It’s Almost Over: Atlanta Hawks 98, New Jersey Nets 87

Josh Smith of the Atlanta Hawks dunks on Brook Lopez of the New Jersey Nets.

Box Score Hoopinion Peachtree Hoops

It wasn’t an overwhelmingly stunning result, but the Nets dropped Saturday night’s game to the Atlanta Hawks by a final score of 98-87. With the loss, New Jersey finds itself teetering on the edge of mathematical playoff elimination—if the Nets lose another game or Indiana wins another game, they are officially out of postseason contention.

It’s not that many people held out more than negligible hope that the Nets would find a way to sneak in, but the fact that there were whispers of an eight seed a few weeks ago for the Nets show that the recent string of games has been a serious dose of reality—without Deron Williams, New Jersey basketball is terrible.

But onto the basketball game. The Nets didn’t do themselves any favors by diving head-first into a vat of quicksand to start the game. After Anthony Morrow made probably the first layup of his life, the Hawks went on a 19-0 run that all but wrote off the Nets in the first quarter. Traces of NBA-quality offense were few and far between, as no Nets player other than Morrow showed any measurable interest in scoring points.

Of particular note was the absence of Brook Lopez. Sure, his zero rebounds wasn’t an eye-opener (although it totally should be). But for the team’s first option to put up 6 points on 3-of-9 shooting in 31 minutes and not get to the free-throw line a single time is absolutely despicable. That said, it shows the interrelationship between Lopez’s offensive success and the Nets’ offensive prowess.

Meanwhile, the Nets couldn’t find the range from beyond the arc (shooting 3-of-13 from that distance) and looked outclassed altogether. Surprisingly, the Nets still managed to shoot 48 percent from the field overall, but mustering only nine free-throw attempts as a team was an offensive death sentence.

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve read about what I like to call the Offensive Black Hole phenomenon for the Nets. These are the all-too-common scenarios in which the Nets find themselves with a five-man unit on the floor that includes all offensive duds (i.e., it does not include Lopez, Williams, or Devin Harris, when he was on the Nets).

Well, today’s game put things in perspective, when Avery Johnson threw a unit onto the floor that probably would have lost in the first round of this year’s NCAA tournament. This sickening selection of players included: PG Jordan Farmar, SG Sasha Vujacic, SF Travis Outlaw, PF Dan Gadzuric, and C Johan Petro.

What are you supposed to do with that? How is that assortment of awful supposed to compete at the NBA level? Johnson needs to strictly limit the minutes that lineups like these have on the floor, as they grind the offense to a halt (which isn’t always a challenge, really, considering how slowly it rolls when it’s in tip-top shape) and really put the team in a hole.

Again, though, Morrow was a ray of sunshine emerging through the dark clouds of Mordor. While he didn’t connect on any of his four three-point attempts, he did post 25 points on 11-of-21 shooting. In fact, there was a stretch in the middle of the fourth quarter during which the Nets cut the once-30-point deficit down to 10 behind the strength of Morrow’s shooting.

But he wasn’t getting his usual open looks coming off screens and firing off the catch. The Nets were looking to isolate him on the wing, and he did a fairly impressive job. On his turnaround, stepback, and jabstep jumpers, he looked like someone who could be an offensive creator. That hasn’t been his reputation so far in the NBA, but maybe it’s a skill of his that is yet undiscovered. I’d like to see Johnson give Morrow ample opportunity in the final games to go to work one-on-one to give him some confidence as a go-to scorer. If he can pair that with his deadliness off the catch, he could be one scary player next year.

You never like to see Dan Gadzuric and Stephen Graham combine for 17 minutes in the same game, so here’s to hoping for the return of Deron Williams, and here’s to the beginning of the next NBA season for the Nets.