In Orlando tonight, the 1-2 Brooklyn Nets take on the 2-2 Orlando Magic. Here are a few things to watch for.
1. Letting Joe Johnson loose. Johnson’s had a rough go figuring out the offense in the first few games — he has a low effective field goal percentage of just .433 and a player efficiency rating nearly five points below the league average. Johnson, who was one of the best players in the league posting up last season, hasn’t scored once in six post-up opportunities over three games (according to Synergy). He’ll match up against Arron Afflalo A.K.A. The Man Kendrick Lamar Used To Be Jealous Of, or perhaps E’Twaun Moore for stretches, and as with most of Johnson’s matchups, he’ll have a size advantage. Hopefully this is the night things start to click.
2. Understanding defensive principles. The Nets still have so many issues on their defensive strings — Brook Lopez’s hesitance leads to an over-rotation by Kris Humphries which leads to a recovery from Keith Bogans which leads to an open man. Things like that. They’ve been particularly killed in spot-up shots, ranking worst in the NBA and allowing 52% from the field and 51% shooting from 3 (thanks to mySynergySports). The Nets just faced the defending champion Miami Heat, one of the league’s most locked-in offensive teams. The Magic, though they’ve played surprisingly well in their first four games, are a sure downgrade from the Heat talent-wise. They should be able to at least continue to work through their defensive issues tonight.
3. Scrambled wing depth. One of the brighter spots for the Nets this offseason was the bolstering of their wing depth; at season’s opener they had Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, MarShon Brooks, Josh Childress, Keith Bogans, Tornike Shengelia, and Jerry Stackhouse. Now 2 through 4 are on the sidelines with ankle injuries — Brooks is listed as a game-time decision, though he’ll surely be limited even if he does play — and that means another start for Keith Bogans and perhaps time off the bench for rookie Shengelia and ultra-veteran Stackhouse. The injuries make a Joe Johnson resurgence all the more important.
4. Lopez dissonance. Brook Lopez was the major trade piece for the Nets in the Dwight Howard saga, and Magic fans met him with constant scorn, saying Lopez was too expensive, too bad, not bad enough, a cap killer, etc. He’s the team leader in PER and the major reason they’re unable to compete at a high level. If Lopez plays poorly tonight, expect Magic fans to laugh him off. If he plays well, expect them to take that as proof that he wasn’t going to help their Nerlens Noel tanking brigade better than the offer they got.
5. Make the pick-and-rolls effective. The Nets seemingly have all the tools necessary to execute a successful pick-and-roll, but it just hasn’t clicked through three games. In nearly 60 plays between the roll men and the ballhandlers, the team has shot just 13-39 (2-7 from deep) and Deron Williams has committed 5 of the team’s 11 ballhandler turnovers. It’s been kind of an assumption that the defense was the issue and that the offense would just “work,” but it’s also seen struggle at the beginning of the season.