It was a week of firsts for the Brooklyn Nets. For starters, the Nets got their first victory of the season and it came against none other than the defending champion Miami Heat. It was the first time this Nets franchise defeated Miami in the “Big Three” era and also the first time in 18 tries the Nets defeated a team which prominently featured LeBron James. Brooklyn also suffered their first humiliating setback of the season as well, losing handily to a rebuilding Magic team that many expect to finish near the bottom of the Eastern Conference in 2013-14. The Nets also managed to squeeze in another first: Jason Kidd‘s first victory as an active head coach (a blowout home win against the Utah Jazz).
Last week’s results: 2-1 (2-2 overall)
It wasn’t pretty and near the end it was downright scary, but the Brooklyn Nets opened up a double digit lead in the third quarter and held off a furious late rally from the Miami Heat to get their first victory of the season, 101-100 over the Heat. Paul Pierce was terrific, finishing with 19 points, five rebounds, six assists and a monster fourth quarter block on LeBron James that not only ignited the opening night faithful at Barclays Center, but may have shook the entire borough of Brooklyn as well. Joe Johnson added 19 points of his own, including two absolute must-have 3s with the fourth quarter winding down. The win announced to the NBA that the Nets have indeed arrived as contenders in the Eastern Conference. Also, keep an eye on Brooklyn’s home-court advantage this season; it may end up as one best in the NBA.
The Nets followed their first big win of the season with an absolute dud in Disney just two days later against the Orlando Magic. Brooklyn fell in love with (and clanked) jump shots early and often, unable to establish any offense in the paint. The Magic did just the opposite, outscoring the Nets 42-26 in the painted area and winning the battle of the boards by a 54-42 tally. Orlando rookie Victor Oladipo showed why many felt he’d be this season’s finest first year player by filling up the stat sheet and completing his best Russell Westbrook impersonation, finishing with 19 points, six rebounds, four assists, two steals and an absurd 360 jam on a fast break in his 21 minutes of action.
The loss to Orlando was a bad one, and the Nets clearly took it to heart. “I’d like to think [Monday’s] practice carried over to [Tuesday’s] game,” a satisfied Kevin Garnett said after Brooklyn’s victory over Utah. “It was probably the hardest practice we’ve had since training camp. Jason Kidd really stressed about playing hard, being consistent with playing hard and the importance of playing hard every night. Orlando was a totally a failed effort and we really got after it. So I’d like to say [Monday] is a carry over from practice.” Indeed it did carry over, as the Nets were able to dismantle the Utah Jazz in a 104-88 victory that wasn’t even that close. For Brooklyn, it was all about re-establishing the paint early and often, and Brook Lopez had his best game of the young season. The Nets big man tallied 27 points, 7 rebounds, and a block in just 25 minutes of action as Jason Kidd elected to rest his starters for the entire fourth quarter.
MVP: Brook Lopez
Brook Lopez is big. At about 290 pounds, there’s maybe a handful of players that can defend him in the post one-on-one and his ability to knock down jumpers from distance makes those matchups difficult as well. Lopez came into the league a scorer, so a 20-point-per-game average isn’t surprising, nor is an efficient, three-quarter, 27-point outburst on a random night against a thin front line. But where Lopez has made incredible strides is on the defensive end. After improving last season, Brook so far in 2013-14 appears ready to be an anchor on a championship defense and it shows on the stat sheet, as Lopez is blocking three shots per contest through the first four games of the season. Will he ever be an elite (or even an average) rebounder? Probably not. But if he can be a plus defender every night and still have enough energy to be the centerpiece of this offense, Brooklyn will live with that.
LVP: Mirza Teletovic
I can understand the frustrations for Mirza Teletovic, a guy who was a star in Europe and is now relegated to the bench in Brooklyn. He’s played just 19 minutes total so far through four games and none of them were meaningful. But fact is, Mirza can’t buy one. He’s just 1-for-11 since the regular season started and his PER is (gasp) minus-15.2. So it’s hard to feel sympathetic for a guy who tweets out “Mrzim kad lazu” (I hate when they lie to me) seemingly in accordance with his lack of playing time when he’s been one of the league’s least productive players in the few minutes he’s gotten. Hopefully, Teletovic either picks up his play or stays quiet and doesn’t become a distraction. Stay tuned.
No More ‘Iso-Joe’
That isn’t entirely true. We’ve seen Joe Johnson look to attack in one-on-one situations when the matchup dictates it. But for Johnson, a player who didn’t look like he’d fit in during the preseason, finding a new niche seemed to be the only way to be effective in an offense speckled with star talent. So Joe Johnson reinvented himself as a spot-up shooter, showing picture-perfect form on the wide-open looks he has gotten and through four games and it’s made the Nets offense look downright lethal when they are clicking. So far this season, Brooklyn’s starting shooting guard is connecting at a 40 percent rate from downtown. Over a full season, that would be his highest finish from 3 since 2004-05, his final season in Phoenix. The real question is, however, will he be able to maintain this shooting pace for 82 games? And, more importantly, will he remain content in this new role?
Friday night, the Brooklyn Nets will look for their first road win of the season when they head to Washington to face John Wall‘s Wizards. Washington, on paper at least, has the type of roster that will give Brooklyn fits due to their youth and athleticism. The following night, Brooklyn looks to defend its home court against the Indiana Pacers, a team playing as good as any in the NBA right now. Reminder: the Nets swept Indiana during last year’s regular season. Will the new faces help continue that success against a possible playoff opponent?