When you’re watching your team play the Cleveland Cavaliers, you absolutely expect LeBron James to completely dominate, and with Antawn Jamison now in the fold, I was prepared to see him have a big game last night against the Nets as well.
But when you get big games from those two guys, and then have to rummage through the carnage left by a player like JJ Hickson, that’s when you know your team is in trouble. Then again, it’s by no accident that the Nets have 53 losses on March 3 – no matter what Boston Celtics fans are currently telling you.
Despite playing the Cavs relatively well earlier in the season the Nets seemed destined to get smacked around in match No. 4, so the final 111-92 score was not a huge shock to me. But I’m still having a hard time getting over this Hickson thing. Filling in for the injured Shaquille O’Neal, and the absent Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Hickson, who’s averaging 7.6 points and 4.4 rebounds for the season, is exactly the kind of player that can’t beat you. With 20 points and 13 rebounds, that’s exactly what he did.
What’s worse was how he did. In the first quarter, within the first 90 seconds of the game, Hickson was able to grab two offensive rebounds because of poor boxing out by the Nets. Unlike Yi Jianlian, who grabbed a ton of offensive rebounds on Sunday night but had zero points on cutbacks, Hickson got four points off those two boards.
Maybe you could have chalked the early Hickson buckets for the Nets being a tad unprepared to deal with him, but with about three minutes left in the third, Hickson jumped in for an offensive rebound again, untouched.
It was so frustrating, it almost made me overlook the performances by LeBron (26 points, 14 assists, 7 rebounds) and Antawn Jamison (19 points, 9 rebounds). LeBron was really pushing it early. I remember checking the box score at one point in the second quarter and saw he had 16 points already and I thought he could have gone for 50 if he wanted to, but the Cavs checked into cruise control, only revving the engine again when the Nets cut their lead down to 12 or 11 points.
When the Nets did go on their runs, Terrence Williams (21 points, 8-16 shooting, 7 assists, 5 rebounds), was the primary catalyst. In the second quarter, Williams made three separate plays in the span of four minutes, where he demonstrated what an absolutely dominant player he can be offensively, when he just focuses on scoring near the hoop. He capped off the scoring spurt with a one-handed dunk with about 2:30 left in the quarter. TWill was setting the offense at the top of the key, when he exploded with his first step, carving his way around the entire Cleveland defense before getting the dunk.
A player I was disappointed in was Brook Lopez. Lopez has been pretty successful against the Cavs when Shaq has been in the lineup, averaging 21.7 points in his three previous games. While he finished with 21 points and 14 rebounds last night, it was about as quiet of a double-double from Lopez as you could get. He struggled in the early going, while Hickson was doing his damage, and Lopez didn’t seem to get into a groove until the second half, when he scored 12 of his points.
Final thoughts after the jump:
- Perhaps this is premature, but I’m going to officially sound the panic alarm with Devin Harris again. In Sunday’s recap, I mentioned how I thought Devin took a turn for the worse when he was subbed out as his usual spot in the first quarter and retreated to the locker room. When he came back in the Washington game, his jump shot seemed off, similar to how he was shooting when he was struggling with his wrist injury in January. Last night was more of the same. It’s not so much the 4-13 from the field that bothers me (though it does), it’s the fact that Devin was consistently coming up short on his jumpers. Plus he was only able to tally one assist.
- Chris Douglas-Roberts had a very short stretch in the third quarter where in the span of 2+ minutes, he took over the game offensively, and made three consecutive short runners in the lane – vintage CDR style. Sadly, they were the only three field goals made by Douglas-Roberts all game, missing his other 7 attempts. It’s just so frustrating because as a fan, you can see what CDR can accomplish, but you’re left wondering who that player on the court is the other 20+ minutes a game.
- Another double-double for Yi Jianlian (14 points, 10 rebounds), but he was also front and center of one of those almost daily Nets mishaps on the boards. In this instance, during the fourth quarter, Lopez had a clear and open path to the rebound, but Yi came out and crashed the boards, causing Lopez to lose the grip and turn it over. Yi will probably also make the blooper reel for a play with about 6 minutes left in the game, where while Cleveland was on offense, an errant pass hit the bottom of the backboard, bounced back into Yi’s face (who naturally looked like he was trying to duck the ball), bounced on Anderson Varejao’s face, and back into Cleveland’s possession.
- To show that all members of the Nets frontcourt frustrate me equally, I thought I’d mention a play with about 4:40 left in the game when Mo Williams was controlling the ball around the strong side baseline and Brook Lopez, who was watching his man in the post, turned his back to the ball (again), allowing Williams to blow by his defender and get an uncontested layup. If I could play armchair analyst for half a second, it appears to me that after getting burned on offensive rebounds, and other activity and cuts around the rim from opposing teams’ frontcourts, Brook and Yi get so obsessed late in games with where their “man” is, they totally forget their role as help defenders, and they constantly break the cardinal rule of never losing track of where the ball actually is. With good coaching, you’d hope Lopez could break a habit like that, but there isn’t any evidence that Brook is getting good coaching.