“Process” has been a buzzword the Brooklyn Nets have often thrown around this season. It makes sense, considering all the new faces and/or new roles just about everyone on this roster has been dealt this season. Even still, no one expected the Nets to start as slow as they have and sitting at 9-16, good for 11th place in what’s on pace to become the worst Eastern Conference in modern history, Brooklyn still has a giant hole to climb out of. But as the team has gotten healthier, there have been some noticeable improvements from game to game and it’s given even the most pessimistic of Nets fans hope that this will not be a lost season, after all. Since Deron Williams has returned from an eight-game absence with an ankle injury, Brooklyn has been a top 10 team on offense and made significant strides defensively, which many of the players have attributed to head coach Jason Kidd making things a bit more simple. “I mean, Lawrence was always kind of the defensive guy, so he was talking on defense and he was definitely long-winded when it came to teaching, so I definitely think it’s helped,” Deron Williams told ESPN. “We’re a veteran group, we get things pretty easily. So at times when you’re just talking and we’re not practicing, it gets a little lengthy. But I think J-Kidd does a good job of getting his points across quick and easy and then we move on.”
Last week: 2-2 (9-16 overall)
It had been a while since Brooklyn got a quality win over a true contender. In fact, you’d have to go all the way back to the second game of the regular season when the Nets held off Miami to find Brooklyn’s last true quality victory. That isn’t the case anymore as the Nets overcame a slow first quarter to dominate the Clippers in a convincing home win. Chris Paul or Deron Williams? This was once one of the NBA’s most consistently discussed debates. Williams has a long way to go to prove he’s back on Paul’s level, but there’s no denying the individual success he’s had against CP3 in head-to-head match ups. The win gave Williams a 15-5 career record against Paul and, more importantly, finally gave Nets fans reason for optimism. “It’s great going against him,” Williams said of Paul before the game during a media session. “He’s one of the best point guards in this game, one of the best players in this league, and so it’s a challenge every time I step on the court against him.” Deron finished with 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists; twice putting Paul on skates with some electric ball handling late in the second half. Paul finished with 20 but managed just two assists, his lowest output of the season.
Friday, Dec. 13th: Detroit survives a late Nets comeback to beat Brooklyn for the second time this season, 103-99
Brook Lopez sprained his left ankle late in the win over the Clippers and wasn’t available for this game. It made sense to rest Brook; this was the second half of a back-to-back and this is a long season. But without Lopez, Detroit’s massive front line manhandled the Nets inside to the tune of 60 points in the paint (Brooklyn finished with 38). Andre Drummond, Detroit’s promising second-year big man, finished the night with 22 points and 10 rebounds. His frontcourt mate, Greg Monroe, added 22 and 11 himself. A disastrous second quarter saw the Nets dig a 17-point halftime hole which ballooned to as many as 21 early in the fourth quarter. Jason Kidd elected to go with a lineup featuring Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Alan Anderson, Mirza Teletovic and Andray Blatche for the stretch run and Brooklyn made a huge fourth quarter comeback, cutting the lead to just three. The key was Teletovic, who went 5-for-6 from deep and seems to get more comfortable with each passing game. In the end, however, the Nets just couldn’t make enough plays down the stretch to steal a road victory.
Monday, Dec. 16th: Joe Johnson scores 29 in a quarter(!), 37 for the game in a 130-94 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers
“My teammates kept telling me, when you catch it, just shoot it,” Johnson said after a performance for the ages. Brooklyn scored 42 points in the third quarter to put the 76ers away for good, and 29 of them came from Joe Johnson, who was NBA Jam-hot. Johnson was 8-for-10 from 3 in the quarter (!) and finished with 37 points on 13-of-20 shooting, 10-of-14 from deep, for the game. Kidd elected to sit him for the entire fourth with the game out of reach. “I asked him, he wanted out. So he did his job,” Jason Kidd told the media after the victory. “I’m not a coach that’s going to sit someone when they’re hot.” Johnson’s 10 3-pointers were the most by a player in a game this season and just two shy of the NBA record of 12 held by both Kobe Bryant and Donyell Marshall. The 130 points Brooklyn scored were a season high. The Nets as a team drilled 21 3-pointers, including one from Shaun Livingston (his first in two years) and two from Mirza Teletovic, who got the first start of his NBA career with Brook Lopez still sidelined with ankle trouble.
