With no go-to scorer in sight, the Nets fell without resistance to the home-court advantage-chasing Charlotte Hornets. Although Thomas Robinson continued to build on one of the best two-week stretches in his career, his 16 and 17 line was not enough to quell Troy Daniels’ 5-7 night from the three-point line. For Brooklyn, Wayne Ellington was the only other bright spot and his 21 points were his best mark since December’s outburst against the Miami Heat. Just 3 games remain between the Nets and a long off-season, nowadays if they can keep the deficit within 20 points — it’s a minor success.
These days, it hardly matters who Brooklyn plays — the fill-in-the-blank results are always the same.
There have been few intriguing storylines remaining for the cellar-dwelling Nets with Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young shelved for the season. Among those compelling reasons to keep watching: Thomas Robinson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Sean Kilpatrick. Tonight, in his first career NBA start, we can officially add Chris McCullough to the list. McCullough has been limited since his return, but we’ve seen some glimpses of his out-of-this-world athleticism and rainbow jump-shooting — and it was his hot start (5 points, 2 steals) that pushed Brooklyn ahead early.
While McCullough is the guy to keep an eye on as the season winds down, Robinson, the Nets’ only true center left standing, has simply stolen the spotlight in recent games. In his customary, full 12-minute first quarter, the enigmatic Robinson pulled down 6 rebounds to match his point total. With his 5-game double-double on the line, he continued to not only bring the Nets plenty of second-chances, but worked as a reliable weapon entirely on his own. Thanks to McCullough and Robinson’s hard work, the Nets were locked at 25-25 after the first quarter, even turning the ball over just once — a surprising positive compared to their regular contributions on that end.
The Hornets, jostling for playoff position in the Eastern Conference, were led by Kemba Walker’s 11 points and Nicolas Batum’s 5 assists in the first half. Although the Nets got sloppier in the third — Hornets’ play-by-play announcer Eric Collins summed it up nicely: “Brooklyn just seems to dribble aimlessly into traffic a lot, don’t they?” — Robinson’s efforts largely kept them alive. But a couple of wasted possessions turned into Troy Daniels’ unexpected 3-3 mark from three-point range and the Hornets took a 7-point lead into the half.
After the break, Marvin Williams started off the festivities by torching McCullough effortlessly before Walker, a historically great Nets-killer, stole the show. Walker’s 11-point quarter not only pushed Charlotte ahead by 20, but those buckets absolutely demoralized the floundering Nets team. Frank Kaminsky, who dominated the Nets for 14 points last month, continued to be a tough assignment for Brooklyn because of his size and range — finished with 12 points on 5-8 from the floor. Despite Sloan and Kilpatrick’s improved outputs, 8 and 16 points respectively, the Hornets filled it up from three (14-37) and took that inevitable 20-point edge into the final frame.
With the game’s result no longer in question — the fourth belonged to Daniels, the rarely used sharpshooter, and his suddenly supernova attributes. His ridiculous 5-7 mark from behind the arc helped wrap up an important game for the Hornets and took them one step closer to avoiding the Cavaliers or Raptors in the first round. At 6 minutes left, the Hornets held a 102-78 lead and all that was left to settle was whether or not Robinson would secure the first 20-20 game for the Nets since Reggie Evans.
The basketball gods would not even give them that.
It was a valiant effort for 24 minutes, but that predictable second half goes to show just how far the Nets are in over their head. There’s a very simple math here: with no Lopez, no Young, and Bojan struggling, that will almost always equal defeat. On their way to a 60 loss season, the Nets will look to finish strong against the Pacers, Wizards, and Raptors — but something tells me we could write those recaps right now.
Bring on free agency.