The Brooklyn Nets (4-7) enter Friday night’s game in Oklahoma City against the Thunder on a demoralizing five-game losing streak, which by now everyone knows has followed Joe Johnson’s notorious “selfish” comments. After an exhausting and emotional triple-overtime loss Wednesday night to Jason Kidd’s Milwaukee Bucks, the Nets must quickly regroup at a venue that has served as a springboard to past success.
Let’s journey back in time for a moment. On January 2, 2013, the Nets, then led by interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo, flew into Oklahoma City on the heels of a 31-point drubbing from the San Antonio Spurs two days prior. In the midst of a mediocre 16-15 season, the Nets upset the Thunder 110-93 behind 33 points from Johnson, which sparked a stretch of seven straight victories and 10 wins in their next 11 games. The Nets would go on to tally 49 victories, attaining the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
Last season was déjà vu all over again for Brooklyn. Even the date was the same! After another blowout loss at the hand of the Spurs, the Nets stumbled into Oklahoma City on January 2nd at a season-low 11 games under .500 (10-21). The Nets, hampered by Brook Lopez’s season-ending foot injury and other early woes, were muddling through a disappointing year which began with such high expectations. The prospect of a win, entering a game versus the 25-6 Thunder led by a scorching Kevin Durant, could not have appeared any farther out of reach.
The game — and the season — took an unexpected turn, after a poor start left them 15 points behind at intermission. But the Nets roared back, culminating with a high arcing buzzer-beater by “Joe Jesus” over the outstretched arm of Serge Ibaka, sealing a 95-93 win.
What followed was a stretch that featured wins in 10 out of 11 games (sound familiar?), and a 34-17 record the rest of the way into the playoffs.
So what do the Nets have in store for their fans tonight? Is another Oklahoma City-stoked season turnaround imminent?
In reality, it shouldn’t seem so dreary, but add Johnson’s comments and the lack of cohesiveness the team is playing with, and it’s clear why the fans are quickly becoming restless. Lionel Hollins’s team has had their share of breaks, predominantly opponents’ injuries, but has yet to capitalize on them.
On Wednesday night, Brandon Knight missed an easy breakaway lay-up at the end of the first overtime that should have felt like a gift from the basketball gods. Alas, it was yet another example of the team not pouncing on a down opponent, just like when they relinquished a 19-point lead in Phoenix that started this unfortunate streak.
All-Stars Durant and Russell Westbrook, both out with serious injuries, will be absent tonight, much like the combos of LaMarcus Aldridge/Nicolas Batum and Dwayne Wade/Luol Deng were during their contests. Sooner or later, these advantages need to be treated accordingly.
That’s not to say tonight’s game will be easy. The Thunder (3-10) are third in the NBA in rebounding, led by Stephen Adams (9.2) and Serge Ibaka (8.4). The Nets have been out-rebounded the past five games, and the inability to get second chance points has been a season-long issue. Lopez’s lack of mobility has hampered his already diminished rebounding skills, and his struggles defensively around the rim has coach Hollins searching for answers. Jerome Jordan’s slow integration into the rotation is more evidence of the team’s growing problem in the paint and Lopez’s minutes could soon diminish.
San Antonio looms tomorrow night, so if there is actually some Oklahoma fairy waiting to sprinkle magic on this Nets season, the fans should know by Sunday if this team is on the upturn.