Thoughts on the Game: Devin’s Back, but Losses Keep Mounting

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AP Photo/Morry Gash

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The Nets aren’t going to finish the season 0-82, but after games like today’s 98-91 loss against the Knicks, it sure feels like it’s a possibility.

Outside of a third-quarter run where the Knicks extended their lead to 15, they never came across to be a better team than the Nets. Both teams shot about the same (42 percent for the Knicks, 41 percent for the Nets), they only outrebounded the Nets by two (47-45) and they had two more turnovers than the Nets (15-13). Yet, the Knicks were consistently in control of the game and did their best bend but don’t break imitation as the Nets went on a 16-2 run in the fourth quarter, to cut the Knicks lead to one.

So if the Knicks weren’t necessarily better, why did they win their third game this afternoon in New Jersey, while the Nets are still desperately seeking their first win of the year, with an ominous four game west-coast trip on the horizon and a record-tying 0-17 start staring them straight in the face?

There were two key sequences/plays that seemed to be turning points of the game, that also happened to tie-in to the one aspect of the game where the Nets were truly deficient when compared to the Knicks: favorable calls from the refs.

This will naturally come across as sour grapes, but I don’t care. At the 7:02 mark in the third quarter and the Knicks up 62-54, the returning Devin Harris, who was absolutely dynamite off the bench with 12 points and 7 assists in 25 minutes of play, appeared to get his hand on a Knicks pass. The refs, however, called it a kick ball, given the ball back to the Knicks. Six seconds later, Brook Lopez, who also had a nice game with 18 points, 12 rebounds and 4 blocks, looked like he got what would have been his fifth block on the Danilo Gallinari dunk attempt. The refs blew their whistles again, giving Brook his fourth foul and then hit him with a technical after Lopez justifiably went berserk. The Knicks rode that momentum to an 8-3 run that gave them a 15-point lead, their largest of the game.

The Nets were still able to fight their way back, after rolling on a 16-2 run in the fourth. That set up key whistle number two, at the 5:27 mark of the fourth with the Knicks up 82-79. Sean Williams, who had checked in for Brook who after Lopez collected his fifth foul, stepped in front of a driving David Lee to draw the charge. Williams’ feet look planted and he was a good two feet out of the restricted area under the basket, yet the refs still called a blocking foul, giving Lee two free throws (he made one).

So how can I say the refs were jerking the Nets around a bit just based on two calls? Well, consider how the Knicks are one of the worst teams at attempting free throws in the NBA, it’s curious how they shot nine more free throws than the Nets, and drew six more fouls. In the first quarter, Eddy Curry had checked in and instantly drew two quick fouls on Brook Lopez. That’s right. A player who had sat out the start of the season because he was basically fat and out of shape was able to draw two ticky-tack fouls on Brook Lopez within a minute of each other. Something doesn’t add up here.

For those who don’t want to simply blame the refs, another ongoing problem for the Nets reared its ugly head again – namely, they can’t hit threes, and they give up far too many treys to the opposition. The Knicks were 8-23 from three-point-land, which isn’t necessarily an abomination, but the Nets were only 4-18. And while coach Lawrence Frank keeps preaching defense with this team, especially on the perimeter, why did he stick a slow-footed defender like Josh Boone on Danilo Gallinari, the Knicks’ best shooter,  at the start of the game. Gallinari naturally made the Nets pay with a pair of threes in the first.

To try and harvest something positive from this game, there was a ray of light with the return of Devin Harris. Unlike the Devin we saw in the first two games of this year, where he just seemed to be missing something, this Harris seemed to have his explosiveness back. He took the ball to the hole on his first shot attempt of the game and got two points. Soon after, he ran his first successful pick and roll with Brook, which lead to an alley-oop dunk for Brook. Then, in the quintessential Harris play, at the 2:21 mark in the second he got the screen from Sean Williams, giving him the space to split Al Harrington and Chris Duhon and tomahawk jam the ball over David Lee.

Because he was coming back from an injury, Harris was limited to 25 minutes, so there is a silver lining in thinking that once he shakes off some of the rust and rebuilds his stamina, he will be able to regain his form that made him a real scoring/passing force for the Nets last season. But that doesn’t change some of my concerns about this Nets team. Even with Devin Harris at 80 percent, they had ample opportunity to beat the Knicks today. Instead, they continued to miss open shots, and they continued to be dogged by bad luck. How fitting for a team that just lost its 13th game in a row.

For a look at some key plays, read more after the jump.

10:54, 2nd quarter: Another example of how Sean Williams always finds a way to impact the Nets without scoring. With Brook Lopez in foul trouble and Josh Boone looking clueless on defense, Williams was in the game and on this play, blocked a layup attempt by Toney Douglas. The Nets recovered the ball and Devin Harris lobbed the ball from around halfcourt to Terrence Williams, who took it home on the alley-op.

3:33, 3rd quarter: Note to Terrence Williams – take the ball to the hoop, and good things can happen. With the Nets reeling in the third, Williams uses this opportunity to drive from the top of the key on Wilson Chandler, sinking the running jump shot and drawing the foul for the three-point play. Now, it’s worth nothing, TWill hit a huge three at the 5:10 mark in the 3rd to bring the Nets within 1 point, but at this point, I still rather see him use his compact, but strong body to get into traffic, draw fouls and get to the free throw line.

1:49, 3rd quarter: Just an example of why Bobby Simmons needs to be relegated to the bench if the Nets can ever get some of their frontcourt depth back. On a missed three by Chris Duhon, Bobby Simmons had perfect position to grab the rebound under the rim, but after the ball took an odd bounce, Bobby mistimed his jump (or something that resembled a jump), and got beat by Jared Jeffries who put the ball back for two points.

Final Thoughts

  • At 0-13 it’s hard to be consumed by anything but the losing streak right now, but it really was great to see Devin Harris back and exploding to the rim again.
  • It what could have been the bonehead move of the century, at the end of the first quarter, Nate Robinson heaved a three-ball, at the Nets basket, which went in. The points didn’t count because it was after the buzzer, but Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni was so furious, Nate didn’t see any PT after that.
  • On the Nets opening possession of the game, they got bailed out when Trenton Hassell made a 20-foot jumper in the right corner as the shot clock was expiring, but the play call was still productive in that it gave Brook Lopez an early touch, making the Knicks show their double-team Lopez strategy very early.
  • Rafer Alston made his first FG in the fourth quarter when he hit a big three-ball, but once again, he just had a terrible shooting game. It’s not like Rafer is missing contested jumpers either.
  • Why does Al Harrington always find a way to kill the Nets? This time hitting a three in the final minute to put the Knicks up by 7.
  • Another strong game from Chris Douglas-Roberts with 24 points, but something to note: going into today’s game, his assist ratio – the percentage of his possessions that end with an assist – was 8.1, down from 18.2 from the year before. While watching CDR today, I kept thinking that he was just dribbling the ball way too much. Even if he’s finding ways to score, this is not a good trend.
  • Watching Josh Boone get yanked halfway through the first after completely blowing a defensive assignment on Gallinari was probably the most predictable thing that happened in this game.
  • I love what Sean Williams has been doing the last week or so of games. So think of how great he could be if he could just stop fouling people so much.
  • The YES team reminded me that after the Nets four-game road trip on the west coast, they come home to face a very good Dallas Mavericks team. So yes, 0-18 is very, very real people.