AP Photo/Bill Kostroun
I don’t think anyone out there expected the Nets to be able to consistently close out games as effectively and clutch as they did in their first two games this season against Detroit and Sacramento. But there’s something about last night’s 85-83 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats in Newark that felt a little more deflating than usual.
Maybe it was the role reversal aspect. Remember, it was the Bobcats who came to and fell in New Jersey last season with the Nets at 0-18, giving the team their first win. While Charlotte’s 0-3 record entering last night’s game is a far cry from last year’s record-breaking start by the Nets, the Bobcats were a playoff team last year, and with players like Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson, and a coach like Larry Brown, they’ll likely be in the hunt for a spot in the postseason again this year.
Then consider that it was a 12-4 Bobcats run down the stretch that doomed the Nets, as opposed to the practically miraculous crunch-time-runs the Nets went on in their first two victories this season. There was a lot to like about the Nets before the final four minutes of the game. Another eye-opening performance from Derrick Favors (11 points, 8 rebounds), who threw down a thunderous dunk – “a man’s jam” quoth Ian Eagle – at around the 5:30 mark in the fourth. A solid all-around effort from Devin Harris (19 points, 8 assists on 7-17 shooting), who took a shot in the shoulder in the third quarter, causing him to retreat to the locker room, before making his way back on the court in the fourth.
But there was also a lot to not to like. A lot of mistakes that were made by the Nets both on offense and defense that snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. I’m still having a hard time reading what kind of team the Nets are at this early juncture. They’re a few bounces of the ball away from being 0-4, though you could also make the case that they should be 3-1. Which means, at the end of the day, the 2-2 start makes sense. But the next few weeks are going to be a lot tougher – and Avery Johnson needs to dig deep and figure out a way through smart coaching, to get guys on the floor making right decisions at the right time, or else the losses are going to start to pile up very quickly on this team, and they will be mired in another miserable November/December.
For starters – as much as I love Brook Lopez, there are still a number of visible flaws to his game that keep him from evolving beyond a “very good” player to a “great” one. The good – 17 points, 5 blocks. The bad – 6-17 shooting, 5 turnovers, questionable shot selection. Per the last point, this was one of those times I hated being right. At around the 3:40 mark in the 4th, the Bobcats were starting to make their run. Jackson had just drilled back-to-back threes and Wallace had made a layup, so a 10 point Nets lead had been shaved to 5. The Nets absolutely needed a good offensive possession there and instead go one-and-done after Lopez hoisted an 18-footer. There should be some kind of federal law against Lopez shooting from anywhere but the post and the paint in the late stages of a Nets game. The second Lopez shot that ball, I thought it was very possible that he and the Nets would regret that poorly-chosen missed shot. Yes, you give what the defense gives you, but in that case, you have to look for a better shot, or let one of the team’s actual jump shooters take an 18-footer. Like I said, didn’t want to be right there, but …
Let’s talk about Travis Outlaw here for a minute. It must be written in my imaginary contract for me to preface every early season critique of his by saying, “I wasn’t against his contract but …” Lots of ellipses for Outlaw last night. For one, the guy is just a liability defensively right now. His lateral movement on that end of the floor appears nonexistent, or at best, sluggish. At the 3:46 point in the game, he gave Wallace his left and was just outright burned to the rim. Could there have been some help defense? Sure. Missing a rotation is nothing new to the Nets. But Outlaw was so badly beaten to the rim, I don’t think the help defender could have done much. It was a definite “ole” on his part.
Then, on that final possession … with the Nets down two, Outlaw had an open look at the three in the corner, but there was a little too much time on the clock. Still, I would have rather seen him either shoot it and if he missed, give the Nets a chance to play the foul and free throw game (it does work, if we remember the preseason game against Philly), or passed it back to the top and reset the offense. Instead, Outlaw chose to drive baseline and take an off-balance runner. If that wasn’t bad enough, after being fortunate enough to recover the ball with six seconds left, he immediately shot a faraway from about the foul line and missed again.
Clock awareness, shot selection, defensive breakdowns – I feel like I’m writing about the Jets from last Sunday, but alas, there are all signs of a young team that’s going to struggle sometimes. This is where the signing of Avery Johnson was so integral. While talent ultimately wins games, a good coach can put his players in a position to make good decisions. I actually like the talent on this Nets roster. The shocking efficiency of Favors more than offsets the head-shaking inefficiency of Outlaw. Harris has his swagger back. Lopez is still capable of a big night every time he takes the floor (hopefully he takes the floor on Friday after hitting his shoulder pretty hard on the last play of the game). But Avery needs to do a better job of massaging this group together. Give it time, but I’m getting the sense that we may have peaked a bit early, and this team is about to start hitting its lumps.
A few more thoughts after the jump:
- A case could be made that Favors showed his green-ness in the fourth quarter, when he over-committed on a double-team on Stephen Jackson in the post, leaving Boris Diaw wide open from three, who promptly drilled it. It was a great defensive move, and he was late in getting back on Diaw, but I can respect the gamble considering how much Diaw has been struggling from the perimeter to start this season (his 24 points last night notwithstanding).
- Troy Murphy looked a little tentative and out-of-sync out there in his first game back. It was a rational fear of mine. Just as these guys finally started looking like they were syncing up a bit last week, introducing Murphy and his skillset to the roster may cause some hiccups.
- Games like last night’s make me wonder exactly what Johan Petro’s role on this team will be.
- Jordan Farmar’s Rafer Alston-esque 1-6 night from the field may have a lot to do with the some of the team’s offensive droughts last night, especially when Harris was off the court.
- Speaking of which, I’m all for Avery playing with combinations and pushing his players, but I was getting just a bit frustrated in the first half when he sat Devin and the team proceeded to go ice cold and yielded a 13-0 run to Charlotte over the first and second quarters. While there’s going to be a lot of experimentation and discovery with this group of players, it’s still difficult watching them do-so at the expense of winnable games. Because in a two-point game, that extra minute or two of Harris playing time in that stretch, especially when Lopez was on the floor as well, could have been the difference.