Nets kick off 2016 in Boston


Opponent: Boston Celtics
Location: TD Garden (Boston)
Time: 7:30 PM
Watch: YES Network, Fox Sports GO app

Now that the calendar has turned to 2016, the Nets can resolve to improve their most glaring weakness: fourth-quarter efficiency. Currently, the Nets rank last in the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring at 23 points per game, and the intangibles are just as much to blame as the numbers that jump off the stat sheet. Long scoring droughts, inept decision-making, and overall inconsistency have been all too evident in their fourth quarters, when good teams impose their will and close games. At 9-23, the Nets cannot be considered a good team, but they’ve let many opportunities to improve their record get away this season.

Wednesday night in Orlando was no exception. After going up 73-68 entering the dreaded fourth quarter, the Nets were outscored by the Magic 32-20 en route to a 100-93 defeat to end 2015.

“We just couldn’t get a good shot in the fourth quarter,” Nets coach Lionel Hollins said. “Their defense was pretty good, and it got away from us…Executing under pressure is important, and I don’t think we handled the pressure well.”

The Nets will try to cast those familiar shortcomings aside tonight as they start a home-and-home series on the road against the Boston Celtics (18-14). After winning four in row, head coach Brad Stevens’ team dropped a disappointing 112-104 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers (6-27) on Wednesday; Kobe Bryant’s last game on the parquet Boston Garden floor (which he received a piece of as a farewell gift). The Celtics were done in by a 21-4 run in the third quarter to prove to be too much to overcome.

The mini-series between the Nets and Celtics will be their second of the season and the final two times the teams will meet this season. On November 20 in Boston, the Celtics shot a scorching 58.6 percent from the field, compiling 39 assists on 51 field goals in the process of pummeling the Nets 120-95. Avery Bradley led the Celtics in scoring with 21 points off the bench, and Isaiah Thomas pitched in 18 points and nine assists.

Two days later, the Nets returned the favor with a 111-101 victory in Brooklyn. The Nets shot 14-of-21 from the field in a 35-point second quarter that boosted them to a 59-42 halftime lead. The Celtics fought back thanks to the duo of Bradley and Thomas (27 points each), but the Nets, on this night, closed the game successfully. Brook Lopez led the Nets with 23 points and 10 rebounds.

What to watch for: Losing Isaiah. The Nets are not alone in their troubles defending speedy point guards, but perimeter one-on-one defending is a particular weakness. One week ago, the Nets had no answers for the quickness of John Wall, who dissected the Nets defense with 22 points and 13 assists in a 111-96 defeat to the Wizards. Isaiah Thomas, already with two 27-point games this season, presents many of the same offensive attributes as Wall’s floor game, yet with a better touch from long-range; in December, Thomas shot 38 percent from behind the arc. Behind only Russell Westbrook (7.8) and Stephen Curry (6.4), Thomas ranks third amongst point guards in free throw attempts per game (6) and ranks fifth in the NBA with a 90.1 percent free throw percentage. That’s a lethal combination.