In Bottom-Line Business, Basking In Nets’ Positives From Hawks Heartbreaker Is Pointless
In an ode to the reunion of the Starz sitcom “Party Down” on Friday night as the Nets were getting destroyed in Chicago, I was moved to tweet the lead character’s catchphrase from the beer commercial that was his sole notable acting gig, “Are we having fun yet?!”
My prior post dealt with why no one should classify this reconfigured team in the wake of the Kevin Durant/Kyrie Irving trades as “fun” ( The Nets At The Break: Sorry, But This Isn’t Going to Be That Fun (substack.com)), so I won’t belabor the point here. However, I will append that narrative with this: NBA teams that bask in the positives following defeats typically don’t finish their seasons well.
Unfortunately, such a losers’ mentality seems to have been the theme coming out of the Nets’ locker room following Sunday’s 129-127 heartbreaker in Atlanta, with Hawks star guard Trae Young beating the horn for the game-winner (after getting away with a travel) to drop Brooklyn to 1-4 in the five games since the four new starters obtained in the trades first took the court together.
Frankly, I don’t want to hear about Brooklyn’s response from an 18-point second quarter hole to avoid a second consecutive blowout—during Friday’s 131-87 debacle on Chicago, the Nets trailed by double digits for all but about six minutes of first quarter action. I also wasn’t impressed by Brooklyn’s offensive output in Atlanta, other than that I was glad to see that it only took them a quarter-and-a-half to figure out that their best bet was to attack with whoever Young was guarding.
Otherwise, it was an excruciating night—for a team that is supposedly loaded with elite wing defenders and boasts an All-Defense candidate in the middle in Nic Claxton, the Nets sure do give up a ton of wide open looks. In these last five games, Brooklyn has the league’s second-worst defensive rating.
Some of that is due to small sample size newness that will improve with familiarity, but that doesn’t explain all the times where the Nets’ defender either couldn’t stay in front of their assignment or gave too much space to allow their man to get off clean looks over them. Opponents have shot 50.5% from the field in this stretch, including 40.3% from three-point distances. Before Young slid his pivot foot on his pump fake, he had beaten Mikal Bridges, as tough a one-on-one defender as you’ll find in the league, to his spot. Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie came over a tad late in his attempt to help block the shot from behind and the game was lost.
So much for the Nets’ defense being ahead of the offense at the start of this integration process, though it’s too close to call. Through Friday’s first three quarters, the only Nets player to shoot at least 50% from the field was center Day’Ron Sharpe, who was 1-ofr-1. Prior to their clutch three-pointers in the final minute to help Brooklyn roar back from an eight-point deficit to tie Sunday’s game, Dorian Finney-Smith and Cam Johnson were a combined 3-for-12 from deep after going 2-of-13 from behind the arc in Chicago. Dinwiddie’s efficiency also lagged in both games, following up his 0-for-6 (0-for-3 on three-pointers) outing with a 7-for-16 (2-for-7 on 3s) performance on Sunday. To make matters worse, his constant griping about non-calls gifted Atlanta a technical foul free throw.
I found it laughable that Nets Head Coach Jacque Vaughn attributed his team’s general scoring difficulties on Friday to missing makeable shots—in their first five possessions, they managed to get off one field goal that hit the rim. It didn’t get much better thereafter, at least not until the extensive garbage time in the second half.
Brooklyn opened up Sunday’s game with a similar “let’s take the first three-pointer available” offensive mindset, with too few paint penetrations to force help, to detrimental results. Until a late second quarter run (when Young returned from his rest), the Nets shot 13-for-31 (42%) overall, including 2-for-14 (14.3%) on 3s.
Yes, the Nets found a better rhythm thereafter, but it wasn’t enough. The bottom line is that both of these games over the weekend were against teams below them in the standings and were thusly winnable. Brooklyn (34-26) now sits percentage points ahead of the sixth-place Knicks and only 2.5 games up on the Heat to avoid the play-in round, with a rough slate of games versus Milwaukee, New York and Boston on tap for this week. Outside of the Bucks game, the Nets will have just one other home affair in their next ten contests.
Considering that Brooklyn sports the league’s sixth-toughest remaining schedule, per Tankathon.com, I view these losses as missed opportunities, not as a portent of better days ahead.