Disappointing Nets loss reminiscent of New Jersey

Victor Oladipo, Kevin Garnett, Alan Anderson
Magic rookie Victor Oladipo proved too much for the Brooklyn Nets Sunday night. (AP)
Magic rookie Victor Oladipo proved too much for the Brooklyn Nets Sunday night. (AP)
Magic rookie Victor Oladipo proved too much for the Brooklyn Nets Sunday night. (AP)

It’s been a shade more than two-and-a-half years since I last recapped a Nets game, yet the deflating feeling of disappointment after this stinker could have fooled me into believing it’s been about 24 hours. Here I am, once again, mired in depression and trying to devise something entertaining enough to make anyone want to read about a game like that.

The Brooklyn Nets were overwhelmed tonight on offense and defense, losing 107-86 to the Orlando Magic in a kind of way that was supposed to be a thing of the past in the wake of the mega-trade with Boston.

Let’s start with the obvious. The Nets couldn’t put the ball in the basket. Brick after brick, the Nets laid the foundation for a house of sadness and sorrow the way few other good teams can. Take a look at the Nets’ shot chart tonight:

The Nets shot a dismal 38 percent overall, featuring an abysmal 42 percent at the rim. Atrociously, 39 of their 89 (44 percent) field-goal attempts came from midrange. At a loss for more words to illustrate the horror of the Nets’ shooting, they mustered a very very bad 4-of-17 performance from beyond the arc.

A lot of these shots were open ones that just happened to rim out, and the Nets kept firing them up, hoping for a regression to the mean that simply never came. The Nets’ somewhat predictable reliability on the midrange J isn’t something they can hope to sustain throughout a prosperous season. Brook Lopez (21 points, 6 rebounds, 5 blocks) needs to get more shots at the rim, and Paul Pierce (16 points, 7 rebounds) and Deron Williams (conspicuously absent from the team’s scoring output yet again) need to look to attack coming off screens rather than settle for those jumpers.

I tweeted that the bounty of pick-and-pops Williams can run with Lopez and Kevin Garnett on the perimeter will open up driving lanes for him, as defenses shade toward the popping big man. I’d like to see him get to the rim with greater frequency once his ankles are completely under him.

Unfortunately, the Nets problems aren’t limited to that end. A lack of effort and execution on defense was as much at fault for the Nets woes as was the offensive anemia. Encapsulating that phenomenon was this play:

Maurice Harkless snags the (lazy) pass from Lopez, who takes two steps back in transition and then visibly gives up on getting back to contest the shot. Uh, WHAT? Lopez’s presence back at the rim at best could have led to a blocked shot, at worst forced Harkless into missing two free throws, and somewhere in between forced a contested miss often associated with a guy a foot taller than you chasing you down. But no. The open layup is cool.

There are other problems. many occur when Andray Blatche (2 points on 1-of-7 shooting, 2 turnovers in 15 minutes) steps on the floor. There are blown rotations aplenty, uncontested shots at the rim, and general malaise when Blatche plays center; Blatche was a fortunate boon for the Nets off the bench last year when they really needed one, but there’s no reason his spot in the Nets’ extensive rotation should be a foregone conclusion this season if he’s going to loaf on offense and take ill-advised chucks on the offensive end. I’d rather see Mason Plumlee get a go off the bench than endure what Blatche demonstrated tonight.

If you’re looking for bright spots, you’d have to look to Orlando. Andrew Nicholson (17 points, 11 rebounds) looked like a bull under the rim, as did double-double factory Nikola Vucevic (19 points, 12 rebounds). The star of tonight’s show, though? That was rookie guard Victor Oladipo, who threw down an exciting 360 dunk on the way to a fantastic overall game (19 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals) in only 21 minutes off the bench.

The Nets did have their own highlight, with Paul Pierce turning back the clock with a big dunk over Jason Maxiell.

On the whole, I may be overreacting to one game of 82. It’s frustrating and concerning when expected returns of a big team improvement aren’t immediately evident. Then you put it in perspective: last year’s clearly inferior Nets team fell to 14-14 after an 11-4 start and finished with 49 wins. Williams and Andrei Kirilenko aren’t quite healthy. And everyone’s minutes totals are low early on (the Nets used 11 players in the first half before things got out of hand).

I, like most people, wanted to see a win, and there were so many things to point to that were enormously disappointing. I’ll keep on waiting for that regression to the mean that proved obviously absent this day.