Nets take down cellar dwellers in first step

Alan Anderson
Alan Anderson & the Brooklyn Nets dunked the Milwaukee Bucks, snapping a two-game losing streak. (AP)
Alan Anderson
Alan Anderson & the Brooklyn Nets dunked the Milwaukee Bucks, snapping a two-game losing streak. (AP)

Well, it’s good to know there’s a floor on this thing.

Two days after the Nets were torn asunder, embarrassed by their cross-town rival New York Knicks and turned into a laughingstock by the league’s laughingstock, the Nets played a similarly simplified gameplan and controlled the pace throughout the second half, turning a one-point halftime deficit into a relatively easy 90-82 victory.

“It was a big carryover from our shootaround,” Kidd said of the team’s success after the game. “The things that we talked about, those guys executed. The guys stuck with the gameplan and executed and we got better tonight.”

Brook Lopez, Ekpe Udoh
Brookie Monster (AP)
The Nets made a concerted effort to get inside against a depleted Bucks team missing Larry Sanders and Zaza Pachulia, and their biggest man delivered. Brook Lopez finished with an efficient 32 points on just thirteen field goal attempts, shooting 11-13 from the field and 10-11 from the free throw line. The Nets let Lopez cook in the post, and he both shot straight over helpless Bucks defenders, drove around helpless Bucks defenders, or passed out of the double-team when helpless Bucks defenders got some help.

Lopez’s post game has evolved recently; he’s augmented his incredible ability to score over and around players in the post with a keen recognition of double-teams and smart, quick passing once the extra defender came. Lopez made passes that most big men don’t normally make, particularly these two to Joe Johnson that went across the court, both ending in an open three-pointer for shooting guard Joe Johnson:

“I can be a decoy,” Johnson said. “The rest of us are playing off (Lopez), and we’ll just play around him and try to stay aggressive.”

Though the second pass was a little off, Johnson’s patience and Lopez’s ability to find that read resulted in season-highs for Lopez, not just in points, but in assists with four. (Lopez had just six assists all season heading into Saturday night.)

“Brook played a great game,” Kidd said after the game. “He demands attention. He’s seen a lot of double-teams in his young career and he’s making all the right plays. He’s letting guys get to their spots, and guys are knocking down shots.”

But make no mistake: Lopez is still a bull inside with a ballerina’s touch, and when the Bucks either brought the double-team too late or elected not to double-team at all, he made them pay in the post, hitting shots and drawing fouls.

Lopez wasn’t the team’s only facilitator. Though the Nets used Johnson as a spot-up shooter throughout most of the first three quarters, Kidd elected to run the offense through Johnson late in the fourth, and Johnson delivered, finding an open dunk for Lopez and an open jumper for Kevin Garnett (that Garnett, who’s struggled all season, actually put down), and hitting a tough fadeaway jumper in the corner to put the final touches on the victory.

There’s a lot left to do for these Nets. One win only puts them at 6-14; even if they won their remaining games outright they wouldn’t get to .500 until Christmas Day. But a win over even a bad team is better than a loss, especially with the team depleted and heading into two days of rest. Rumor has it that star point guard Deron Williams may even return Tuesday.

But even if Williams continues to rest, the Nets still have the fragments of a successful formula: Lopez runs the show, Johnson sneaks around until it’s time for him to take over, and one of their role players (Alan Anderson tonight) steps up and hits shots. If they follow it, they may stay afloat just long enough to make noise. After all, as Joe Johnson says, “The East is pretty bad.”

More notes:

  • The Nets only turned the ball over eight times, well below their season average. Turnovers were a problem Kevin Garnett focused on early in the season, and though every good thing the Nets did tonight comes with the caveat that they were facing the worst team in the Eastern Conference, it’s still better to hold on to the ball than not. Kidd said after the game that the team’s looking at 13 turnovers as a maximum. Something to keep an eye on.

  • Brook Lopez wore a Batman shirt to the game. I’ll spare you the Batman puns because I want you to think I’m a serious basketball analyst and not just a joker.
  • Riddle me this: how did Kevin Garnett look so active at the end of the game despite playing 16 minutes in the first half? He couldn’t score to save his life, but at least he was bringing some defensive intensity at the end. He’s no longer the Bane to this team’s defense. (That was the last one. I swear. I won’t two-face you. Okay, that one really.)

  • The Nets won a third quarter. That matters. It shouldn’t matter but oh man it matters. Playing Lopez for all 12 minutes in the third was definitely a risk, but the way the Bucks defended him, it was worth it.

  • A few folks were talking about Alan Anderson as a potential third option while Paul Pierce and Deron Williams sit. Sure, I guess, if he can hit his open shots, but he’s much better coming off screens and spotting up then when he tries to create his own offense. That said, I am ALL in favor of a Deron Williams-Joe Johnson-Alan Anderson-Paul Pierce or Andrei Kirilenko-Brook Lopez small-ball look when everyone is healthy.

  • When Kidd was told that Lopez played 40 minutes: “He played 40 minutes? My scoresheet said everybody played 25.” Jason Kidd’s got jokes, y’all. They should win more often for that alone.

  • Kidd on the team’s pace: “We’re going to slow it down. We’re going to try to get the ball inside, work in and out. … We’re not a team that’s trying to zoom up and going to try to score 110 points every night.”

  • Mason Plumlee: DNP. Didn’t see that coming, but he also fits more when the team’s trying to push the pace instead of slow it down.