By Steve Lichtenstein
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Saturday night was supposed to be the Nets' "schedule loss."
You know, playing the tail end of a back-to-back, on the road against a sound defensive opponent. Maybe the legs are less springy and the mind not as sharp from traveling through the wee hours of that morning. For many NBA teams in these situations, stinkers are simply a fact of life.
Well, I can't imagine a worse stench could possibly be emanated Saturday night from Chicago's United Center than that which permeated the Barclays Center during the Nets' gruesome 98-90 loss to Dallas.
The Nets, as my younger son remarked, looked like a high school team for about three-and-half-quarters. For the game, they turned the ball over an egregious 20 times, shot 7-for-23 from three-point distance, and played defense like they forgot the game plan.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Nets threw the ball away on three consecutive trips, bringing out the boobirds at Barclays. Nets forward Keith Bogans was so frustrated after the last one that he chucked the ball away from the official. Mavs star Dirk Nowitzki's technical foul shot extended the lead to 20 points with 8:23 remaining.
Now, there will be those attempting to spin the Nets' ensuing comeback attempt, which had the Mavs sweating a bit in the last few minutes, as some sort of precursor for tonight, but I know better.
The only thing consistent in this inaugural season in Brooklyn has been the Nets' inconsistency.
Besides, even that late run was fraught with blown opportunities.
Third-string (why?) power forward Mirza Teletovic had the crowd back in the game with a three-point play off a putback with 5:30 left when Bogans stole an errant pass. Off the ensuing fast break, Bogans got the ball back and spotted up in the corner for a wide-open three-pointer that could have cut the deficit to single digits.
Instead, it was another clank in a big spot for the Minus Man (per 82games.com, only rookie guard Tyshawn Taylor has a worse plus/minus-per 48-minutes rating on the club than Bogans).
Center Brook Lopez pulled down the offensive rebound and tried to work a post move along the right baseline. But he ended up settling for a difficult fallaway jumper that also missed.
On the Nets' next possession, Lopez got caught in the paint when point guard Deron Williams drove to the rim and passed off to the corner. C.J. Watson's three-point swish was disallowed on the three-second call.
With a couple more empty trips down the stretch, it was no wonder that the Nets ran out of time.
Maybe if the Nets had played with a little more energy earlier in the game, particularly on the defensive end, according to interim coach P.J. Carlesimo, they wouldn't have dug such a huge hole.
Dallas shot 52.4 percent from the floor through three quarters and then knocked down three of its first four jump shots to start the fourth quarter.
The Nets' rotations were terrible, resulting in numerous uncontested looks for the Mavs, who took advantage by shooting 42.9 percent from three-point land. The Nets were no better at defending the pick-and-roll, allowing Vince Carter, the Nets' old (or not-so-old--he may be at age 36, but he still has his legs) compatriot from their New Jersey days, to roam free en route to a 20-point night in 29 minutes off the bench.
Those Carter forays brought out the usual "Where's Wallace" game I play with my boys, as we tried to guess where Carlesimo was hiding supposed shutdown forward Gerald Wallace. This time, was he benched for poor performance, was he injured while crashing to the floor on one of his patented slashes to the hoop, or was Carlesimo just superstitious, not wanting to upset the karma while the Nets were finally getting it together?
Or did Carlesimo really like the Bogans-on-Carter matchup better?
I hope that last one is not the answer, for Carlesimo already has enough problems with other components in his rotation.
The power forward situation is a mess—just about everyone who follows the NBA agrees that Reggie Evans has no business starting on a legitimate playoff team.
Heck, even Evans acknowledges the curiousness of his role by hanging back to do extra stretching while backup center Andray Blatche runs out on the court when Evans' name is announced during pre-game introductions. In recent seasons, the 11-year veteran had gotten used to having the extra time to complete his routine as he was coming off the bench.
Don't get me wrong, Nets fans love Evans' all-court hustle and hunger to retrieve the ball.
That is, so long as he doesn't shoot it. Evans' 0-for-2 last night dropped his field goal percentage to 44.6 percent—on shots almost exclusively taken from within five feet of the basket.
Evans would be better suited as an energy-generating reserve, which was the case earlier in the season until incumbent Kris Humphries' incompetence could no longer be tolerated. Right now, Humphries' greatest value is his exorbitant price tag on a contract that expires after the 2013-14 season—after this season, some team will want that contract to clear salary cap space for the summer of 2014, which might be the luxury-taxed Nets' only hope for adding any player of substance in the near future.
There's also Teletovic, whom Carlesimo has often turned to for offense in fourth quarters despite not having any confidence in him to play much, if any, in the first three. Teletovic's skills make him intriguing—he has deep shooting range and lately has improved his confidence driving toward the rim. He worked hard taking on Nowitzki in the end game last night, but he wasn't always in the right spot to help others.
Still, Teletovic, as well as Blatche (even the YES announcers pondered why he rarely gets paired with Lopez on the floor), have to be more prominent in the equation.
Energy guys with limited skill sets, like Bogans and Evans, are supposed to be bit players, with added significance reserved for games like tonight in Chicago, where they could be useful for when the Bulls, as expected, try to grind a fatigued Nets squad.
There was no such excuse for last night.
I thought we had said good riddance to that type of nonchalance when the Nets parted ways with Avery Johnson. Carlesimo has been done fairly well in building a 20-11 record in the interim role, but let's not rush to a final judgment just yet. The Nets play 12 of their next 15 games on the road, with six sets of back-to-backs in the next 34 days.
If they want a shot at the Atlantic Division title, or even a first-round bye, the Nets can't have too many more nights where they leave their games on the bus.
What are your thoughts on the Nets' performance Friday night? Leave your comments below...
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