Coming into last night’s game against the Magic, I know I was particularly looking to see how the Brook Lopez/Dwight Howard match-up was going to shake out. Howard had out-and-out dominated Brook in the team’s previous two match-ups, despite the fact that I maintain that the two should be considered selections #1 and #2 in the conversation for best centers in the Eastern Conference. However, by the game’s end, Howard/Lopez almost seemed like an afterthought for me since neither on them had a particularly fantastic game offensively (Lopez score more points with 18, Howard (11 points) was more efficient shooting-wise and was his usual monster self on the boards (16 total). The difference was Dwight Howard has a great supporting cast, while Lopez is truly an island to himself most games, and last night was no different.
Two things spring to mind as difference makers last night. Matt Barnes early, and the Nets offense in the third quarter. That’s not to say the Magic, who never trailed in this game, still wouldn’t have found a way to win without these factors, but it certainly looked really easy for Orlando because of them.
Similar to JJ Hickson on Wednesday night, in Barnes, the Nets let a guy who’s not typically the focal point for a team’s offense take them to the woodshed early. He scored 14 of his 16 points in the first quarter, and so many of them were transition buckets, I was, and still am, legitimately puzzled as to who was supposed to be guarding him. Here’s what I came up with: it looked like in a lot of man situations Trenton Hassell was on Rashard Lewis, which makes sense since Lewis is a threat offensively who’s big, but plays small from the outside, which is a good defensive match-up for a guy like Hassell. Lopez was on Howard in post situations, with the occasional switchover by Yi whenever there was penetration from Orlando’s backcourt. Devin and CDR had Jameer Nelson and Vince Carter respectively. So when figuring the odd man out on Barnes, we come back to Yi. It’s a logical conclusion, since it would make sense that Kiki Vangeweghe would put Yi on Barnes while Hassell was on the floor because Barnes is supposedly Orlando’s least dynamic player offensively. The only reason I can’t formally confirm Yi was the defender in question because I can’t recall ever seeing Yi actually near Barnes at any point in the first quarter. But that’s not unusual when it comes to Yi and defense.
Then there was the third quarter where the Nets only score 14 points, including a stretch for more than 7 minutes between field goals. Jarvis Hayes was especially awful during the stretch, missing two open jumpers and getting called for traveling. During one of Jarvis’ missed-jumpers, at around the 3 minute mark, Kris Humphries had Vince Carter guarding him in a mismatch down in the post, without another defender nearby to offer help, but Hayes decided to shoot anyway.
Devin Harris continued his terrible shooting (7-21 for the game, 0-2 during the third quarter drought), and I’m still holding on to my conspiracy theory that he reinjured his wrist after he mysteriously disappeared to locker room during the first quarter on last Sunday’s game against Washington.
On the positive side, the way Terrence Williams is playing, he’s making a serious case to be inserted into the starting lineup during the season’s home stretch, especially with Jarvis Hayes back to his early-season shooting woes and Trenton Hassell continuing to be such a non-factor offensively for a team that is last in the league in scoring efficiency. Williams is providing a nice scoring punch off the bench currently (14 points on 4-9) shooting, and seems to rack up at least one highlight reel play per game. Yesterday, it came at the 10:30 mark in the fourth when TWill was bringing the ball up at the top of the key and just exploded by old-friend Vince Carter on his first step and created an open path for himself to the rim for the layup. With about 8 minutes to go in the second quarter, Williams had a great defensive stop on JJ Redick, who was trying to go up and under on a short jumper in the paint. Williams never bought on the fake, and when Redick went to go under, ended up smashing his elbow in TWill’s face, getting called for the foul. For the game, Williams was the only Net with a positive +/- finishing with a +7 in his 28 minutes, which is pretty good when you consider the Nets never once had the lead in this game and were down by as many as 17.
Just a quick note on VC. As someone who was very critical of Vince Carter throughout his tenure in New Jersey, watching him play last night was very fascinating. Sure, he hit a couple of jumpers in the third, but he looks like such a non-factor on the offensive end. The Magic very rarely run any plays for him. With about two minutes left in the first quarter, VC had Jarvis absolutely beat in the post and blew the layup. As frustrated as I was with Vince in Jersey, he looks like even less of a player now, which blows my mind.