Cue all the “the Nets played well last night because they didn’t have the Carmelo Anthony trade hanging over their heads” talk. That will be a big story line after this game for obvious reasons. But I don’t buy it. As I said Monday the Nets played well enough to win every game on their past road trip. Last night they were just able to put together a full game and put forth one of their better efforts of the season. Whether it was being at home, having the owner Mr. Prokhorov in the building or seeing some other celebrities at The Rock for a change, the Nets played a full game and defeated the Jazz to open the home stand.
After getting off to a rough start and being down early, the Nets were able to put together a nice run and led by eight at the end of the first quarter. The best sign of that quarter (and maybe the whole game) was the play of rookie Derrick Favors. While I don’t buy that the entire team was affected by the Anthony saga, I can maybe accept that Favors was. The rook’s name was being discussed in every single proposed deal and that is a lot to deal with for a young kid fresh out of college (heck, high school).
But tonight Favors was active, both on offense and defense, and he was able to play effective D without fouling. 12 points, 6 rebounds and 3 blocks is a great line for him and this was one of the better games in his young NBA career. He still has to develop offensively and be able to make jump shots to keep the defense honest, but his play around the rim is already impressive and he can run the floor just as well as any power forward in the NBA.
The second quarter saw the Nets get out to a big lead but a problem that has plagued this team all season happened again as they went through another extended scoring draught. After Jordan Farmar made a three to push the Nets lead to 12 with just under 8 minutes remaining, they scored just 1 point over the next six minutes, allowing Utah to get back into the game. The common problem throughout many of these extended draughts is the number of jumpers the Nets take. This is a team that can get to the foul line effectively, but at times they don’t take the ball to the hole nearly enough. The halftime buzzer sounded and we were tied at 48.
The Nets were able to extend to a 13-point lead at the end of the third quarter with a balanced attack and some good shooting. They put up 29 in the quarter and the defining play was when Travis Outlaw airballed a three pointer. Yes that sounds a little strange but what was defining was what happened afterwards. Favors was in the right place at the right time and was able to get the offensive board off the shot that touched nothing. He dished it to Brook, who put it in and got the foul call. It was a nice hustle play from the rook, a solid finish from the Nets center and once again the team put together a strong third period.
Before the game I talked about the Nets bench needing to continue to give this team a spark and they were good once again. The three-headed monster of Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic and Kris Humphries (someone needs to come up with a good nickname for them) combined for 38 points on 12 of 18 shooting last night. Farmar added 8 assists and “The Machine” Sasha Vujacic continues to shoot the ball well immediately when he enters the game. I would actually like to see him take more shots since he’s been shooting the ball so proficiently. Five isn’t enough for him and it’s kind of odd considering he’s never been one to be shy about hoisting it up.
To end my talk on the bench tonight I’ll discuss Kris Humphries. Hump may have had some extra incentive tonight (I’m sure you all saw who was sitting in the front row, and no I’m not talking about Jay-Z) and he brought his usual energy, rebounding and scoring. 12 points and 5 boards is becoming an average night from him, but if you add in the monster baseline dunk that he had to start the fourth quarter, it makes it even better.
Before the game I talked about how the Utah Jazz are one of the better teams out West and they missed a TON of easy shots tonight. Which is why I wasn’t surprised at all when they made it close down the stretch and cut the lead to two on an Al Jefferson And-1 with about 2 minutes remaining. But Brook Lopez made a nice move to push it back to four and the Nets were able to get a couple of stops. They then got the benefit of a video review and got the ball (it was originally awarded to the Jazz) with 52 seconds left.
What followed was a perfect possession for the Nets. They worked the clock down and before you knew it Humphries had the ball with the shot clock under 10. But instead of panicking and settling for a jumper, Hump dribbled it towards the middle, Sasha made a nice cut and finished on the layup to give the team a 6-point lead with 30 seconds remaining.
One of the best things about winning this game was that the Nets were able to get the W without their two best players having good nights. Devin Harris and Lopez combined for 34 points but were just 10 of 27 from the field. Brook had three very strong games in a row so his production was scaled back a bit last night, but he was able to get to the line 11 times (making 8 of them). Whenever your best players have a rough night, it’s always nice to still be able to get a win.
11-31 still doesn’t sound very good, but it’s encouraging to see the Nets get a win over a good team like the Utah Jazz. The team has won just 2 of their last 13 games and somehow those two wins have been over the Bulls and the Jazz. Go figure.
One last thing on last night’s proceedings. Though I’ve been clear that I don’t believe the Carmelo talk had a big effect on this team’s performance, I applaud Mikhail Prokhorov. As a fan I had more than enough of these trade talks so I’m personally glad that it’s finally over and we can focus on the players the Nets DO have.
The Nets started their home stand off on the right foot and who couldn’t love that high-five between Prokhorov and Billy King as the final buzzer sounded?!?! The team is back in action tomorrow against Detroit…