The Brooklyn Nets are inevitable. Ever since they let Paul Pierce go, bought out Deron Williams, watched Joe Johnson slowly slide into ineffectual isolations, and dug in the bargain bin hoping to shake gold out of Andrea Bargnani’s pantalonis, the Nets have been in an inevitable decline, from 49 wins to 44 to 38 to whatever well-below .500 number they’ll end up with this year. The Nets have slid into inevitable for some time, but now they’re just idling in it: at 15-42 and without a draft pick at the end of the tunnel, the team is running out the clock until they can find hope in this offseason’s free agency.
Even when crawling back from down 19 against the Portland Trail Blazers Tuesday night to take a lead, the Nets lacked the talent and the firepower to keep up — as they do on most nights — for 48 minutes. Bless Brook Lopez, Brooklyn’s supremely talented and flawed star, for risking his own health by throwing himself into a beating from seven-footers in traffic, all in the hopes of bringing an NBA team in 2016 that hit three three-pointers in 12 attempts within a glimmer of victory.
Lopez was animated, exhausted, frustrated, and determined all at once, and it was clear in the waning minutes of Nets-Blazers that he really, really wanted this one. I implore you to watch this, if only to see how much Lopez fought through contact to score, how many different ways he got to the rim (from posting up on both sides to facing up on both sides to isolating around the three-point line to I’m rushing the bit, just watch).
Credit to the essential FreeDawkins
One play that doesn’t show up in the highlight reel was probably the most clear example of Lopez’s frustration. Late in the fourth quarter, Damian Lillard picked Shane Larkin’s pocket and ran uncontested for a dunk. The only Nets player to run back on defense — a demon that’s dogged Lopez in the past — was Lopez, and as Lillard and Lopez ran alone, he looked back to see where his teammates were.
On the next play, Lopez flipped the ball over his head in anger, even though he’d just drawn a foul on the floor.
Despite a big, efficient 36 points from Lopez, in came the inevitable: a 112-104 loss to the Trail Blazers at Moda Center in Portland, and a crunch-time run that saw Lopez passed over for step-back jumpers and a three-pointer off the side of the backboard from point guard Donald Sloan. Sloan was thrust into the starting lineup because of a season-ending ACL injury to Jarrett Jack, who was meant to replace former All-Star guard Deron Williams. There’s something fitting that on the five-year anniversary of acquiring Williams, the Nets were buried by 34 points from All-Star Damian Lillard, a point guard they inadvertently gave up to acquire Gerald Wallace, a trade they made to appease Williams.
Still, Lopez is damn good. Only he and Anthony Davis are putting up least 20 points, 8 rebounds, and 50% shooting this season. Lopez alone is nearly good enough to single-handedly win a game against a mid-tier team with a pound-it-in style that’s a decade past its prime and getting grayer with every Stephen Curry three-pointer.
But the Nets rarely win, because the Nets are inevitable. Beyond Lopez, Thaddeus Young, and Joe Johnson, the Nets are ill-equipped with players to help win now, which is where their few first-quarter leads go. According to NBA.com, Brooklyn’s bench has been outscored by 10.3 points per 100 possessions this season and 15.9 points per 100 since Jack went down, both easily the worst figures in the league, and their play in crunch time is similarly ineffectual (-12.9 points per 100).
According to Nylon Calculus’s Seth Partnow, the Nets have spent less time leading by double digits (5.2% of their minutes) or by 20 points (0.1% of their minutes) than any other NBA team. They’re rarely down by 20 or more points (in blowout city), but they’re rarely ahead. They play just well enough to consistently trail.
Sean Marks has his first chance to instill real hope in the franchise’s future this summer. There’s a shot for the Nets to start making real changes then, and Marks’s first test will be exciting to watch. Until then, there exists an inevitability in almost every each Nets game. Even wins only go so far when there’s no playoffs on the horizon. The Nets are inevitable like Jeb Bush, slickly primed for success a few years ago but now an afterthought. The only difference is that the Nets can’t suspend their campaign in the middle of February and try again in four years. Then again, without control of a first-round draft pick until 2019, they may have done so accidentally. In the meantime, please clap.