The Brooklyn Nets (15-16), who have a 13-3 record against teams with a .500 record or less, will start the new year playing five of six games against losing teams starting tonight against the Orlando Magic (13-22).
Coming off perhaps their most impressive win of the season in Chicago on Tuesday night, the Nets are in position with a win to get back to the .500 mark for the first time since November 13th.
The Magic, led by third year head coach and ex-Nets guard Jacques Vaughn, have had trouble stopping opponents all season, ranked 28th in the league in points allowed. In their first meeting on November 9th in Brooklyn, Orlando allowed 104 points, including Bojan Bogdanovic’s team-high 22. Despite hot shooting, the Magic were out-rebounded 45-31, including 14 Nets offensive rebounds that led to 22 second-chance points.
The biggest adjustment occurred when Lionel Hollins switched Kevin Garnett on Magic center Nikola Vucevic, who ate up Brook Lopez all game with 27 points and 11 rebounds through the first three quarters. The change worked: after the Magic took an 89-87 lead midway through the fourth quarter, the Nets held them scoreless the next six minutes.
After the game, Hollins was critical of Lopez: “Yeah, he wasn’t guarding. I want him to guard. Simple as that. Get on him. You know he’s shooting the ball, making shots; you’ve got to guard him. Couple of times he made him put it on the floor, but he didn’t do it enough and you know, the game was tic and tac and I just tried to take that away from him, which we did with KG by putting him in the game.”
Significant criticism, but not nearly as shocking as the bomb Joe Johnson dropped when he called out his teammates. “It’s just kind of what it is. Defensively, we help from time to time, offensively, I just think guys kind of exhaust their options and then when there’s nothing else for them, then they’ll pass it when they have to. For the most part, we’ve been very selfish.” Johnson also took to Twitter with a one-line tweet that expressed his frustration.
That all seems so long ago, especially since the Nets are playing better as a unit. They’ve won five of their last six games with Jarrett Jack and Mason Plumlee in the starting lineup. Hollins has not hinted at any change, so Deron Williams and Lopez, the latter coming off his finest game of the season, should continue to come off the bench in the near future. Williams, struggling with his shot, otherwise played well Tuesday, with four assists, six rebounds, and three steals.
Besides Vucevic inside, the Nets will have a focus on stopping forward Tobias Harris, averaging 18.5 points and seven rebounds per game in his fourth season. The Magic is the fourth youngest team in the NBA, so the Nets will be looking to take advantage of a team who has suffered with defensive discipline and turnovers (26th in NBA) all season.
Tip-off is at 7:00 P.M. EST at Amway Center in Orlando.