Nets

Lichtenstein: Nets’ Team Effort Generates Wins, Not All Star Selections

Kevin Garnett, right, celebrates with teammate Shaun Livingston during the first half of the Nets’ game against the Miami Heat at the Barclays Center on Jan. 10, 2014. (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Kevin Garnett, right, celebrates with teammate Shaun Livingston during the first half of the Nets’ game against the Miami Heat at the Barclays Center on Jan. 10, 2014. (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

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By Steve Lichtenstein
» More Columns

Prior to last night’s game versus Dallas, Nets coach Jason Kidd continued his lobbying on behalf of his guard Joe Johnson, whom Kidd feels deserves to be selected as an All Star.

Sorry, Jason. When the NBA announces its All Star reserves next week, I believe no one on the Nets’ roster will be adding to their previous 36 cumulative appearances.

And, as strange as this season has gone in Brooklyn, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Sure, it’s nice for us Nets fans to have one of our own to make that tedious game somewhat watchable.  And Johnson’s stats in the waning seconds of close games make a mockery of much bigger names who pale in comparison to Joe Cool in the clutch.

Unfortunately, Johnson has had too many games like last night, during which he scored five points and committed four turnovers in 29 foul-plagued minutes, to warrant such a prestigious selection.

On the other hand, the Mavericks’ focus to clamp down on Johnson left other options open, and the Nets were able to stave off Dallas’ late charge to win, 107-106, at the Barclays Center. The victory, which upped the Nets’ record in 2014 to 9-1 after a horrific 10-21 start, continued the trend where every night brings a different hero.

In fact, if anyone should be selected to compete that weekend in New Orleans wearing Brooklyn Black, the league should look to sweet-stroking reserve forward Mirza Teletovic.

If not the Rookie/Sophomore game, then the second-year Bosnian most assuredly should be chosen as one of the contestants for the Three-Point Shooting Contest.  After last night’s performance in which he woke up the Barclays Center with a 24-point second quarter, Teletovic is shooting 43.6 percent from behind the arc.

Teletovic, who finished with a career-high 34 points (on 12-for-18 shooting, including 7-for-11 from deep) and six rebounds, had such a hot hand in the second quarter that he forced Dallas coach Rick Carlisle to call three timeouts.

Carlisle probably wished he had saved one of them when his Mavericks almost fully erased an 11-point deficit in the final four minutes.  But the Nets still were able to make just enough plays—field goals, free throws, rebounds—to pull another one out.

And that’s really all that matters to the players in Brooklyn’s locker room. They have a deep and talented roster, but there have been few complaints about having to share minutes, the ball or the acclaim.

Even point guard Deron Williams, the $100 million face of the franchise, hasn’t made any fuss over starting on the bench when he returned three games ago from platelet rich plasma and cortisone injections in his ankles. He gets that Kidd is a superstitious man, and the starting five of Johnson, Shaun Livingston, Alan Anderson, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett has yet to be beaten, though lately that is appearing to be more coincidental than cause-and-effect.

The second unit, featuring Williams, Teletovic, Andray Blatche, Andrei Kirilenko and Jason Terry, outplayed the starters by a wide margin last night, the fourth consecutive game where none of the starters played more than 30 minutes.

In the three prior games, it was Blatche who provided the offensive spark, averaging 19 points on 61 percent shooting from the floor while also contributing 10 rebounds, 3 assists and a blocked shot per game. Blatche, who missed four games at the end of December for personal reasons, has been instrumental in helping the Nets offset the lost production from the season-ending injury to center Brook Lopez on December 20 in Philadelphia.

Lopez, the Nets’ sole representative at the 2013 All Star Game who was averaging 20.7 points per game in  when he got hurt, was the Nets’ best bet to return for an encore, though even that wasn’t guaranteed given the Nets’ lousy record.

Since Kidd adjusted his lineup in the New Year by moving Garnett, Pierce, and Johnson up one position number, the Nets’ offense has been much more free-flowing and less dependent on any particular player’s output.  It’s limiting individuals’ statistical resumes for All Star consideration, but it’s the only way the Nets can dig completely out of their early-season hole.

In the end, would you rather have on your team a player like Carmelo Anthony, a sure All Star who can wow you like during his record-setting 62-point performance at Madison Square Garden last night, but whose selfish play (he had ZERO ASSISTS in a 29-point blowout win) is a proximate cause for his team’s inability to escape its current dire situation?

Not me — I’d rather watch these Nets, a team that I believe will be bereft of 2014 All Stars, but has multiple players who can deliver wins the way Kidd, the preeminent teammate on the court before he retired last June, envisioned this group would play.

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.   

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