By Steve Lichtenstein
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I was feeling a bit queasy from dinner as I sat down to watch the Nets take on the 76ers on Monday night. I was expecting the Nets, coming off an impressive victory at Atlanta and looking for their fourth consecutive victory, to comfort me. After all, the free-falling Sixers had lost 12 of their previous 13 games.
Well, when the fourth-quarter buzzer sounded on Brooklyn’s 106-97 defeat, I was making a mad dash to pray to the porcelain god, not quite sure at whom my profanities were directed.
I would think that the episode was more likely related to undercooked meat, but, then again, the Nets did emit a malodorous stench with their play in Philly.
Especially on defense, where the Nets made the bottom-feeding 76er attack (averaging 92 ppg, 29th in the NBA) look like the San Antonia Spurs. Philadelphia shot 52.6 percent from the floor, including 53.3 percent from three-point range.
The 76ers got any shot they desired, as any semblance of ball movement sent the Nets defenders scurrying around like their house was on fire. The Nets seemed to forget that these guys are NBA players; they’re going to make uncontested shots on most nights.
Nets center Brook Lopez may have deserved the All-Star nod through his top-notch offensive stats, but he sure has a habit of also making his opponent play like one. On Saturday, Lopez allowed Atlanta journeyman Johan Petro to put up 10 first-quarter points; last night, it was Spencer Hawes’ turn to post a double-digit opening frame.
Hawes finished with 24 points on 10-of-15 shooting. Hawes also took advantage of Lopez’s penchant for going for blocked shots by crashing the offensive glass for four putbacks, twice his season average.
Lopez kept pace in the first half with 16 points, but he was just 1 for 4 from the floor in the second half.
As for the rest of the Nets offense, they were again bitten by the two major flaws that I ranted about but were not addressed at last month’s trade deadline: a lack of scoring from their forwards (Gerald Wallace, Reggie Evans, Keith Bogans and Mirza Teletovic produced a total of 20 points, nothing in the fourth quarter, while shooting a combined 9 for 27) and inconsistent three-point shooting (31.6 percent).
This put too much pressure on Lopez and the backcourt of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson.
Williams had another magnificent all-around game—27 points, 13 assists (with only one turnover) and six rebounds. He was also the Nets’ best defender, making All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday work for his 15 points.
However, Williams clearly looked gassed in the fourth quarter, having rested a whopping 56 seconds during the second half. We’ll see how those ankles respond to tonight’s back-end versus New Orleans at the Barclays Center.
Johnson also had nice numbers with 20 points and six assists. He is almost all the way back from the sore heel injury that kept him out of three games at the end of February, showing off his sweet stroke to convert 8 of 11 attempts. With his game based more on strength, body position, and footwork than first-step quickness, that lift on his jumper was the missing piece of the recovery.
It’s on defense, however, where Johnson is clearly not at full strength. Right now, it looks like he couldn’t guard anything more mobile than a chair. He did a poor job last night working through screens and closing out on Philadelphia’s three-point shooters.
It wasn’t just Johnson, though. Wallace, normally a stout defender, was equally atrocious on both Evan Turner and Dorell Wright, which led to his fourth-quarter benching. Evans, who had a monster game the last time the Nets travelled to Philly, was far less effective last night on Thaddeus Young.
Someone needed to remind the Nets that this was kind of an important game—a conference game, a division game—with potentially key tiebreaker implications.
Though there’s no catching the Heat atop the Eastern Conference, there’s quite a logjam in positions two-through-seven. The Nets are in the mix for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. And with the Knicks losing in Golden State to start their West Coast trip, the Nets also blew an opportunity to gain ground on the Atlantic Division leaders.
That someone should have been interim coach P.J. Carlesimo. His players’ lack of effort on defense is not his fault, but he could have done a better job adjusting to it.
He sometimes acted like the game was out of his hands—this was the rotation and he was going to let it play out no matter what. He stubbornly refused to pair Lopez with backup Andray Blatche, sticking with the offensively-challenged Evans down the stretch. He’s irrationally in love with Bogans despite all statistical evidence that point to the contrary. With Bogans and Evans on the floor together, how successful can your offensive sets be running 3-on-5?
Carlesimo’s rotation tightening will be helpful to the Nets in the long run, even if it means that we’ll be seeing far less of MarShon Brooks, who has just not earned his way onto the floor this season with his out-of-control play. Teletovic needs to be mined to see if he can add juice to the second unit, while Kris Humphries awaits the summer for when his contract makes him more valuable on the trade market.
But Carlesimo has to take responsibility for the end product, and last night’s was foul.
Hopefully, it will only turn out to be what I had — a 24-hour bug.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.
Were you nauseated by the Nets’ effort on ‘D’? Vent your frustrations in the comments…