By Steve Lichtenstein
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It’s bad enough that this Nets season appears to be headed for epic disaster, but the list of embarrassments from Tuesday night’s Heat game was so frighteningly long I don’t even know where to begin.
You can argue that nothing topped the 31-minute rain delay — inside the two-year old Barclays Center — late in the first quarter, but I would counter that it was merely a prelude to the events in the game.
You see, the Nets’ defense sprung leaks most of the night — particularly at the most inopportune times — allowing the shorthanded Heat to connect on nine of their first 20 three-point attempts in Miami’s 95-91 victory.
I blame Brooklyn coach Lionel Hollins for being asleep at the switch for most of the night, giving his poorest defenders far too many reps guarding Miami’s best players.
It started even before the first drip of water from the leak in the roof hit the court, as Miami star Dwyane Wade torched the overmatched Sergey Karasev for 12 first-quarter points in eight minutes.
With Chris Bosh and Josh McRoberts out of action for Miami, you would have thought the Nets knew that the Heat’s game plan would call for lots of Wade left and Wade right. Wade finished with 28 points.
My frustrations didn’t subside when the Nets had the ball. Brooklyn somehow didn’t account for the fact that they were no longer playing Philadelphia or Charlotte, their victims in their modest two-game winning streak. Miami’s defense is a bit more intense.
The Nets turned the ball over 12 times in the first half and misfired on 20 of 28 three-point attempts on the night. Point guard Deron Williams again gagged in the clutch, throwing lazy passes on two consecutive possessions that Miami capitalized on to take a 92-83 lead with 2:14 remaining.
However, a late Brooklyn run cut Miami’s lead to two with 35 seconds left, setting up THE key defensive possession of the game.
So who did Hollins have on the floor?
Williams and Joe Johnson deserved to be there, but Jarrett Jack, Mason Plumlee and Bojan Bogdanovich?
Jack must have still been sleep-deprived from his Georgia Tech graduation on Saturday, because he was lackluster on both ends. Not only did he commit four turnovers while shooting just 1-for-6, but he was also consistently late contesting Shabazz Napier’s three-pointers. He allowed a player who was just called up from the D-League to score 11 points on 3-for-4 shooting from deep.
Plumlee’s numbers (21 points, nine rebounds) were grossly misleading. Yes, his dunks are very nice, but it’s not hard to go 8-for-12 from the floor when most of the attempts are uncontested at the rim. As for Plumlee’s defense, he still gets caught out in no man’s land too often, leaving the paint unprotected.
Which was exactly what happened on this possession. Plumlee needlessly jumped out at Wade’s 25-foot heave as the shot clock expired instead of making sure he was in position to rebound.
That was left to Bogdanovich, the slender Croatian rookie, who was charged with checking the bruising Luol Deng.
It was no contest. Bogdanovich felt his best option was to give Deng a bear hug as Wade’s shot caromed off to the right side. The refs noticed.
Game over, though Jack could have elongated it had he not blown a gimme layup with seven seconds remaining. It was the Nets’ final humiliation of the night.
So Lionel, where was Kevin Garnett? Anyone?
He’s only the Nets’ best defensive player and rebounder — KG accumulated 10 boards in 21 minutes — by far.
I found it inexcusable that Hollins subbed Garnett out with 5:49 left in the game, never to be reinserted. After the game, no one reported whether or not Garnett will make the trip to Toronto for Wednesday’s game because, you know, it is a back-to-back. If it indeed will be another rest day, Hollins could have ridden Garnett far longer against Miami, especially after his energy early in the third quarter was instrumental in withering the Heat’s 10-point halftime lead to one point.
This whole ordeal has to be embarrassing for Garnett, a proud warrior who has given the Nets whatever juice his 38-year-old body has left in the tank since the summer 2013 trade from Boston. Garnett expected to play what might be his final two seasons on a team ready and able to contend for a title.
The talk around town has general manager Billy King calling around the league, offering to blow up his expensive creation. After all, King is not the type to sit around when there’s an opportunity to make a panic move.
As I’ve noted previously, the Nets are fundamentally flawed, deficient in everything from size to speed to athleticism. NBA purgatory is their 2014-15 destiny: not good enough to contend, not lousy enough to tank for a better first-round draft pick (if, of course, they owned theirs).
I doubt any of the rumored trades pan out. For instance, what would Charlotte want with Brook Lopez? As much as the Hornets would kill for a mulligan on Lance Stephenson’s free-agent contract, Lopez — who will be sidelined for the rest of this week while rehabbing from a back strain — would seem superfluous on a team that already employs Al Jefferson.
Though the Nets staged second-half turnarounds in each of the past two seasons, it’s hard to see that transpiring here. The Nets have recorded just one victory — a 95-93 overtime thriller over San Antonio that looks more and more like a fluke — over a plus-.500 team all season.
Brooklyn owner Mikhail Prokhorov better pray for his rubles to rebound, because these Nets don’t appear to be anything close to the gem he envisioned.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.
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