Thoughts on the Game: Nets Keep it Close Until the Fourth

Nets Magic Basketball

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There appears to be a pattern developing for the depleted Nets, aptly named the “frenzy unit” by Mike Fratello during last night’s 88-72 loss against Orlando Magic down in Florida. The Nets, which was up to 9 live bodies with the addition of a very haggard and fatigued looking Chris Douglas-Roberts, has gotten off to a strong start in each of their last four games, seemingly lulling the opposition to sleep, to keep the game amazingly close until the fourth quarter. Yes, in the first half last night, you could say there was something “off” about the Magic, but we also heard about how there was something “off” with the Celtics last week, and with the Philadelphia 76ers twice the past week. Could it just be that the Nets, for at least three quarters, are doing good things on the court, like playing decent team defense, and not settling for ridiculous low percentage shots?

Where last night seemed to deviate from the previous three games was how the Magic were able to truly pull away in the fourth, finally hitting some of their three-pointers, and capitalizing on some sloppy play on the offensive end by the Nets. Prior to that, the Nets were either up, or were within single digits for most of the night.  With about 8:30 left in the game, Jason Williams hit a three to put the Magic up 13, and the shot just felt like a definitive turning point.  Chris Douglas-Roberts was then blocked by Marcin Gortat on the other end of the court, and old friend Vince Carter hit a three to drive the lead up to 16. Just so nobody got their hopes up, Rafer Alston, who overall had a great night with a 20-10-10 to notch his first career triple-double, committed a bad pass to CDR, turning the ball over, and essentially sealing the game for the Magic, who never looked back from there.

Speaking of Alston, while a lot of the focus in these two early match-ups against the Magic has been on Vince Carter and Courtney Lee (who was out with his groin injury last night) playing against their former teams, it was Rafer who looked like he had a chip on his shoulder last night. On the Nets’ very first offensive set of the game, he took the ball strong to the hoop drawing the foul and sinking the free throws. With about 54 seconds left in the half, Alston had a jump ball with Dwight Howard. Rather than actually attempting the jump, Rafer backed off the from the tip and directed his teams to the other end of the court, where Mickael Pietrus was cheating out ahead of the pack. Bobby Simmons got to the other end quickly and met Pietrus’ attempt with a blocked shot. It was a nice subtle bit of leadership by Rafer.

Unfortunately, Brook Lopez’s string of good games came to a resounding halt last night as he went 1-12 from the field, scored 4 points, and sported an unsightly -26 in the +/- department. There is just something about Dwight Howard that brings out the very worst in Brook Lopez. While I’m certain you could say that about a number of NBA centers when they match-up with Howard, but Brook can’t get any sort of position in the post against him, while allowing himself to get emotionally out-of-whack. As noted in the quickie recap last night, Brook got clobbered by Howard towards the end of the first quarter, but didn’t get the foul call. When he ran back down to the other end of the court, he whacked Howard in clear view of the refs and picked up his second foul – a stupid foul. Lopez then berated the refs all the way back to the bench, though in his special-kind-of-way, avoiding a technical foul. Lopez never seems to get T-ed up in those situations, so I wonder if he’s just yelling quotes from Star Wars or Transformers to avoiding pissing off the refs.

On the flip-side, Brook’s foul trouble got us a Sean Williams sighting last night, and I hope he showed Lawrence Frank enough to get his number called more often going forward. Sean Williams was a presence on defense, blocked a shot, had two steals, grabbed four boards, drew two charges, and in one of my favorite plays of the game, got Vince Carter to commit an incredibly entertaining foul at the 6:01 mark in the second, where Swat was setting a screen, and VC tried plowing into Williams to break through it, and eventually wrapped his arm around him to try and move Sean. Williams just stuck with the play and didn’t react, and there was almost a Rodmanesque zen-like quality to how he stood there during the screen while VC lost his mind. I know Williams has done this before – looked good for a game or two and then followed it up with some boneheaded games to get himself out of the rotation, but after an 0-9 start and a ton of injuries, could Lawrence Frank do any worse than let him play a few games consistently to see if this guy is finally getting it?

Let’s look at a couple of more key plays and some final bullets after the jump:
2.5 seconds, 1st quarter: This was one of those plays I had to go back and watch again on DVR because it was executed so perfectly, I was shocked. Rafer Alston got a pick from Bobby Simmons, who then rolled to the outside in a pick and pop set. Rafer then beat his defender with a quick first step with the ball and was able to teardrop it home for two. The teardrop still seems to be a pretty solid move in Alston’s arsenal, and if he still has enough quickness left to get a good first step on a defender, they need to run this play more often with Simmons, or one of the other Nets outside shooters (whoever they are).

2:19, 2nd quarter: We get to see how Eduardo Najera helps and hurts this team in the span of 20 seconds. He starts the sequence with grabbing an offensive board under the rim and after a couple of pump fakes, is able to get the putback for two. Great. But on the other end of the floor, Matt Barnes is able to blow by Najera, so Eduardo takes this silly little swipe at him to commit the foul. As I mentioned in my PER post yesterday, Najera does a lot of little things, but he’s getting killed on the defensive end and fouls way too much. Case in point.

Final Thoughts:

  • It was great to see CDR back out there tonight after missing the past week with the swine flu, but my goodness he was making me nervous out there after every play, just looking like every motion was sapping him of his last gasp of air.
  • Trenton Hassell has really been a revelation since being inserted into the starting lineup. Tonight, he showed off a couple of post moves with some success. There was one play in the third where Trenton got greedy and attempted a turnaround fadeaway jumper in the post and missed badly, but I can’t kill him for that one stupid shot.
  • Is there a more demonstrative, insufferable coach that Stan Van Gundy out there?
  • I was totally shocked when at the 8:08 mark in the third quarter, it was noted that Brook Lopez had just made his first field goal.
  • The Nets looked pretty good on perimeter defense tonight, and I just realized that I really haven’t had to whine about that the past week or so. The Magic were 8-27 from beyond the arc, and while they hit some killer threes in the 4th quarter, the Nets rotated fairly well throughout.
  • At the 8:44 mark in the 1st, Brook Lopez attempted a nice crossover move to the hoop but missed the shot.  I still can’t help but hold my breath every time Lopez puts the ball on the floor like that.