Wednesday, Dec. 18th: Nets perimeter defense continues to struggle in a 113-107 loss to the Wizards
Two steps forward, one step back. Of course it’s progress, but losses like this one, a home defeat to a struggling Washington team, can be maddening, particularly when looking at the box score. The Wizards, a relatively small team, destroyed Brooklyn on the glass by a 51-31 tally, including a 19-5 edge in offensive rebounds. The Nets allowed the Wizards, a poor 3-point shooting team, to shoot 12-for-20 from beyond the arc as well, good for 60 percent. Silver lining? Maybe the emergence of Paul Pierce, who had his best game as Net coming off the bench in this one.”It’s easy to sit here and talk to you guys about what kind of night I had, but bottom line, I really don’t care. We lost the game. That’s pretty much all that matters,” Pierce said post-game to the media at his locker. “We come out here and try to win as a team. It’s not about how good Paul Pierce is scoring. Tonight we had the inability to rebound, we didn’t defend the 3 and it cost us the game. That’s all that I’m worried about right now.” Pierce led all scorers with 27 points and added six rebounds.
LAST WEEK’S MVP: Deron Williams
The Nets have turned into world beaters since Deron Williams returned to the lineup. Their offensive rating since Dec. 7 is 112.7, good for third in the NBA over that span. Their 96.2 points per 100 possessions also makes them the third best defense over that time frame. Part of it might be weaker competition, but there’s no denying the effect Williams has on this lineup. D-Will has played at an All-NBA level over his last five games, averaging 18 points, 9.2 assists and 3.4 rebounds while shooting 52.5 percent from the floor and 47.6 percent from 3-point land. If he keeps this up, not only is he going to garner some All-Star consideration by February, but the Brooklyn Nets will likely dig themselves out of this hole as well.
LAST WEEK’S LVP: Kevin Garnett
With each passing game, Kevin Garnett looks less and less like the Hall of Famer he once was. Is he saving it for the playoffs, still trying to get his legs under him, or just plain cooked? It’s hard to tell. Whatever the case may be, Garnett has lost a bit of confidence in his jump shot and, quite frankly, that’s the only offensive threat in his arsenal he has left. Brooklyn thought they solved their power forward problem short term by adding KG, but it’s looking more and more like they haven’t. Should Jason Kidd consider bringing The Big Ticket off the bench, a la Paul Pierce?
Brook Lopez, 3-Point Sniper?
Buried in a terrific article from Grantland’s Zack Lowe on the impact of analytics and how it’s increased the amount of 3-pointers teams take in today’s NBA was this interesting tidbit involving Brook Lopez:
Larry Brown, one of the game’s great teachers, was long an opponent of the 3, says Billy King, the current GM of the Nets who held the same position in Philly when Brown was the coach there. “In the 1990s, everyone was concerned that we didn’t have enough scoring,” King says. “But now, I guess, some people are asking: ‘Is the 3 bad for basketball?’”
King does not agree with that sentiment on the NBA level, and says we might see Brook Lopez start taking 3s at some point. Lopez regularly drills corner 3s during pregame warm-ups. But King would support a full ban on 3-pointers at the high school level, he says. “It would force young players to just play basketball and not worry about the 3-point line,” King says. “They would have to develop their midrange games.”
We know Brook Lopez can shoot. His terrific touch from anywhere inside the arc is what makes him one of the most dangerous big men in the NBA. But, would Brooklyn benefit from having their 7’1″, 290 lb. center shoot 3-pointers? It’s a line the Nets should probably tread carefully. Lopez is extremely efficient and effective inside the paint and ideally for the Nets he should be doing the majority of his work on offense there. But if Lopez were to start shooting a few corner 3-pointers a night and making them with some consistency, it would do wonders against teams with big time shot blockers like Roy Hibbert and Dwight Howard, who would of course have to come out of the paint and close out on Lopez in the corner. This would free up the paint for Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce, three players who could both face up and get to the rim off the dribble and post up and back smaller defenders down. For coach Jason Kidd, it’s certainly something to consider.
The Nets get a tuneup against the woeful Philadelphia 76ers before a huge matchup against the Indiana Pacers in Indiana on Dec. 23. Brooklyn can go a long way in proving they are again legitimate contenders by knocking off the best team in the Eastern Conference. The Nets will follow that up with a home game against the Chicago Bulls on Christmas Day.