Monday Musings 12/27: Defense, Sasha, & ‘Melodrama

Derrick Favors & Carmelo Anthony
Derrick Favors & Carmelo Anthony

While our own Evan Kaplan usually hits you with the Monday morning wisdom, he’s stuck on Mars right now saving Earth from space terrorists. I, however, am boxed in at a bed & breakfast in Boston due to a blizzard (and also amazing at alliteration), but thanks to my trusty laptop & internet connection I can fill in for our main man. I hope everyone reading is having a safe and happy holiday with the people they cherish, and I hope when Evan returns from protecting our intergalactic freedoms that he does too.

Since last Monday, the Nets have only played two games thanks to the holiday with opposing results. Firstly, it can’t be overstated how well the Nets played in Tuesday’s game against the Grizzlies. The Nets entered that game 2-12 away (mired in a ten-game road losing streak) & the Grizzlies 8-5 at home. I honestly believed the Nets were toast in that game, but the solid all-around defensive & offensive effort pleasantly proved me wrong. The Nets held the Grizzlies to under 40% shooting and rendered their best three offensive options mostly ineffective. Unfortunately, the Nets weren’t able to turn their second two-game winning streak into their first three-game winning streak as they fell to New Orleans the next day, but I wasn’t too frustrated with that game. The Hornets are a very good team, and the Nets won’t be able to exploit everyone – especially on the second game of a road back-to-back.

It can’t be overstated what an impact the role players have had in these last few games. Perimeter stars Joe Johnson and Rudy Gay were both complete non-factors in those two wins. With Johnson, the Nets had a hand in his face on almost every shot, whether it was Stephen Graham, Travis Outlaw, or one of the bigs (Favors twice, Murphy once) on a switch or zone coverage. Johnson missed shot after shot, and although he was returning from injury the Nets defense deserves the credit for his misfortune. Against Gay, the Nets didn’t have to do much switching – there were a few pick & rolls, but Gay mostly ran isolation plays for himself to no avail. Graham & Outlaw both earned their keep on him, as they forced most of his misses.

If we’re talking role players, there’s also not much I can’t praise about Sasha Vujacic. I won’t lie to you. When I first heard that the Machine was taking his talents to Newark, I was PO’d. I sports-hated the guy. He annoyed the living hell out of me. But in four games in a New Jersey uniform, the guy has done everything I’ve wanted him to & then some. He’s curling off screens and getting open looks more effectively than any shooter on this team. He’s shooting in rhythm, which is a nice contrast to a guy like Outlaw who probably pump-faked before saying “I do” at his own wedding. He’s played solid defense against every assignment and seems to have figured out all the plays already. I’m already more impressed with his hustle & impact than Terrence Williams impressed me all season, and the further & further we get from this trade the happier I am with it.

Which brings me, of course, to trades – and, of course, the trade.

While all negotiations stalled this week due to a death in Carmelo Anthony’s family (all respect due), I think I speak for most of us when I say this: Dear God, let it end already. Look, I enjoy the page views I get from mentioning ‘Melo as much as anybody. Really, I do. But this saga is starting to get borderline insane. We’ve heard that some form of the deal was “all but done” about a half-dozen times since August. Every three days, trade talks are “heating up” again. Now other teams are rumored to be involved – Cleveland, Detroit, Houston, ACB Barcelona, the Canadian national team & the rag-tag crew at my local YMCA are apparently involved in getting Carmelo to leave Denver.

I know my opinion’s been made clear here – I’m in favor of holding onto Brook & Favors, and do anything you have to after that to get a deal done. While it looks like someone (or some-ones) powerful in the Nets front office disagree(s) with me on Favors, more than anything else this just needs to be over. I know that Denver’s probably dragging their feet to maximize the value of the New Jersey pick, or to make Billy King sweat, or… something. It’s just starting to feel gross at this point.

Anyway, after a quiet holiday weekend the Nets are back in action this week, with four games (3 away) until the next Monday musing. While I think it’s more likely that the Nets go 1-3 than 3-1, I do think that three of the games are winnable. The Nets only lost to the old-look Magic on a Jameer Nelson game-winning floater, and after the biggest step sideways in NBA history the Magic certainly have some chinks in their armor. The Nets took Oklahoma City to three overtimes in their previous affair, and while the Thunder are certainly a better team than New Jersey there’s definitely upset potential there. Minnesota seems more content with Kevin Love putting up video-game numbers than winning games, and that absolutely should end in a Nets victory. I don’t think the Nets can take down Chicago at the United Center, but I do suppose stranger things have happened this week.

I’ll end on this note: the Nets are 9-21, but they also have suffered through the fifth-toughest schedule in the East. On the other side of the river, the Knicks have had the easiest schedule in the Eastern Conference. I’m not saying the Nets are better than their cross-state rivals – they’re not. I’m just saying the gap isn’t as wide as you might think.