Roughly an hour after the official end of practice, Kris Humphries walked into the back door of the Nets' practice facility, dripping with sweat and out of breath. Shawne Williams, shooting just 26% on three-pointers this year, had just left the court. He'd been working with Doug Overton on shooting drills well after practice ended, mostly from the corner spots his efficiency loves so much.
Before the physical drills, the Nets spent the morning looking at film of last night's 108-87 loss to the Chicago Bulls. Every player had been called out in what Avery Johnson called "an open conversation" for some indiscretion: Johan Petro passing up on an easy layup, the team's overall concepts when opposing defenses trap Deron Williams, where to be on the weak side and defending in one-down situations, things Humphries called "a lot of basic, basic, basic principles and reads." The message was clear -- the Nets can't play that badly, ever.
"Basketball's not that difficult," Humphries noted. "It's an offensive game… the NBA wants us to score a lot of points.
"Good offense beats good defense, that's the way it goes. … Our offense feeds our defense, (but) we should be able to play defense regardless of the outcome."
The Nets rank 15th in the NBA in offensive rating, with 103.9 points per 100 possessions, and dead last defensively, allowing 111.9 points per 100. They're almost three points worse than their closest competitor, Charlotte.
The Nets are down three starters -- arguably four -- and two backups, but Humphries brushed off concerns that injuries are the problem, citing approach. "I got my opportunity in the NBA when someone was hurt, and came in and played hard. Me personally, every night I go out there and feel like I'm auditioning for my job. You play like you're trying to earn your spot every night."
Without Brook Lopez and Mehmet Okur, Avery Johnson's been forced into using a lot of small-ball lineups. They normally entail two point guards (some combination of Deron Williams, Jordan Farmar, and Sundiata Gaines), one wing player, Shawne Williams at the 4, and either Shelden or Kris Humphries playing center. But it hasn't worked the way the team envisioned.
"We should be getting buckets in transition, getting out and running, switching, cause havoc on the perimeter," Humphries said. "But we haven't done a great job as players recognizing the strengths of what units we have in."
The Nets rank in the middle-of-the-pack in causing turnovers, mostly thanks to Sundiata Gaines, averaging a far-and-away team-leading 2.6 steals per 36 minutes. Gaines's frantic play and tendency to play the passing lanes allow him many opportunities for theft, and his energy translates to solid individual defensive numbers. But that same frantic play also leaves him often out of rotation, causing team-wide defensive issues.
As for running, the Nets are second-to-last in transition points per game, scoring just 8.1 points per game in the fast break, and rank 21st in the NBA in transition efficiency. They've made just 25 of 78 three-pointers on the break and shoot barely 50% from the field in what's normally a high-octane, easy-bucket opportunity. Just look at the flip side: the Nets are dead last in defensive efficiency in transition, allowing 17 fast-break points per game and over 65% shooting. Opponents have made 21 of 46 three-pointers on the break against New Jersey, even while often running quicker, smaller lineups.
Humphries also brushed aside the idea that he and Shelden Williams -- who have had issues with bigger, longer players like Nikola Pekovic and Tyson Chandler in recent weeks -- can't handle the interior load. "I'll take my chances up against any guy under the basket. Put me in there with anybody."
The Nets have allowed 42 baskets at the rim in the past two games, including an ugly 25-33 showing against New York on Saturday.
Humphries was also unhappy about how the Nets' poor performance allowed Nets fans to cheer so raucously when a certain ex-Net entered the game late in the fourth quarter.
"I know Scalabrine played here and they went to the finals, but the fans should be cheering for us, not an ex-Nets player that's coming in," Humphries said. "We gotta do better."
The raucous Scal cheers make my skin crawl, personally, no matter what arena it's in; I imagine it can't feel good when the opposing last man off the bench gets by far the loudest cheers of the night, no matter who he is.
The Nets have a chance at "better" coming up -- they play Detroit tomorrow night and Friday, the same Detroit they beat last week with just eight players suited up.