Thoughts on the Game: Philadelphia 76ers 82, New Jersey Nets 77 — This is Getting Bad

There are some games for which you can accept a loss. Take Sunday’s defeat at the hands of the Lakers, for example. Then there are some games that are just hard to watch. See Tuesday’s catastrophe against the Philadelphia 76ers.

While a 77-point performance ordinarily wouldn’t throw up too many red flags as far as particularly disastrous losses go, there were circumstances that made last night’s contest less than palatable. Most disgusting was the fact that the Nets managed to outrebound the 76ers by a margin of 51-36; that included a 19-5 advantage on the offensive boards for the Nets. That a team could haul in that many offensive rebounds (several of which were caught in the immediate basket area) and only rack up 17 second-chance points is really beyond me. With Brook Lopez and Derrick Favors down low, there is absolutely no reason that the Nets shouldn’t convert on more of those additional opportunities.

The Nets looked very poor in the fourth quarter, missing field-goal and free-throw attempts with regularity. Still, they found themselves down 3 points with under a minute to play. When the Sixers came down the floor, it was imperative that the Nets not foul. Andre Iguodala had the ball in isolation at the top of the key with Stephen Graham defending. He drove left and pulled up for an awkward, off-balance shot falling toward the baseline. It was off … only Graham fouled him. It is this kind of play that justifies why Graham shouldn’t be in the rotation,  as if his foul of Jeff Green in the second overtime of the Oklahoma City game weren’t enough to make the case. Physical errors will happen; mental lapses in key moments are unacceptable.

Coming in at a close second to the rebounding woes is the poor shot selection on the part of the Nets — not just where on the floor they shot from or whether the shots were contested but also the individual players who were taking the shots for the Nets. Last I checked, Ben Uzoh and Graham were not scorers at the NBA level. Nevertheless, at the end of the night, those two had combined to shoot 5-of-16 overall from the floor. And while it is usually acceptable to have Kris Humphries putting back shots around the rim, tonight was not his night. Shooting an awful 1-of-10 from the floor, Humphries became frustrated when his putbacks weren’t going, and he started with isolation post attempts and mid-range jumpers. Anyone who watched him play last year knows that is a recipe for failure.

The plenitude of shots that these three heaved up begs the question as to why the Nets’ offensive stars were conspicuously absent from the offensive scheme. Devin Harris and Brook Lopez only took 22 shots. A game after shining toward the end of the game, Lopez was a nonfactor down the stretch, unable to score or rebound with any frequency in the fourth quarter. Although part of the blame for that has to fall on Avery Johnson, who ultimately could call a play to post up Lopez on any given possession, Lopez needs to work harder to get good position so that Harris and Farmar will have no choice to feed him the ball in the post.

With all these offensive struggles (the Nets have averaged just over 86 points over their last six games), something has to be done. The one immediate solution that comes to mind is perhaps activating Troy Murphy. He hasn’t been very effective in the minutes he has played this season, but he has been afforded no opportunity to get into a rhythm on the court — at all. It’s very important for a three-point shooter like him to get consistent minutes so he can start knocking them down with regularity. Also, the benching of Travis Outlaw is understandable, but it’s not like the Nets are shooting much better without him. Might it be a better solution to plug him back in to the lineup and let him shoot his way out of it? The one thing that has stood out about Outlaw is that, irrespective of how cold he is for the entire game, he can hit big shots down the stretch. When he hit that three-pointer to cut the deficit to 3 tonight, it seemed destined to go in. Outlaw should be in games late just for his ability to hit the big shot.

By the way, at one point, the Nets had the following lineup on the floor: Jordan Farmar, Quinton Ross, Stephen Graham, Derrick Favors, and Johan Petro. That’s not exactly the best way to go about breaking an offensive slump.

Regardless, it seems it is time for a change at power forward. Humphries has vastly exceeded expectations, but offense is the area of focus right now. Both Murphy (over the course of his career) and Favors (over the course of this season) have proven that they can match Humphries’ rebounding production, and both of those guys would be offensive upgrades over Humphries. There’s nothing to lose, really, so why not give it a try?

Anthony Morrow’s injury really hurts the team. If he’s out for any extended period of time, the Nets will be out their most reliable shooter and their only consistent perimeter threat. Forgive me if I have no confidence in Sasha Vujacic to come in and fill that role adequately. The Nets are going to have to be cognizant of getting to the rim more to fill the void of shots that Morrow isn’t taking, rather than substituting his looks with those by less adept shooters on the team. His absence also widens the opportunity for Nets players who should be glued to the bench to get in to the game — Both Graham and Quinton Ross started the game, constituting one of the worst starting wing tandems in the entire NBA.

One saving grace for Uzoh: he was very active on the defensive end. His energy and effort on that end are assets to the team. He still has room to improve, though: on one play, Graham was checking Iguodala on the right wing when he drove baseline, beating Graham easily. Lopez, Favors, and Uzoh were all around Brand, and none of them turned around to see Iguodala and help defend him. As a result, he finished with a powerful reverse dunk. Uzoh was the closest to AI, so it was his responsibility first to get there and help.

With the continued offensive struggles on the part of the Nets, the acquisition of a playmaker on offense is becoming a more pressing need.