It’s possible that the Nets recent turnaround had more to do with playing in Newark than it did with Mikhail Prokhorov clearing the air and putting the Carmelo Anthony rumors to rest (though don’t tell that to Stefan Bondy, who does his best to make this trade talk a distraction for the Nets again). Because after winning four of five at the Prudential Center, including a couple of games against some decent teams (Utah, Memphis), the Nets have gone out on the road the past two nights and played like the distracted, lethargic, inefficient team of earlier this month when more than half the team was rumored to be shipped out to either Denver or Detroit.
After Friday’s drubbing to Indiana, one of the worst offensive teams in the NBA that found a way to score 124 points and shoot more than 60 percent from the field, I was looking for the Nets to make a statement against the ailing Bucks, who were slowly easing Brandon Jennings back into the rotation and were without SG Chris Douglas-Roberts, who predictably played with a vengeance the last time these two teams met (which coincidentally enough was right as the ‘Melo talk had taken it’s most heated turn of the season). The Nets played well enough in the first quarter, scoring 25 points and leading by three after that point, but the roof caved in during the second quarter and the Nets never really recovered, despite “hanging around” until the fourth quarter when the Bucks were up by double-digits throughout.
When the Nets are going bad, 12 minute stretches like last night’s second quarter have become a trademark for the team. They were outscored 23-12 during the quarter, made only four field goals, and were even missing free throws (both Brook Lopez and Travis Outlaw missed a pair as the Nets were free falling during the quarter).
The second quarter woes started initially with Devin Harris on the bench and no real back-up point guard to speak of with Jordan Farmar currently nursing a back injury. Johnson initially went with Ben Uzoh, but after three minutes, saw enough, including Keyon Dooling treating Uzoh like a point guard on a junior high school basketball team and just grabbing the ball away from him while he was bringing it up the court. Seriously, Dooling should have earned himself an out-of-school suspension for bullying on the play, because it was that pathetic for Uzoh who looked totally out of his element last night. I still think Uzoh has potential to be a solid backup PG in the NBA – he’s had games where he’s demonstrated worthwhile court vision, and during the summer league and preseason he showed enough of an outside shot where he could make it work. The problem is Uzoh needs to be learning the game with consistent playing time in the D-League. While I understand the team’s hesitance to shorten up some of their PG depth, especially because Devin Harris is so injury prone (he left last night’s game in the fourth with an injured shin), but if Uzoh is only going to get three minutes from Avery when Farmar is out and later Harris left the game, then the guy is never going to learn how to play the game to Avery’s liking, despite how awesome of a practice the coach obviously thinks he runs.
The second quarter got off to such a miserable start because there wasn’t a single playmaker on this team when Harris wasn’t on the floor. Devin Harris finished with a career high 16 assists, which is fantastic, but the Nets as a team only finished with 19 assists (on 31 FGs), and two of those assists belonged to Brook Lopez, and the third to Kris Humphries. In other words, not a single ball-handler not named Devin (by my count Uzoh, Sasha Vujacic and Anthony Morrow all took turns bringing the ball up the court when Harris was sitting) collected an assist. You can’t get any kind of offensive cohesion going when you have one guy trying to make plays, and 10 or 11 others standing around and/or looking to shoot whenever the ball touches their hands. There was one play before the end of the second quarter where I saw Milwaukee move the ball from one end of the perimeter to the other in three quick passes. For what it’s worth, they ended up missing the shot anyway, but you just never see the Nets move the ball around the floor like that to free up their shooters. The more you move the ball, the more likely someone on the defensive end is blowing their assignment – in this case, the Nets were cheating on the interior on Andrew Bogut, so Garrett Temple had a wide-open three in the corner.
And with bad ball movement comes bad shot selection. The Nets only attempted four field goals from the paint in the second quarter (hitting one) and only six shots within 15-feet from the basket (hitting two, including that one shot from the paint). With Harris out, at around the 9:20 mark, Sasha was dribbling near the right wing when the shot clock was winding down. The Machine moved the ball behind him to Kris Humphries of all people, who was forced to throw-up a 16-footer as time expired. At the end of the quarter, the Nets called a 20-second timeout and Devin Harris did one of his customary dribble until there’s barely enough time left to create a shot plays, before handing the ball off to Johan Petro for the 16-foot airbag. If that’s the play Avery Johnson wanted this team to run, then there’s no wonder why the Nets can’t get out of their own way offensively.
The last thing I said I was going to look at last night was the battle of the men in the middle – Brook Lopez and Andrew Bogut. Bogut has always given Lopez trouble, and Lopez himself has struggled offensively, only averaging 9 points in four games against Milwaukee last season. Lopez had a nice game offensively, scoring 26 points on 12-23 shooting, but only caroled 6 rebounds, and was at the free throw line four times (hitting two). Meanwhile, I think Bogut won the battle last night who scored less points on poorer shooting (17, 7-18), but had more of an impact grabbing 18 rebounds and blocking 7 shots.