Before Kevin Garnett riled up the home crowd and bench with a headbutt, before James Harden lit the Nets for 30 points by the end of the third quarter, before the Rockets built a 20-point lead early in the fourth quarter and cruised to this victory, Lionel Hollins knew what the problem was, and he didn’t skirt around it.
“We don’t make shots,” Hollins said plainly. “That is an identity. If you don’t make shots, that’s a part of who you are. We have to become a team that makes shots consistently. Everybody. We have guys who have been great shooters or good shooters throughout their careers, wherever they’ve played.”
Hollins could diagnose the problem, even alluding to the team’s lack of attempts in the restricted area. Heading into the game, the Nets averaged 27.2 points per game in the restricted area, fourth-lowest in the NBA. Only Mason Plumlee routinely gets attempts in there.
Treatment, however, was a bit more elusive. “I don’t know what it is. Maybe I’m the problem. I don’t know. I don’t shoot ’em, but I’m sure that behind closed doors and without the microphone on, some players may say that I am the problem, the reason they can’t shoot.”
Four hours later, the Nets, who entered the game in the bottom third of the league in offensive efficiency and effective field goal percentage, had fallen once again to a team that just takes — and makes — better shots.
The Nets played 22 solid minutes in this one, only trailing 52-50 to one of the best teams in the Western Conference near the end of the first half. But the Rockets kept their offensive pressure on, particularly from their All-Star creator Harden, and the Nets, lacking in talent and shot selection, never stood a chance.
13 PTS, 6-15 FG, 5 AST, 4 TOV
Jack played like a poor man’s James Harden tonight, looking for his own shot, attacking off the dribble, and occasionally setting up teammates like Mason Plumlee for easy deuces.
But that also meant over-dribbling and over-aggression, and a maddening mid-range game that has regressed from a red-hot start to the season.
With another 0-fer night from three-point range, Jack is now shooting 10-for-56 on the season beyond the arc.
11 PTS, 4-8 FG, 4 REB, 3 AST, 2 STL
You can see how he theoretically fits into the starting lineup: he can score at the rim, and he’s dangerous enough as a shooting threat to garner attention.
But Bogdanovic stood little chance against James Harden in any assignment, and Harden took to the paint like a moth to flame with Bogdanovic on his hip.
12 PTS, 4-13 FG, 6 REB, 3 AST
Played “Facilitator Joe” until late in the first half, when he started looking to get free in the corners for shots.
Was perhaps the only Nets starting wing who stood a shot at containing James Harden, with one particularly stout possession in the third quarter, but the Nets needed him to guard bigger forwards with their lineup.
Johnson entered the game in the fourth quarter with the Nets down 22 and promptly put some points on the board, but they were just for show.
2 TECHNICAL FOULS, 1 HEADBUTT, EJECTED
A suspension is likely forthcoming for Garnett, who was ejected with 7:53 left in the first quarter after scuffling with and headbutting Dwight Howard.
The Nets played passionate basketball following Garnett’s departure, and the crowd lashed out at Howard with boos every time he touched the ball. Howard struggled the rest of the first half, even pinging a dunk off the rim.
24 PTS (CAREER-HIGH), 10-11 FG, 10 REB, 1 STL
He knows where his bread is buttered: three feet and in. Plumlee picked up a career-high in scoring by staying close to the rim, looking for offensive rebounds and easy dump-offs, and also hitting a couple of tough shots, notably a post move on Dwight Howard and a short jumper in the paint.
Plumlee is the closest thing the Nets have to an untouchable asset right now: a 24-year-old seven-footer with explosiveness, an improved touch around the rim, and a newfound nose for rebounds.
He is not in the top class of the league’s big men, but he has played his way into a conversation of legitimately talented seven-footers.
12 PTS, 5-8 FG, 6 REB
He is at least looking to pass out of double-teams now, a welcome development after the events of the past few weeks. But whether or not he converts them is another matter entirely.
He’s improving. His interior defense was solid against Dwight Howard, and he’s looked a little quicker to his spots in the last week.
He’s not pulling his starting spot back from Plumlee any time soon, though. Despite hitting his set shot with solid consistency, the Nets didn’t sign Lopez to be a mid-range jump shooter.
Lopez may just be preserving his health after foot and back problems this season, but he might also just want to avoid injury until the trade deadline passes.