Headed into the game last night with the undefeated Denver Nuggets coming into town, you just had to have a sinking feeling in your stomach about the Nets chances to pull out their first win of the season. Between the onslaught of injuries and just the overall poor fundamental play that has plagued the team in the season's first four games, the Nets reminded me of a TV actor embroiled in a contract dispute with the producers headed into the season finale. As a viewer, you're watching the show and waiting to see if the writers bump the character off, or keep them hanging around in some kind of open-ended way that suggests there could be a resolution over the summer if cooler heads prevailed.
The Nets last night made it through the first half of the show unscathed, and even looked like they could end the program conclusively on the winning side before getting smashed in a car wreck, thrown off a bridge, dropped into a burning building and shot 30 times by the explosive Nuggets offense. By the time the fourth quarter had started, with the Nuggets up by 17, it was pretty clear to me that the producers had made their decision about the Nets' fate.
This is going to be a recurring theme with the Nets this season. They are yet to put four consistent quarters of play together. Maybe if they had, they wouldn't be winless and off to one of their worst starts in franchise history. While the abomination known as Monday night's third quarter against the Bobcats showcased how completely clueless the Nets could look on offense for long stretches, last night's third quarter showcased their porous defense. With Carmelo Anthony struggling throughout most of the first half, it was clearly inevitable that he was going to hit his shots eventually. Meanwhile, the Nuggets were able ride Nene on the inside and Ty Lawson created havoc pretty much everywhere else. The Nuggets scored 44 points in that quarter and never looked back.
There was a certain chippiness in the air earlier in the game, as perhaps the Nuggets were still smarting from the 44-point thrashing they received from the Nets last season in New Jersey. There were a bunch of hard fouls on both sides, and also a lot of no-calls (or missed calls) from the referees that created a more physical game that for moment, looked like it could favor the Nets.
Pushed into an expanded role because of Yi's injury, Eduardo Najera resembled the high energy player that got himself a 4-year contract last summer. He crashed the boards, and worked for inside shots instead of settling for the three. Josh Boone came off the bench and exhibited a similar high-energy, finishing with 11 points and 8 rebounds. Both power guys harassed the Nuggets wings on the inside, disrupting a number of shots in the early-going. Compare that to the other member of the "power" rotation, Bobby Simmons, who just continues to waltz onto the floor and shoot, and shoot, and shoot, and miss, and miss, and miss.
But the game eventually turned into the Nuggets style. The Nuggets who owned the biggest point-differential headed into action last night were able to run the Nets off the floor. Now we must wait until Friday to see if the Nets can get off this monkey off their backs, which is going to get exponentially heavier after every loss. Looking at the schedule, you wonder how bad can it get? 0-10? 0-14? A winless November? Don't look now but the Nets are less than three weeks away from a four-game set on the west coast and play five of their next eight games against playoff teams. This may not be rock bottom.
1st Quarter, 7:43: After hitting a three, Chris Douglas-Roberts makes up for the defensive lapse by the rest of his team by chasing Carmelo Anthony back to the other end of the court. Chauncey Billups lobs the balls nearly three-quarters of the court to Anthony, who's ahead of all five Nets at this point, but CDR's hustle back puts him in position to block 'Melo's shot under the basket. CDR has been talking a lot about being tough and hating to lose, and plays like this demonstrate that tenacity.
3rd Quarter, 9:13: Another heads-up play by CDR. During this offensive set, he actually loses his handle on the ball and Billups tries to save it before it goes out-of-bounds and it winds up back to CDR with the shot clock winding down. Rather than rushing the jumper, CDR makes the extra pass to Najera, who was wide open under the basket and made the easy two.
Fourth Quarter, 10:42: A plotline to keep an eye on all season is how Brook Lopez handles getting double-teamed in the post. So far, he's not been successful. Case in point, Brook gets the ball in the low post and is being guarded by Nene. What Lopez fails to see is Arron Affalo cheating over to double. Lopez is so consumed by Nene that Affalo is able to literally grab the ball out of Lopez's hands for the steal and turnover. He was never in Lopez's periphery.
- So when did Kenyon Martin start hitting his jump shots?
- The Nuggets have themselves a nice little PG of the future in Ty Lawson if tonight was any indication. Between his speed with the ball, and those pretty little tear drop shots he was making, he reminded me a lot of Tony Parker.
- Regardless of what the "match-up" looks like in Lawrence Frank's mind, Eduardo Najera played more than well enough to earn himself another start.
- Bobby Simmons could be on his way to one of the worst statistical seasons since the institution of the shot clock.
- Speaking of terrible shooters, Rafer Alston and Courtney Lee need to find their jump shots.
- When the YES production crew pans to an overhead shot of an empty Izod Center in the fourth quarter, it's just embarrassing.
- Despite getting blown out in the fourth quarter, Terrence Williams got back on a 3-on-1 situation on defense and disrupted Anthony Carter's lay-up attempt, causing him to miss.
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