Nets Players Admire Chris Paul’s Open Path to the Rim (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)
Perhaps it was a pipe dream to expect the Nets to come out and win back-to-back road games on back-to-back nights, but instead, Net fans were treated to a nightmarish performance defensively, not to mention the usual assortment of struggles offensively, in last night’s 105-91 loss to the New Orleans Hornets in NOLA.
Miraculously, the Nets were close in this game for about 24 minutes before NOLA seemed to catch on that they were in fact playing a lineup that featured the likes of Stephen Graham, Travis Outlaw and Jordan Farmar for significant stretches, rather than the rag tag all-stars who found ways to hang with and beat the Atlanta Hawks and Memphis Grizzlies Sunday and Tuesday. Stupidly, after NOLA shot 13-17 (76.5%) in the first quarter and was only up 32-29, I thought maybe this game would follow a similar path as Sunday’s against the Hawks when Atlanta blitzed the Nets early and the fell off the face of the Earth offensively, allowing NJ to take control of the game late.
But that was not the case. The Nets had an opportunity to head into the half only down 4 when they decided to leave a red hot David West wide open for three, stretching NOLA’s lead to 57-50. And that was the problem all game for the Nets. Per NBA rules, it was a 5-on-5 game, but Hornets’ players found ways to get open so often, it looked like it was 6-on-5 for stretches. NOLA had five guys in double figures, led by 21 points (and 10 rebounds) from Emeka Okafor who shot 8-13 from the field. And that was one of the poorer individual shooting performances for a NOLA player last night. Chris Paul (6-8, 12 points, 14 assists), Marco Belinelli (6-8, 14 points) and Marcus Thornton (7-10, 4-5 three, 18 points) all did one better in the endless punishment of shooting percentages. NOLA moved the ball around well, racking up 27 assists on 41 field goals and outrebounded the Nets 48-30. Oddly enough, the Nets had more points in the paint (46-44) and less turnovers (7 vs 13), but from the second half on, it was just a thoroughly dominant performance by NOLA, who were up by as many as 22 and shooting nearly 60% at the end of three quarters, before finishing closer to 54% for the game.
Meanwhile, on the offensive end, it was the usual suspects whenever the Nets end up playing a game like this. Brook Lopez, who finished with 16 points, was never able to get into the flow of the game, shooting 6-16 from the field after starting 3-12. I honestly didn’t think Okafor was going to be able to bully Lopez away from the rim like some of the league’s more physical centers tend to do, but perhaps because of fatigue from the back-to-back, Brook was a non-factor most of the night. And only four rebounds? You can blame Lopez’s rebounding woes this season on Kris Humphries grabbing all those loose balls, but four rebounds from Brook in a game where he’s doing squat offensively is just unacceptable.
Travis Outlaw, who looked to be rejoining the ranks of the respectable after the past two weeks had an awful night of shooting, finishing 3-11 with 9 points. Outlaw hit his very first FG attempt last night before going cold, something he’s done a handful of other times this season. Apparently hitting the first shot of the game takes Outlaw out of his rhythm. Jordan Farmar was equally terrible from the field, finishing 2-8 with 4 points, including 0-4 from beyond the arc.
With their current rotation and depth issues, the Nets are not going to be able to survive a night where Lopez is off and the role players don’t step up. Yes, Sasha Vujacic, for the third night in a row, looked like one of the best players on the floor for fleeting moments, finishing with 12 points, including back-to-back catch and shoot threes in the third quarter when the Nets were still clinging to the hope of staying in this game. Sasha also nabbed two steals and looked really active defensively, especially in the first half. The Derrick Favors fan club will also cite his 10 points, including two off an impressive alley-oop from Jordan Farmar in the first half, but Favors also piled up 5 fouls in his usual limited minutes, demonstrated great form before missing a hook shot from the post, and then badly missed a face-up jumper from about 14-feet out. Obviously, the kid’s game still needs a lot of work.