BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Following Monday night’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Brooklyn Nets engaged in some roster-wide “reflection,” reflection that kept roughly 40 media members out of the locker room, pushed back into a far-off hallway, well out of earshot. Whatever words were tossed around the lockers, it was clear the team didn’t want anyone to hear.
After reporters were allowed in, some 30 minutes later, we were introduced to a room filled with… us. The Nets had evacuated the premises, with some lingerers in the showers. A room filled with people felt wholly empty, replete with audio recorders and cell phones and people waiting to listen, not speak, with no one to listen to. Low whispers bounced off the walls about a myriad of topics, nearly none of those whispers by Nets players.
If that sounds like the remnants a closed-door team meeting, well, it probably was. But the players don’t want you to think that.
“No meeting at all,” Jason Terry squashed, roughly an hour after the game. “Just guys reflecting, realizing that we just let another opportunity slip. But we’ll figure this thing out.”
Mason Plumlee acknowledged “a little frustration” in the locker room after the game, but nothing further, echoing Terry’s sentiments. “We’re all trying to figure it out and get on track.”
Figure it out, figure it out, figure it out. They’ve got a long road ahead to do that. The Nets, team of offseason championship aspirations, have stumbled out to a 3-7 start in their first ten games, hearing boos from the near-sellout for the first time this season. Chants of “LET’S GO BLAZERS!” rained from the rafters near the end, reminiscent of the team’s dreadful final year in Newark, and sardonic “BROOK-LYNNN” chants filled the arena as time ran out.
But who would answer for their issues? Only three Nets players and coach Kidd spoke with the media, and more than an hour after the game passed, the Nets announced that no more players would be available. NBA rules dictate that players must be made available within 45 minutes of a game’s end, but the team’s three healthy full-time starters Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Joe Johnson left without a whisper. (Johnson later spoke directly with the New York Post.) Garnett and Pierce left Barclays Center together around 11:20 P.M., with Nets trainer Tim Walsh in tow, silent.
To understand the weight of the 108-98 Nets loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, in the battle between hipster capitals East Coast and West, that’s all you really need to know.
A ten-point loss may not sound like a demoralizer, but the game flow says it all. The Nets started off the game red-hot, putting up 40 points on 21 possessions in the first quarter, before making just 15 of their next 65 shots from the field. The Blazers continued their torrid shooting, finishing the game shooting 54 percent from the field and hitting eight three-pointers, while the Nets shot under 37 percent, including a terrible 3-18 shooting performance in the third quarter. The Nets were outscored 27-15 in that third quarter, which had the game’s only lead change, and they’ve yet to win a game when they’ve been outscored in the third. They are undefeated when they win the third quarter.
“We got good looks offensively,” coach Jason Kidd said of the offense. “One thing I’ve always told the guys is some nights the ball is going to go in and some nights it’s not but we got to be consistent on the defensive end. To start that third quarter we weren’t.”
The Nets were led by Shaun Livingston, the team’s sole bright spot, who poured in 23 points on 8-14 shooting in the loss. Livingston was the third Nets player to speak after the game, and the only one to shoot over 50 percent from the field.
Kidd deferred blame from players. “Just bad coaching,” he opined. “I take the blame for this.”
The Nets aren’t in free-fall, they’re flatlining. They currently rank nineteenth in the NBA in points produced per possession, and 25th in points allowed per possession, numbers oddly comparable to last year’s Trail Blazers team, which ended the season 33-49.
The Nets aren’t 100%, or even close. Deron Williams, once again, is struggling with ankle injuries. Brook Lopez and Kevin Garnett also have ankle sprains. Andrei Kirilenko hasn’t suited up in six games with back spasms. Paul Pierce was a game-time decision with a sore groin, and finished 2-12 from the field.
“You’d like it to happen sooner than later, but obviously, number one, you have to get healthy,” Terry added. “You’re missing your key big man and your star point guard. S***. I don’t know how much success you’re going to have without that.”
He’s right. The Nets have yet to play a game at full strength, without any players injured or on a minutes restriction. Garnett might say that that’s something every team deals with, as he did in the team’s last home loss to the Indiana Pacers. Except, again, Garnett left without a word.
“Again, there (are) brighter days ahead,” Terry added, with a hint of desperation. “I guarantee that.”
Maybe the team’s stars will explain them soon.