By Steve Lichtenstein
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P.J. Carlesimo got his wish.
After the Nets' 91-83 victory at Minnesota on Wednesday night, the interim coach half-jokingly told reporters that he wouldn't mind if his club's top players stayed home and rested during the NBA's All-Star weekend in mid February.
Well, as announced last night, the Eastern Conference coaches obliged, shutting out the Nets' Big Three despite the teams' position in the standings as the third seed. Center Brook Lopez and guards Joe Johnson and Deron Williams need not make any travel arrangements to Houston.
For Nets fans, it's just another sign of disrespect that obviously hasn't ebbed despite the franchise's move to Brooklyn.
How could a team that is winning almost 62 percent of its games not have a single player that is in the top 12 of this (comparatively weak) conference? In the West, each of the top three seeds has TWO players attending.
The Lopez omission is most egregious.
The 7-footer has not only rebounded from an injury-plagued 2011-12 campaign that limited him to five games to average 18.6 points per game, tops for all players at his position, but he has also managed to greatly improve his defensive fundamentals, his supposed weakness. His 2.1 blocks per game rank seventh in the league.
In case you were wondering, that last stat places Lopez above even the two defensive marvels deemed All Star-worthy, Chicago's Joakim Noah and New York's Tyson Chandler (who averages just over one block per game).
Now, I'm not saying that Lopez is in their class as a defender, but the difference is far less than it used to be. Lopez has learned how to play the pick-and-roll without getting abused by the point guard and he has been more aggressive in his off-the-ball help to protect the rim.
Of course, there is no comparison on the other end of the court. Noah and Chandler are at best their team's third or fourth options.
Chandler's league-leading 67 percent field goal percentage is padded by his passing up every shot outside the restricted area. He attempts fewer than seven shots per game. The only play ever run for him is an alley-oop lob off a pick-and-roll. Can you imagine the Knicks running a clear-out for Chandler down by one in the closing seconds? Carmelo Anthony's head would explode.
Noah is even less effective, shooting 45 percent from the floor with that weird delivery, though his four assists per game indicate he is the best passer of the three.
Neither Chandler nor Noah is routinely fed in the post and asked to create offense the way the Nets use Lopez. And Lopez' 52 percent field goal percentage has not been solely derived from layups in the paint. His mid-range game has grown to be respected by opponents and he often starts his moves at least 15 feet from the hoop (scoring despite sometimes looking as awkward as a pubescent teenager at a school dance).
There will be some who point to the rebounding numbers as evidence of Lopez' inferiority. Chandler and Noah each average about 11 boards per game while Lopez is at 7.4. But that's partially because the Nets' power forwards, Kris Humphries and Reggie Evans, are beasts going after every ball, combining to give the Nets almost 16 rebounds per game. It's not like the Nets are getting pounded on the glass, as they are 8th in the NBA in rebounding differential.
Not like the Knicks, who are the 9th worst in the League in that category, owing to their small lineup that for much of the season included the useless and undersized Ronnie Brewer at the four. Who else but Chandler would be getting those rebounds?
Maybe the coaches were punishing Lopez for missing seven games in December with a foot injury. But that didn't go into their thinking when they chose Cleveland guard Kyrie Irving, who sat out 11 games due to a broken finger.
Whatever the excuse, this was a slap to the Nets' face. It's another example of how Net fans are treated as second-class citizens, with the League always looking to showcase the Knicks whenever they get a chance.
I can accept the choices in lieu of Johnson and Williams—Johnson has been clutch in this recent winning streak, but he has been missing-in-action too often to deserve such an honor, and Williams has himself acknowledged that his level of play this season was not All Star material.
But Chandler and Noah over Lopez? That's a disgrace.
Look, I don't many people who can sit and watch that glorified layup drill commonly referred to as the All-Star Game for three hours. At most, I usually catch pieces, often looking for certain players on the floor before switching to something else.
But now that the Nets have been blackballed, I think I'm going to take Carlesimo's advice and spend that time more wisely.
For a FAN's perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.
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