By Steve Lichtenstein
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Nearly two minutes into the third quarter of the Nets’ inexcusable 107-86 loss in Sacramento on Wednesday night, Brooklyn had shaved three points off the Kings’ halftime lead on a thunderous Paul Pierce dunk.
Sensing something was amiss with his team, Kings coach Mike Malone did the logical thing — he called a timeout.
Malone made a few adjustments, most notably isolating Brooklyn center Brook Lopez, who had been wrecking havoc while protecting the rim but was not contesting anything outside the paint. Kings guard Marcus Thornton and forward Jason Thompson calmly took advantage of the situation, nailing three straight wide-open 20-footers.
Meanwhile, the Nets bumbled away about five consecutive possessions with high degree-of-difficulty shots and turnovers.
While the rout was taking place, Nets coach Jason Kidd sat in his chair and acted like there was little he could do about it. Kidd finally had seen enough when the Kings built an insurmountable 74-52 lead with just under three minutes remaining in the period.
Now, I understand that some coaches do all that they can to save precious timeouts for end-game situations, but this was beyond poor strategy.
It’s symbolic of everything that has caused the dawn of the Kidd era to look like Nets fans’ worst nightmare. A team with this much diversified talent should not be 2-5, with losses to four of the worst teams in the league.
The Nets are in this predicament mostly because Kidd has so far refused to budge from his no-plan plan. I mentioned Kidd’s “make plays, not run plays” credo in my last column, which is the source of much of the offense’s dysfunction. He’ll stick with his rotation no matter the matchups or past performance. And he disdains timeouts because he believes his veteran group can “play through it.”
Many wonder why the Nets have continued their difficulties in third quarters with a new director and cast this season. Well, Kidd has mirrored Avery Johnson’s and P.J. Carlesimo’s failures in matching wits with opposing coaches, who use the intermission to create new plans of attack, and then allowing ensuing runs to snowball by failing to use timeouts and substitutions to curtail momentum shifts.
It’s still too early for the “I told you so” piece, as I was against the Kidd hiring from the moment word leaked out that he was meeting with general manager Billy King a week after Kidd retired from his playing career. I didn’t think it made sense to entrust a Rolls-Royce team to someone who is just learning how to drive.
But I’m not even bothering to follow the new @FireJasonKidd Twitter account. Kidd and his staff deserve more time to prove they know what they are doing.
The most positive sign from Wednesday night was Kidd’s outside-the-box thinking at the start of the fourth quarter. Kidd sent out a lineup with four guards and undersized Reggie Evans at center. The group played with terrific energy, cutting the Kings’ lead to a manageable 84-72 with 8:45 still left in the game.
At that point, however, Kidd reinserted Lopez, who is useless as a sole big defender due to his poor positioning and rebounding. An unacceptable Jason Terry technical foul changed the momentum back in Sacramento’s favor and the Nets never got any closer.
Still, the thinking behind that brief span should be how Kidd approaches every game. We may need to see more of the dual point-guard combo of Deron Williams and Shaun Livingston, the 6-foot-7 backup who has been one of the few consistent Nets this season.
And let’s stop with getting Mason Plumlee early action. I don’t want to hear about athleticism or energy — he’s not NBA ready. Evans, for all his offensive ineptitude, at least creates possessions with his maniacal rebounding in addition to being one of the few Nets who can play exuberant pick-and-roll defense.
That would also allow Andray Blatche to play more at center, where he excelled last season, instead of being the first forward off the bench and feeling the need to create offense 20 feet from the basket.
Finally, Kidd needs to have a chat with forward Kevin Garnett and figure out a better plan. Nets fans can accept that Garnett is no longer the player he once was, so long as he stops trying to play that way. Garnett still brings a lot to the court and the locker room, but the time is past where he can be allowed to continue taking a half-dozen mid-range jump shots a game when he’s shooting about 30 percent.
I plan to get more into the Garnett conundrum next week after the Nets complete this mini West Coast swing.
But at least Kidd has options. Now is the time to start using them instead of doing nothing and allowing this early derailment to cause a full-blown train wreck.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.
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