Pregame Open Thread: That Team Without LeBron

Toronto Raptors Amir Johnson goes up for a slam dunk past Cleveland Cavaliers (L-R) Anthony Parker, Antawn Jamison, Leon Powe, and Jawed Williams during the first half of their NBA basketball game in Toronto, October 29, 2010.   REUTERS/Mark Blinch (CANADA - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

Thanks to a bruising schedule, the Nets had to face Miami twice and Orlando once in the span of one week (and play Orlando again this weekend). Today, they get a bit of a break as they take on the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Prudential Center. Hopefully they’ll fare better than they did against the Cavs when LeBron was around, as the Nets have dropped four in a row to fall to third in the Atlantic Division.

Just because they lost their star doesn’t mean Cleveland is completely devoid of talent. Remember that they retained Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison from last year’s team, two players who can score when they have to. Furthermore, J.J. Hickson has emerged as more of a focal point for the team now that he’s getting an appreciable number of minutes, and he has always had admirable potential.

Some things to watch for in the game:

  • Role Reversal: In the last few games, the mainstays of the Nets roster haven’t been pulling their weight; Devin Harris and Brook Lopez have struggled, and Troy Murphy still hasn’t quite figured it out coming back from injury. That said, the second-tier players and reserves have done their best to pick up the slack. Anthony Morrow finally looks comfortable shooting the ball, Terrence Williams is playing with more control, Kris Humphries has been an incredible spark off the bench with a knack for putting up second-chance points on offensive rebounds, and Travis Outlaw is starting to show that he’s worth even one tenth of the contract he got this offseason. If both troupes can get going, the Nets will start to play some impressive basketball.
  • Are They Tough Enough? In the shadow of T-Will’s hip check running into the stands (of his own accord, if you ask me) on Saturday, the Nets have been preaching that they want to be tougher, and tougher they should be. Miami’s offense was a layup drill for most of the game, as the Nets were not forcing the Heat players to earn their points at the line. So they say they’re going to start hardening up and protecting the rim. In theory, it’s a great idea. However, the Nets are already near the top of the league in fouls per game, and they don’t want to risk getting their rotation players into foul trouble with too many unnecessary personals. Ideally, they need to cut out the loose-ball and non-shooting fouls so that they have more to spare on layup-sparing hacks.
  • Defense! Defense! Well, I’ve now ended all three of my bullet points with a different punctuation mark, but this is important. The New Jersey Nets are 10th in team defense this season. 10th. Can you believe it? After playing Miami and Orlando three times, the Nets have only allowed 98.3 points per game. Clearly Avery Johnson’s doing something right. And if they’re going to continue to sag at the bottom of the league in offense, rebounding, and assists (28th, 26th, and 25th overall, respectively), they’ll need to continue to do work on the defensive end to have any hope of remaining competitive throughout the season.