It’s the middle of November, so I can’t believe I’m saying this either, but the Nets have to beat the New York Knicks tomorrow.
Yes, I just called a November 21 match-up between an 0-12 team, and a 2-9 team, a “must-win” for the Nets.
It’s a must-win, because it’s their best, and probably last opportunity to end this horrid, deflating losing streak before it reaches lower lows – making the 2009-10 New Jersey Nets a historic laughinstock in NBA record-books.
At 0-12, the Nets are still five losses away from matching the NBA worst-ever starts by the the 1988 Miami Heat and the 1998 Los Angeles Clippers. That’s right, the Nets are just five more bad performances away from matching a team playing in its expansion year, and the ultimate loser of franchises in the Clippers. And while five games is quite the losing streak in of itself, consider this: if the Nets lose to the Knicks and fall to 0-13, their next four games come on the west coast, where the team has been historically bad, playing the Nuggets, Blazers, Kings and Lakers. The Nets, even without this sword of Damocles hanging over their heads, probably lose three of those four games. What’s going to happen if they head to the west coast having to win at least one of these games in order to avoid NBA infamy?
The Nets have to beat the Knicks, because the Knicks are a lousy team. Yes, they have two more wins then the Nets, but this is a team that struggles to score and defend. They rank 25th in offensive efficiency (the Nets are last) and 26th in defensive efficiency (the Nets are 14th). They’re terrible rebounders, ranking 29th in the league in rebounding rate. Yes, they play at a considerably faster pace than the Nets, and live and die by the three point shot which the Nets have a hard time defending, but of all the teams the Nets have played in the early part of the season, the Knicks are one of the few teams I think the Nets are actually better than.
Some things that make me nervous: the likely return of Devin Harris provides a shot in the arm offensively for the Nets, but will he show signs of rust and put this team into an early whole while he tries to shake it off? Also, how does his presence affect the dynamic of the current team, which has actually played well together (as well as they could) while the “stars” nurse themselves back to health. How will Harris affect someone like Chris Douglas-Roberts, who has emerged as a go-to guy on offense in his absence?
Looking at the positives, having someone like Devin Harris back will likely have a domino effect on everyone else. With opposing defenses having to pay attention to him, it should create more opportunities for Brook Lopez and CDR. The Nets can go back to their pick and roll game to get Brook the ball closer to the rim.
But all of these variables are just window dressing for the big issue – it’s November 20, and the Nets have to win this game tomorrow. The Nets have to win because every win is important, but the Nets have to win tomorrow because it very well may be the last game that stands between them and NBA futility.