It was a fun week, but the team’s officially lost that “new coach” smell.
It only took a few porous minutes of defense and non-penetrating offense from the Nets in the third quarter to turn this from a surprisingly close game to your regularly scheduled laugher. It was frankly kind of amazing the Nets were able to hang on as long as they did; they were handily outplayed inside, didn’t shoot well from outside, stagnated the ball as the Hawks peppered it around the perimeter, and dismantled Brooklyn’s teetering gameplan quickly enough to render the fourth quarter irrelevant. It was eerily reminiscent of the last game of last season, when the Hawks went on a big run in the third in Game 6 of the first round of the playoffs to cut off that zombie head once and for all.
The Hawks poured their biggest damage on the team’s thin bench. The team’s plus-minus among its starters wasn’t too bad, but Andrea Bargnani, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Shane Larkin all had a plus-minus of -12 or worse through the first three deciding quarters. It got worse in the fourth quarter for Larkin and Bogdanovic as the Hawks blew them away.
You can see the Spurs in how the Hawks play. YES Network announcer Ryan Ruocco noted in the first half that a core principle of the Hawks’ game is that players shouldn’t hold the ball for longer than two seconds. It’s not too different from a Gregg Popovich-taught rule of “.5”, that guys should either shoot, make a pass, or make a move towards the basket within 0.5 seconds of catching the ball. That DNA is all over this Hawks team, while the Nets still scramble — or should I again say stagnate? — to figure out their identity.
We’re now at the halfway point of the season, and the Nets have 11 wins. That means a few things. For one, tautologically, the Nets are on pace for 22 wins. That would be their worst season since 12-70, and fifth-worst in the team’s NBA history.
For two, it means that wins can’t be a major priority anymore, if they ever were in the first place. A league-wide conspiracy can’t get this team in the playoffs, and no amount of rubles will bring back their draft pick. Like I said in our season preview, the Nets can’t mortgage their future for a few extra wins this season. This one is just a lost year.
What they can do is use this time to see who they might want to stick around beyond this season, what they might be able to develop and prepare with the guys they do want to keep, and figure out who they don’t. With nights like this, that number might be dwindling fast.
The stats: 10 PTS, 3 REB, 1 AST
Al Horford is a tough matchup, but Lopez didn’t do much to make it easier. But if we’re looking at developments, it’s worth noting that Lopez made a couple of nifty backdoor passes to cutting teammates, the first to Donald Sloan for a layup and the second to Bogdanovic, which Bogdanovic botched on the catch. If the Nets find a way to surround Lopez with more athletic and talented wing players, that look could be a sneakily useful one going forward.