Since the calendar turned to February, the Nets have done a solid job of keeping games close and competitive. It hasn't exactly translated to any wins, but at least the effort was seemingly there, providing a glimmer of hope that if some things bounced right for them, they might be able to pull a few "W's" out and avoid becoming the worst team in NBA history.
Last night was following a similar script until about the 3:30 mark in the third quarter, when an innocent enough substitution by Kiki Vandeweghe turned the game on its ear, resulting in a in 97-77 blowout loss for the Nets against the Milwaukee Bucks, mercifully ending New Jersey's first half with a 4-48 record headed into a much-needed all-star break.
Kiki subbed in Chris Quin for Devin Harris with the Nets down 60-59 in a back-and-forth game with the Bucks. Harris was in the middle of probably his best game of the season, finishing with 27 points and 9 assists, but after missing Tuesday's game due to injury, it's understandable that Kiki needed to sit Devo for at least some portion of the second half. The problem was, the rest of the Nets looked like they had had enough by that point, and packed it in, getting outscored 37-18 the rest of the way, including a fourth quarter where the Bucks started the period 8-10 from the field. It was the usual array of Nets problems that were most evident during their embarrassing west coast swing in January, that reared their ugly head again. Poor rotations and help defense allowing easy buckets on the interior (the Bucks outscored the Nets 48-26 in the paint for the entire game), along with just awful, awful shot selection from the Nets down the stretch.
Note that the two shots taken at the rim (a make by Kris Humphries with 23 seconds left and a miss by Chris Douglas-Roberts with 1:53 left) didn't come until the game's final two minutes. Outside of those two shots, the next closest attempt was a missed 6-footer by Kris Humphries. Every other shot attempt by the Nets in the fourth was from 10-feet out or more, including a mind-numbering 12 attempts from beyond 15-feet. The emotional side of me just wants to jump to the conclusion that these guys were going through the motions, but I guess that's a little irrational of me to think a 48-loss team headed into the all-star break with their head coaching situation in potential flux for the second time this season would phone in the last 15 minutes of a basketball game being played in front of 1,100 people during a blizzard.
A few more thoughts after the jump.
- I know I've been hard on Chris Douglas-Roberts this season, but the reason I supported his move to the bench was because I thought he would provide a spark for the second unit and ultimately help the team win. I am absolutely mortified by how Kiki Vandeweghe is using him. His DNP-CD Tuesday night could at least be justified by the fact that Jarvis Hayes and Courtney Lee were shooting lights out for most of the game, but how did he not see any meaningful PT last night? With the Nets struggling for buckets at the end of the third quarter, Kiki opted to go with Trenton Hassell instead, not exactly a guy known for his offense, and Tennessee did nothing but continue the offensive nosedive. What I found most insulting was how Kiki finally called on CDR to play the game's final three minutes in garbage time. Unless we read from one of the beat writers tomorrow that CDR missed his bus or threw a snowball at Bruce Ratner before the game yesterday, I just don't understand how a guy could go from 15-point scorer in the starting lineup, to the 12th man treatment, in the span of a few weeks. I have come to believe that there is absolutely more going on here, and I think it goes beyond whatever stilly stuff Douglas-Roberts is putting on his Twitter account. CDR gave Julian Garcia of the Daily News a very curious quote after Tuesday's game - telling the beat writer when pressed about his PT situation that he and Rod Thorn were "fine." No mention of Kiki. The conspiracy theorist in me wonders if there are any dots worth connecting in all this, especially since Thorn is now reportedly investigating Kiki about making a "deal" with Del Harris to become head coach behind the team President's back - an under the table deal that could get Kiki the axe.
- I think it's getting safer to say that Devin Harris is "back." He's now averaging 20 points and 8 assists in his last four games, including 27 free throw attempts (22 makes) on 61 field goal attempts. So he's shooting well, passing the ball and getting to the foul line and a highly proficient rate, all of the things he did well last year in his breakout season.
- I was really impressed with Courtney Lee's defense on Brandon Jennings in the first half. Lee was able to stay in front of the quicker Jennings most of the times the two were matched-up, and didn't take the bait on any of the rookie's pump fakes. Jennings was held to 7 points in 20 minutes. The problem was, Jennings' replacement, Luke Ridnour, killed the Nets again with 17 points and 8 assists off the bench.
- Speaking of the bench, it was a major liability for the Nets again. Barely a week after I wrote a post praising the newfound depth on the bench, these guys have really disappointed. Kris Humphries is resembling the shoot-first ask questions later guy who couldn't get off the bench in his previous stops in the league and Terrence Williams had an assist and a steal in 13 minutes, but not much else. As I mentioned earlier, the offense completely stalled and died once Chris Quinn was subbed in during the third quarter, and the only reason he was playing was because Keyon Dooling injured himself again. The luster of Trenton Hassell from November has long worn off, and Tony Battie should not be getting playing time in this league period. Unless he's hurt, I don't see what Battie brings to the table that Josh Boone can't bring you, and trust me, I'm not a Josh Boone fan.
- At the very least, I can credit the Nets organization for going the extra mile for the fans tonight. Because of the awful weather, they offered fans who had tickets to last night's game additional tickets to one of two games later this month. They also invited all fans who showed up at the Izod Cetner to move down to courtside. the emptiness of the arena, gave the game a high school basketball field, and I was able to hear some crowd noise quite clearly - including some chants about a certain GM turned head coach doing something that rhymes with the word "ducks."