By Steve Lichtenstein
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No matter when the Brooklyn Nets play, they hope it’s Hump day.
As in an extraordinary day at the office for worker-bee forward Kris Humphries.
It’s especially essential on those days when they’re facing an inferior opponent, maybe on a decent Sunday afternoon, where the stars’ minds kind of wander off the agenda.
Like during the Nets’ 82-74 victory over visiting Orlando yesterday, two days after they pounded the injury-plagued Magic, 107-68, to sweep the home-and-home series.
Like the rest of the starting five, Humphries clocked out early on Friday. The Nets were determined to make sure that there wasn’t going to be a repeat of last Monday’s shocking loss to Minnesota, when they squandered a 22-point third-quarter lead. The Nets’ bench was indeed effective in securing a lock over the Orlando basket in the second half, holding the Magic to a measly 32 points.
So when the Nets continued the domination early yesterday, racing out to a 35-17 lead after one quarter, they figured they could sneak off for a few coffee breaks. There were stretches where their shot selection deteriorated, they threw careless passes, and they were late on help rotations.
The Magic were able to hang around, and they could have easily come all the way back if they weren’t staffed by bricklayers (though even noted three-point shooters Arron Afflalo and J.J. Redick combined to go 0-for-6 from long range), due in part to injuries to proven scorers Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu and Al Harrington.
Fortunately (and unlike the Minnesota game), the Nets were much better at cleaning up those misses. Humphries was relentless in this department. Plus, he hustled his way to six more off the offensive glass to bring his total to 21 rebounds, two off his career high.
He was also active defensively, working well with center Brook Lopez (how in the world did the seven-footer only manage three rebounds with all those opportunities flying off the rim) to harass starting Orlando big men Glen “Big Baby” Davis and Niko Vucevic into a 15-of-37 combined shooting performance from the posts.
In the end, it was big-time plays from leaders Deron Williams and Brook Lopez that secured the win. But I am convinced that the Nets wouldn’t have prevailed if Humphries joined some of his teammates in submitting a subpar effort.
Humphries did contribute with 14 points, including two big free throws with 3:16 remaining, on 6-for-11 shooting, but the offense was a bonus. His energy throughout his time on the court was the one constant in yet another bumpy affair against a non-contender at the Barclays Center. Humphries’ last-minute snuff of a Davis short-range attempt was the punctuation mark.
Look, I have disparaged Humphries’ skills often. There’s a reason why opponents routinely allow him to throw up any attempt outside of six feet. He is prone to follies like blowing the middle-school uncontested layup in the first half or heaving the entry pass into the first row in the fourth quarter.
And I find it astounding that he is pulling down $12 million for this season and next, putting him in the top 50 on the NBA salaries list (ahead of Boston’s Kevin Garnett, though, to be fair, it is less than what Washington is paying Emeka Okafor). The Nets may have been bidding against themselves during this past summer’s offseason free agent market. Or they planned on featuring him in another reality series.
Orlando wanted no part of Humphries following its due diligence in the offseason on prospective deals for All-NBA center Dwight Howard. Like most teams, the Magic viewed Humphries as someone who could play a valuable part-time role, but not at starter’s money. They already had Turkoglu for their overpaid forward position.
Of course, the Magic got swindled in settling for Afflalo, Harrington, plus spare parts Vucevic and Moe Harkless, and non-lottery draft picks.
And, after Andrei Kirilenko spurned the Nets for the Timberwolves, Brooklyn general manager Billy King made the best move available by re-upping Humphries. Now that the Nets are expected to contend for a playoff berth, however, they have to realize they have no use for Humphries in any game he’s not all in.
In other words, the Nets need Humphries to continue to play with a lunch-pail attitude despite his CEO-like compensation.
Your thoughts on Humphries’ play? Be heard in the comments below!