AP Photo/Bill Kostroun
As last night’s game agains the Orlando Magic ended with Devin Harris heaving and missing a near half-court shot (and maybe getting fouled by Jameer Nelson on the play? The way the NBA is these days, it’s a call that certainly could have been made) I had to think that this was a game that needs to be stowed near the top of the season’s time capsule. Because even though the Nets lost 91-90, they proved last night that they have the ability to hang with one of the league’s elite teams for a full 48 minutes.
Yes, losses are losses and moral victories are typically for those making excuses for lack of execution, but by taking multiple shots to the chin throughout the night by the Magic, and still finding themselves in the position to come away with the victory is a major step for an organization that’s still rebuilding its image from a horror show that was last year. I know Devin Harris and co. scoff at the ongoing comparisons to last season, but when you play on a team that’s known for barely avoiding the worst record in NBA history, the comparisons are going to continue. Fortunately for Harris and the Nets’ sake, the vast majority of these comparisons are, “wow, aren’t the Nets playing so much better than last year?”
By my count there were three definitive points in this game where the Magic were setting up to close the door, and the Nets came back from the dead on all three occasions – cue the obligatory they would not have done that last season, but guess what, they wouldn’t have. Down 12 in the first half, with the Magic cruising with primarily their second unit playing, the Nets went on a 12-2 run to end the second quarter, fueled primarily by 5 points each from Jordan Farmar and Travis Outlaw.
Fast forward to about 5 minutes to go in the fourth quarter and the Magic starting to pull away when they were up by 7. The Nets responded again, with some crafty short-range jumpers from Devin Harris – who was just fantastic last night with 26 points, 8 assists and 6 rebounds on 9-16 shooting – and Anthony Morrow’s first three from the game, a shot from the corner that circled the drain before falling in. The Magic would go on to pull ahead by 7 AGAIN in the fourth quarter on some vintage, out-of-nowhere drives to the rim by Vince Carter and two free throws by Dwight Howard. With less than a minute to go, I was half-expecting the Nets to miss a shot on their next possession and seal the game for the Magic, but Outlaw came through again with a short-range jumper and then Farmar came through again with a three pointer (is it in his contract to hit a three in the final minute of every close game the Nets have played? It’s uncanny how despite an otherwise poor shooting game he found a way to drain that shot. And Magic coach Stan Van Gundy’s reaction to Dwight Howard giving Farmar room to shoot was absolutely priceless). Two missed free throws from Jameer Nelson gave the Nets life down one, and Brook Lopez obliged, attacking the rim, drawing the foul and sinking both his free throws. The only problem was there was still too much time left the clock. And with 11 seconds left, the Magic made the Nets pay when they went coast-to-coast and scored on a fadeaway baselines jumper from Nelson over Lopez’s outstretched arms. It was vindication for Nelson, who’s a good player and deserved the opportunity to right his own wrong, but it was a crushing blow all the same. Even with four seconds left, the Nets seemed doomed unless Harris had another miracle half court heave in him, which he did not.
So after a performance like that, it’s my natural inclination to look on the bright side, rather than seek out the negative, because outside of being out-rebounded 43-31, and some quiet play from their PFs (Kris Humphries followed-up his breakout performance on Wednesday with a modest 4 point, 7 rebound, 2 block game), there wasn’t a heck of a lot to be negative about. The Nets shot 49 percent from the field and held the Magic to 41.6 percent. Brook Lopez, after about 10 days of puzzling play, got his mojo back and scored 23 points on 9-17 shooting. Harris, for all extensive purposes, looks like the player he was two years ago when he was an all-star. Outlaw was a legitimate third offensive option all night, racking on 20 points and 7 rebounds on an efficient 8-12 from the field. Yes, the Nets and Lopez specifically were able to get a lot of this down with Dwight Howard be limited to 27 minutes, and in those 27 minutes, Howard was fantastic, scoring 16 points on 6-9 shooting. But Lopez went aggressively at Howard all night long, and were able to draw his 5th foul with nearly 11 minutes left in the game. Despite falling behind the Magic at various points throughout the game, Avery Johnson seemed to come up with a legitimate game plan, and the team stuck to it for all four quarters. That’s progress, even if the Nets don’t want to discuss where this progress is being born from.
A few more thoughts after the jump.
- I really hope the lack of production from the PF spot doesn’t become a theme throughout this entire season. The Nets seemingly solved the problem of being patient with Derrick Favors by trading for Troy Murphy, but Murphy just can’t seem to get himself healthy enough to stay on the court long enough to get into any kind of a rhythm. He was limited to 8 more minutes last night, and given his ailments stem from his back and foot, I have doubts that he’s ever going to be able to get it going this year. In the first month of the season, Murphy is reminding me of when the Nets acquired Rony Seikaly in 1998. He was a solid offensive center who was going to help the Nets who were incredibly thin up front, being forced to play Jayson Williams at center, but a foot injury limited him to 9 games and 17 minutes a game.
- The issues with Murphy were compounded by Terrence Williams’ injury. Williams was in a suit for the third consecutive game, and I’m hopeful he can get back on the court soon. My guess is down the stretch when the team really needed to put some points on the board, T-Will would have been in playing the three and the Nets would have slid Outlaw over to the four. While Outlaw has struggled defensively since being brought over, I think given their styles of play, he wold have been able to handle Brandon Bass and Rashard Lewis.
- Despite getting two buckets down the stretch, and narrowly missing a third lay-up that would have put the game away for Orlando, Vince Carter just looks old to me out there. I’ve never known him to just disappear like he did last night during a game. When he was in NJ, even if his shots weren’t falling, Carter was constantly in the flow of the offense, you knew he was on the court and had the potential of doing something special, but watching Carter out there almost as an afterthought for stretches, is downright weird.
- I think if Stan Van Gundy was coaching the Nets, I would be charmed by his petulant theatrics on the sidelines, but since he’s not, let me just say again, please shut this guy up.
- I want to come back to Devin Harris one more time, because if you haven’t figured it out already, he’s been playing like a pretty special player recently. The play that actually stood out to me afterwards came at the 5:09 mark where Harris jumped into a scrum and was sandwiched by Brandon Bass and Marcin Gortat – two much larger players for those playing the home game – and was able to muscle the rebound while drawing a foul on Bass. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Harris grab a rebound in that kind of a situation before and for a minute, I was reminded of the Jason Kidd era when Kidd would sometimes be the best rebounder on the floor for either team.
- Anyone else worried when two of Lopez’s first three field goals came on long jumpers? I guess he really does need to establish that part of his game first before he can just start crashing in the post. Considering his final stat line, I’ll say he did what he needed to do to get out of his slump.