Any good karma the Nets gained over their five game winning streak the past two weeks seemingly vanished during their flight to Wisconsin as last night’s 110-95 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks may have been a new low for a team that was looking reenergized and taking giant steps forward just this past Monday.
It wasn’t just the Nets couldn’t defend – we’ve all certainly seen them have these kinds of 48-minute-long defensive lapses this season against teams like the Houston Rockets and the New York Knicks. But it’s the fact that this stinker of an effort came against the worst offensive team in the league – letting up 110 points to a team that scored only 56 points on Sunday night? Needless to say, this game, in all likelihood killed all talk of some kind of miracle Nets playoff run dead in its tracks, because if the Nets can’t avoid getting manhandled by a team like the Bucks when their season is on the line, then who can they really beat down the stretch in a “must-win” scenario?
Monday’s win against Boston may have been the feel-good game of the season for Nets fans, but Boston is an older team trying to save some bullets for the postseason, while the Bulls are trying to prove themselves as the new Beast of the East and the Bucks are fighting (and are closer) to that last playoff spot. These games mattered for both teams, and the Nets finished those two games 0-2. Not good.
And yes, I realized the Nets were coming off a tough back-to-back, leading by two at halftime and were as close as 4 in the the 4th quarter. Yes, Deron Williams is hurting and had a poort shooting night (4-13, 18 points), but I never got the sense that the pendulum was ever going to swing in New Jersey’s direction last night. The Bucks were able to make baskets at will and what’s even more scary is they didn’t have to work that hard to do it. They only attempted 9 free throws for the whole game (sinking 8), they had 4 points in transition and 38 in the paint. While I thought the featured match-up was going to be the two centers, Brook Lopez vs. Andrew Bogut – Bogut actually had a relatively quiet night (13 points, 7 rebounds, 4 blocks), and Brook brought his “A” offensive game going off for 25. Instead, where the real imbalance lied was with Milwaukee’s wing players – most notably John Salmons and Carlos Delfino.
In the first half, Anthony Morrow and Damion James were seemingly switching back and forth guarding Salmons and Delfino, and it hardly mattered. Delfino led all scorers with 26 points without making a single basket within 12-feet. In fact, the one shot Delfino took at the basket, he missed. Instead, 11 of his 13 FG attempts were three pointers and he sank 8 of them. And these were all-star weekend-style threes – aka, uncontested. In fact, I was waiting for the money ball to be lobbed his way in the third quarter, when the Nets went to zone and Anthony Morrow was for some reason wandering around the paint, while Delfino was open for so long in the corner, he was able to do his laundry, balance his check book, mow the lawn, set his DVR and calmly hit the trey. Trust me, I timed it.
Since the Deron Williams trade, the talk has been about who the Nets could acquire that would add real bonafide talent to this roster and while it’s easy to talk about how the team would look with Dwight Howard or David West or Zach Randolph, if Billy King is really looking to build a “team” and not just throw a bunch of players against the wall to see what sticks (see exhibit A: the New York Knicks post-Melo), I hope he finds a way to get an honest-to-goodness two-way player to man at least one of the wings next season. When you go back to the Nets glory years in 2002 and 2003, they had Kerry Kittles, a guy who could knock down a three, run the fast break and play some defense, at SG, and Richard Jefferson, who could also run the fast break, aggressively get his way to the basket and defend like an animal, at SF. Anthony Morrow is an excellent shooter, but misses his marks defensively more than Charlie Sheen on the set of Two and a Half Men, and Damion James, despite being advertised as a polished player, is very raw offensively and is still prone to rookie mistakes defensively.
When Avery Johnson goes deeper on his bench, his options don’t get much better, as the bloom is starting to come off the Sasha Vujacic rose after another poor shooting night (3-9), Travis Outlaw plays more like a zero-way player for stretches, and Jordan Farmar is quickly escalating as public enemy No. 1 from my vantage because the offense appears to stall whenever he checks into the game unless he happens to hit one or two of the 20 threes he seemingly chucks every game. In a perfect world next season, Morrow is relegated to the Vujacic role off the bench as he’ll actually be able to hit on about 45 percent of the jumpers he takes, James is an energy guy who can be brought in for defensive reasons in crunch time situations, and Jordan Farmar’s reasonable but totally expendable contract is elsewhere, giving the Nets more financial resources to wheel and deal. In a world where God doesn’t hate the Nets, Travis Outlaw gives a press conference and says he’s deferring the remaining $28 million on his contract due to his poor performance in 2010-11. Hey, I’m just trying to ride the fantasy here.
In the meantime, the Bucks have now won eight straight against the Nets, and they are, without the doubt the official Kryptonite for NJ. I still haven’t figured out why that’s the case, but I’m glad the season series officially ended on Friday, because otherwise, I would still be clawing my eyes out watching the Bucks get separation after separation on nearly every 15-foot jump shot they attempt.