April 26, 2013
This has not been a good half for PJ Carlesimo.
— Stefan Bondy (@NYDNInterNets) April 26, 2013
Evans & Wallace have played 25 minutes together. Unbelievable.
— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) April 26, 2013
P.J. is saving Brooks for his successor....
— Peter Vecsey (@PeterVecsey1) April 26, 2013
Everything that scared me about the Bulls is coming true…led by them having a big coaching edge
— Evan Roberts (@JoeandEvan) April 26, 2013
You get the point. Schumann also offered a stat that will assuredly leave most Nets fans shaking their heads: in the last two games, Brooklyn is a -26 in 42 minutes with both Wallace and Evans on the court together and a +15 in the other 54 minutes with them off.
So how does P.J. Carlesimo respond? He had this to say:
“Thoughts about it (changing the starting lineup)? Yeah.... But we’re not going to change the starting lineup. If we’re struggling offensively then we need to address that. If changing the lineup or changing who we put on the floor helps us to score points then we’re going to have to do that.... It’s a tough balance because some of the problems we have is not because those guys (Gerald Wallace and Reggie Evans) are not scoring. If we do some of the things that we normally do – if we make some threes, if we finish in the paint, then we’re okay and we can take advantage of other guys skill sets.
Not long after, Gerald Wallace sounded off about his role (or lack thereof) on this Nets team:
“I don’t know. I couldn’t tell you my role now,” Wallace said Friday at the team’s hotel in Chicago. “I don’t have a clue what my role is on this team.”
How did Carlesimo respond to that?
“I think we’re going through a tough time right now and that’s what playoffs are all about,” Carlesimo said. “We’re all frustrated. And we have to -– I have to -– do a better job of constantly defining roles and redefining roles so we perform the way we’re capable of performing.”
Wallace isn't alone in expressing disappointment with his role. Rookie point guard Tyshawn Taylor says he's been upset that he hasn't gotten a chance to perform this season on a consistent basis and that there's a chance he may need to go to a different team in order to play. We would tell you to check out the full interview somewhere, but unfortunately it appears as though the video has been taken down for reasons unknown. Luckily though, Netsdaily has transcribed much of the content here.
On top of all of this, Nets swingman MarShon Brooks sounded off on his role as well:
"It seems like I'm the last resort, honestly.... If things aren't going well for the team, throw MarShon out there. That's been the rhythm all year. I kind of know when my name is going to be called, in a sense."
Brooklyn Nets forward Gerald Wallace, he of the 1.8 points per game average in April, threw down dunks on back-to-back plays in the first quarter of the team's final regular season game against the Detroit Pistons: the first an alley-oop off a Deron Williams lob, and the second he created himself.
SLAM Online's Adam Figman sat down with Brooklyn Nets forward Gerald Wallace and talked to him about all sorts of things, including his hometown Childesburg ("It’s mostly family-oriented. Everyone knows everyone"), his relationship with New York City ("I don’t go into the city, period"), his life after basketball ("I really don’t think about it"), and the basketball league he's starting with his friends this summer:
I’ve got a lot of friends that want to play that are over 30, so we’re gonna start a league with them, just [to] have something to do. It’ll be fun to play with some of the older guys. A lot of my guys are starting to get big bellies, so I told them we gotta get back out there this summer.
SLAM: You just turned 30 last July. Pretty convenient timing.
GW: [Laughs] It is. Right on time.
Given the way Wallace has shot after the All-Star break, his merits as an NBA-level shooter are dubious at best. But against his 30-plus friends with pot bellies? Unless Wallace's friends are transplanted from the Space Jam universe, he's going to spend his weekends this summer destroying his friends in the sport he plays professionally. Even if his friends are all retired NBA players, Wallace is still an athletic marvel that competes against the best athletes in the world.
This is a league I want to see immediately. (Just please stay healthy.)
Full interview below.
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It isn't NBA awards season yet, but the Nets are already accumulating accolades. In honor of the NBA's new anti-flopping policy instituted last October, SI's Ben Golliver handed out his "flopping centric year-end awards," or "Floppies." As a team, the Brooklyn Nets won "Floppers of the Year."
Here's what he had to say:... MORE →
"Gerald's gotta play," Carlesimo stressed.
Following Sunday's loss to the Toronto Raptors, the Brooklyn Nets locked themselves into the fourth seed of the playoffs, and Carlesimo made it clear that he was going to "get guys some rest."
He did just that, sitting two bench players and four starters, but surprisingly left forward Gerald Wallace, who'd sat with injuries Sunday, in the starting lineup. Playing with the bench, Wallace shot 1-3 in 22 minutes, missing all three of his free throws. Carlesimo was happy with the performance.
"I thought he looked good. He's upset with Timmy and I that he didn't play more. But the whole point was to get him out and get a little cardio work and make sure that his foot was all right. Hopefully if he comes out of it well tomorrow, we can play him some more minutes on Wednesday. I think it's exactly what Timmy wanted, and we were pleased."
Wallace expressed last week that his confidence was "totally gone," and that he was afraid to shoot for fear that his missed shots would cause him to lose playing time. Carlesimo addressed that directly.
"I don't count how many times he shoots," Carlesimo added. "I feel he's gonna come out of it. He's shot it too well, he's scored too much throughout his career, that he'll be fine. I just think that the combination of the injuries and the way he's been struggling. But he's gonna play. He's gonna play minutes, for sure."
In 25 games since the All-Star break, Wallace has shot just 33% from the field on 6.4 field goal attempts per game, a punitive 13.7% from three-point range, and 60.8% from the line -- all well below his career averages. He's shot over 50% in a game just once since February 8th and played 31 minutes against the Charlotte Bobcats on April 6th without registering a field goal.
Brooklyn Nets forward Gerald Wallace hasn't had the best couple months offensively. His shooting percentages after the All-Star break are paltry -- 33% from the field, 14% from beyond the arc -- and it's led to Wallace shutting down his own offense. He's attempted just five shots over 72 minutes in his last three games, and freely admitted earlier this week that his confidence is "totally gone."
What can be done to help Gerald Wallace regain his confidence? We took a look at his shot and spoke with a sports psychologist to help find some answers.... MORE →
“My confidence is totally gone,” Wallace said in his interview with the Post, posted this morning. “I’m just at the point now ... I’m in a situation where I feel like if I miss, I’m going to get pulled out of the game, you know what I’m saying? So my whole concept is just that you can’t come out of the game if you’re not missing shots.
“I think I lost the confidence of the coaching staff and my teammates. So my main thing is those guys can score, so instead of thinking about it so much, just trying to focus on defense, try to move the ball and get those guys shots.”
Looking at Wallace's shot chart on the season, it's not hard to see how he may have lost his confidence:... MORE →