AP Photo/Bill Kostroun
In their desperate scramble to avoid the worst record of all time, the Nets finally found a team that may be in worst shape than they are.
Yes, the Sacramento Kings came into the Izod Center last night with the better record, but with rookie sensation Tyreke Evans on the shelf with a concussion and jaw injury, this was as much of a “must-win” game as it gets for the Nets. If the Nets found a way to lose against this depleted Kings lineup, I would have been able to say with near certitude that the Nets were going to go down as the W.O.A.T.
Fortunately, for the sake of those watching the Nets these days just to see if they’ll surpass 9 wins and avoid infamy, last night’s game helped provide a touch more drama for the season’s final weeks. The Nets won rather easily, 93-79, and played consistently for all four quarters, moving their win total to 8 with 11 games to go.
But this is in no way an endorsement for the way the Nets played last night. Sure, beggars can’t be choosers, and given the mounting concern I’ve had about the lack of urgency of this team, it was absolutely refreshing to see them come out and for the first time in a few weeks, actually take care of business and beat a team they were supposed to beat. But outside a few stretches in the second and third quarters, there was nothing pretty about this win.The Nets only shot 39 percent for the game, got absolutely zero production from their frontcourt (starters and reserves), and hit a bit of a shooting slump in the fourth quarter which could have come back to haunt them if the Kings had any sort of a clue on offense last night. For stretches, the Nets looked like the second worst team on the court last night, not the better team.
They did end up doing somethings right. They grabbed 10 steals, only turned the ball over 7 times, and got strong performances from their two keystone players, Brook Lopez (26 points, 13 rebounds, 4 blocks) and Devin Harris (24 points, 9 assists). That’s definitely a recipe for winning.
The Nets were also able to put some distance between themselves and the Kings in the second and third quarters with a smooth-looking transition game, that led to fast-break points in bunches. Coming into the season, we heard all about run and gun, and the Lawrence Frank’s “wildcat” wing-heavy small ball, but the plan was derailed by injuries. Then when Kiki Vandeweghe took over, it looked like the emphasis on a more fast paced game was to be renewed, but we never saw it. Instead, the Nets looked content settling into a halfcourt game – which only seems to emphasize the weakest part of the Nets game – jump shooting. After having an aberration of a game against the Knicks a few weeks ago with the three-ball, the Nets really became trey-happy. In their last 5 games, the Nets had averaged 11 three-point attempts a game, despite being among the bottom feeders in the league in outside shooting. It wasn’t until Monday night, during the Nets’ loss to Miami where assistant coach John Loyer, in place of Kiki, was imploring his troops to run. It was like a lightbulb switched on: “oh yeah, we ain’t scoring squat in the halfcourt, let’s try something else.”
So, it’s only fitting that for the game’s first 18 minutes, I was screaming at the television as the Nets heaved brick after brick while Sacramento ran a high school-caliber zone defense. Then, the running game was kicked off with an interception and dunk by Chris Douglas-Roberts at the 4:43 and the Nets went on to score 21 points in transition – not exactly ticker-tape worthy, but a vast improvement compared with the past three weeks with games. With the reputation of the franchise hanging in the balance, it’s the least I can ask for.
A few more thoughts after the jump.
- This was, by far, Brook Lopez’s best game in quite a while. He seemed to have everything clicking for the first time in a while. This game was reminiscent of the Lopez we saw in November and the first part of December. His teammates found him 21 shots – as they should be doing every game. Lopez still takes way too many jumpers outside of 15-feet (seven by my count, with two makes), but Lopez also got a ton of touches in the paint, and even got to show off some of his off the dribble offense. And unlike his game on Monday, Lopez rebounded the ball, and was aggressive on the defensive end, collecting four blocks against a hapless Kings offense.
- it may not show in the box score, but I thought Chris Douglas-Roberts was a real lift for this team off the bench last night. As I mentioned earlier, it was his step-in steal and dunk in the second that I thought triggered the Nets to be a bit more aggressive in the Kings’ passing lanes leading to a more high octane offense. He also drilled a three with about three minutes to go in the first that served as a bit of a zone-buster for Sacramento. Bottom line, CDR just looked more active than he’s been lately without the ball, and even though he was never a focal point on offense, he still nabbed 10 points.
- I can accept that Yi Jianlian is the de facto starting four on this team, sheerly because he’s the only option left with any real upside. With that said, I think Kris Humphries role in the rotation needs to change. In my mind, Josh Boone is absolutely ahead of Hump on the depth chart now. Outside of rebounding, which Hump does do well, he’s just looked absolutely terrible with every other facet of his game for the better part of a month. After another 0-4 night from the field, you can’t even want Hump touching the ball on offense. At least Boone realizes his offensive limitations and doesn’t force the issue. Hump is still shooting like he’s the Nets secret weapon off the bench.
- I probably shouldn’t be admitting this, but with Tyreke Evans out, besides Carl Landry I just didn’t know jack squat about anyone on this Kings roster. I guess this is what happens when you only see a team twice a year (and one of those games is on the west coast when I’m too bleary eyed to watch). While Nets fans can bemoan how far their team has fallen since 2001-02, I think I’d take the Nets in the “most upside” competition.