Detroit Pistons 116, New Jersey Nets 109: The Anti-Excitement

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Excitement In The Palace!

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So let’s get this straight.

The New Jersey Nets are a professional basketball team in the National Basketball Association. The Nets – this professional team – started Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, Mario West, Dan Gadzuric, and Brook Lopez. Stephen Graham was the first Net player off the bench. Travis Outlaw was the second. Johan Petro and Ben Uzoh shortly followed.

That’s the front 9 the Nets had last night. Those nine names. That is not a basketball team. this is a mockery of professional basketball.

Don’t tell me the Nets are ravaged by injuries. I get that. If you think that’s the problem, you’re missing the point. Other teams that get ravaged by injuries still have NBA-quality players on their benches. This is about the ridiculous band of nobodies that define the New Jersey Nets. Go ahead, name me a player on the Nets – other than Brook Lopez or Deron Williams – that could be a top-5 player on a solid playoff team. You can’t. For all of Anthony Morrow’s glory, he does nothing – nothing – but shoot. For all of Kris Humphries’ hustle, you can’t rely on him as a top player on your team. Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic were bench players on the Lakers championship team, and wouldn’t be much higher up on another contender.

In Bill Simmons’ preseason podcast, he posited that the Nets finally had 7 NBA-quality guys on their roster, after the disaster that was last season. Now, 78 games later, I have to formally disagree.

I’ve been a Nets fan for a long time. I lived through last season. Most of us did. If you’re still around after that, you’re definitely a diehard. But last night, they trotted out a starting five that would’ve competed with that 12-70 team, probably the worst starting five that any NBA team has seen all year – hell, maybe the worst starting five of all time for a team not intentionally tanking.

Hilariously, the team on the other side seemed to actually be tanking. So don’t tell me it’s fine because the Nets almost won, either. The Nets could win the rest of their games and it just wouldn’t matter. The Pistons, on the other hand, have a draft pick to play for, and this victory over the Nets means a nearly insurmountable three-game “lead” over the Nets in the NBA standings. Every loss matters at this point of the season, thanks to those elusive ping-pong balls. When you have ping-pong balls to play for, anyway. Detroit’s probably more upset that they won than New Jersey is that they lost.

Don’t tell me this was an exciting, high-scoring affair, either. There was a lot of scoring, but it wasn’t because of smart basketball or professional execution. It was, frankly, luck. The Nets were the opposite of Butler on Monday night; while Butler created good shots and couldn’t knock them down, the Nets didn’t create good shots and still made enough to compete. The Pistons were UConn: slightly better at all facets of the game, but not nearly good enough to make this a laugher.

But when Charlie Villanueva dropped in a reverse layup at the rim, one that was completely uncontested, one that put the Pistons up 7 with 2 1/2 minutes left, it felt like a nail in the coffin. The Nets hung around, but that was endemic of the Nets’ problems the entire night: they just couldn’t stop a team desperately looking to be stopped.

I’ll give one player credit – Brook Lopez, since he absolutely balled up on offense this game. He wasn’t exactly facing a wall on defense, but he still absolutely dominated the inside, which any NBA player deserves credit for. The Nets rode him down the stretch early in the fourth, half because he was completely unstoppable, and half because no one else on the Nets can be relied upon for offense. It was definitely encouraging to see him calling for the ball on every possession.

However, all that changed when Chris Wilcox fouled out. Jason Maxiell entered for him. The Pistons switched to a zone on some possessions, completely confusing the Nets offense, and the Nets seemingly forgot how to pass him the ball. Oftentimes Ben Uzoh would just crash the lane, looking for anything, only to either take a bad shot or pass out to Vujacic, who would then… take a bad shot. When Maxiell manned Lopez up directly, the Pistons usually brought a double to shut him down.

Lopez took three shots in the final 9:49, missing all three.

He ended the game with a career-high 39 points, and played great for the most part – except for this, which kind of describes Brook Lopez’s rebounding in a nutshell:

To be clear: this was not a win to be proud of. This was a terrible basketball game, masked by decent efficiency numbers on both sides, written as a battle of victory but truly was a battle of who wanted to lose more.

But the story from last night has nothing to do with the game. The Nets could’ve won by 30 or lost by 50 and it wouldn’t have made a difference. The story is that again, for the second straight night, the Nets didn’t even bother putting the team on local television. Nobody in the New Jersey area even had the opportunity to torture their eyes by watching this tool of basketball destruction take on a slightly less depressing franchise in the Pistons.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on these things. Maybe in this crazy mixed-up world it makes sense that the Nets aren’t on local television anywhere, that Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel are at home spending time with their families instead of traveling to the Motor City. Or maybe they tried really, really hard to sell these two games to someone – anyone – but WGN decided that those Friends reruns were just too lucrative to pass up.

But after two straight nights of this, I feel like the Nets are just slapping me in the face. If they can’t even sell the rights to televise a game locally two nights in a row, if they trot out just one NBA-quality player in an entire 12-man rotation, how can they expect to sell the franchise to the fans? If they don’t even care enough to show the game on local television, why should people care to pay attention to them?

For all the “Experience It”‘s and “It’s All New”‘s and “Blueprint for Greatness”‘s that we’ve seen and heard about, it’s damn sure difficult to stomach it when they’re the ones helping cultivate indifference to the product.

I was able to see the game, thanks to the wonders of League Pass. I’ll describe to you the terrors that I saw. On at least three occasions, Sasha threw up a forward-leaning long two-point jumper for no reason. Collectively, the defense was atrocious. Nobody ran back in transition, nobody rotated, frankly, nobody did anything. Mario West proved again he has no business starting at the NBA level, even for the worst team in professional basketball. Petro missed a wide-open dunk under the basket. Gadzuric was absolutely faked out of his shoes more than once by Wilcox, one time leading to a particularly emphatic jam. I could describe the good – as I mentioned, Brook set Detroit on fire, Farmar & Outlaw made a bunch of shots they usually wouldn’t make, and, um… well, that’s pretty much it.

But nothing describes these Nets more definitively than your television screen, showing anything else on every single channel. Frankly, I can’t blame them. Why would they? What are you going to say to a potential buyer? Are they supposed to be excited by Travis Outlaw’s miscues? Stephen Graham’s goaltending call? Brook Lopez giving less than a you-know-what on the glass?

Maybe one day the Nets will play a late-season game that matters, maybe when they get that proper complement to Deron Williams. But like the Heat have shown us this year, you can’t expect to build a great team looking only at 1-3. When the Nets do get that next big piece – and yes, I do believe they will one day – they can’t lose sight of roster spots 3-12. Because if last night is any indication, the players they have there now just don’t matter.