Every NBA team faces turmoil or minor dilemmas that potentially stunts their growth each season. Winning is the usual remedy for these unfortunate stretches, but sometimes the unfortunate reality sinks in, and the team has no choice but to accept the struggle.
For the Nets (4-4), it’s way too early to identify their recent two-game losing streak as a crisis. But the after-effects of Joe Johnson’s remarks Sunday night have not made the outlook any rosier.
Head coach Lionel Hollins has to address the defensive deficiencies that have plagued the Nets, and get this team back to playing as a unit. After having a 19-point first-half lead against Phoenix on Wednesday night, the Nets were burned by 58 percent second-half shooting from Phoenix, which led to 63 Suns points and a 112-104 loss. Thursday night, Golden State torched the Nets for 66 first-half points on 51 percent shooting, which inevitably led to a 107-99 loss.
Now the venue turns to Portland, where the Trailblazers (6-3) have started right where they left off in their 54-win season, featuring a strong, balanced attack. Led by forward LaMarcus Aldridge (21.9 PPG), the Trail Blazers currently rank second in the NBA in scoring at 105.9 points per game. All-Star point guard, Damian Lillard is off to another great start, averaging 19.8 points and 6.2 assists per game, shooting 46 percent from three-point range.
The Nets do have a stroke of luck: starting forwards Nicolas Batum (bruised right knee) and Aldridge (illness) will not suit up for the Blazers tonight.
The Nets will have to be wary of the three-ball once again tonight; the Blazers rank second in the league in three point field goals (97) and field goals attempted (251). Coach Hollins will have to figure something out, because for the most part, the defense has been a disappointment this year.
The Blazers return mostly last year’s team, minus Mo Williams, who the Nets saw when they played the Minnesota Timberwolves earlier this year. The Blazers picked up Steve Blake to replace Williams as the backup point guard, and signed veteran center Chris Kaman to back up Robin Lopez. Aldridge, Lopez, and Kaman are the main reasons Portland currently ranks first in the league in rebounding, which just so happens to be another weakness of the Nets these days — especially for Robin’s twin brother, Brook.
It’s early, but Lopez (the Nets version) will need to right his season quick. Lopez has averaged only 5.5 RPG, and has been a liability on both ends of the court. While his shooting percentage is down at 47 percent, Lopez’s mobility and defensive disruption have been his biggest downfall. The word’s getting around: teams are driving directly at Lopez, forcing him to defend the rim, and it’s worked; opponents are scoring 11.6 points per game on Lopez defending the rim at a 60.3 percent clip. Of course, Lopez will have the chance to exploit whatever defensive weakness his brother Robin has tonight.
If anyone knows how to post him it up, it should be Brook. Earlier this week, Brook was asked what the difference was between him and his brother. The answer: “Robin’s an idiot. Yeah, Yeah, he’s a complete moron.” Robin fired back in his usual laid-back fashion, saying “I mean, I’m going to go back to a common schoolyard retort: It takes one to know one.” Robin later went on to say, “I don’t think he’s too concerned with basketball, I think he’s a little more concerned that he’s not the best looking Lopez. That’s something that would bother him.”
Both will be front and center tonight: Brook will be on his way back to the east coast after the game, it might be nice to have another road win in his pocket and little extra ammo for his sibling rivalry.