The Nets two-game trip highlighted some of their strengths, but also showed many of their weaknesses, and the one that’s got to eat at coach Avery Johnson the most is the defense.
Kobe Bryant’s eyes are probably lighting up, knowing he won’t be guarded much tomorrow. The last three stars the Nets played have had a field day against them.
Last Sunday, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen combined to shoot 11-for-16 against the Nets. On Tuesday, Josh Smith was 14-for-16 on Thursday, Dirk Nowitzki was 8-for-10.
Anyone want to predict Bryant’s line tomorrow, coming off a Lakers’ loss last night?
From the moment Johnson came to New Jersey, from his first practice of training camp, he stressed defense. The Nets probably worked on their transition defense in every practice because Johnson sensed his team would miss plenty of shots, and they needed to get back.
That was a prudent move on Johnson’s part because only four teams missed a greater percentage of shots than the Nets. Now the Lakers are in tomorrow, and only four teams allow opponents to shoot worse.
The Nets better get back defensively, something they’re not doing and certainly didn’t do in Thursday’s loss in Dallas when the Mavericks nearly doubled their season average of 14.8 points in transition. The Mavericks scored 27.
Two games before that, the Celtics, who don’t exactly have the spryest legs in the league, scored 25 points in transition. Some ratcheting up needs to be done because the Nets are going to keep missing shots.
As one scout noted about the Nets, “Their spacing is terrible.”
It wasn’t supposed to be that way this season.
The Nets brought in Anthony Morrow, Travis Outlaw and Troy Murphy to help space the floor. But Murphy hardly plays and Outlaw and his $35 million contract were demoted to the bench with rookie Damion James getting the start against the Mavericks. James is energetic and defensive minded, but he’s not as good of a shooter as Outlaw can be.
Morrow is the only one of the three to produce and knock down shots consistently. But it’s easy to guard the Nets the way they’re going.
You double Devin Harris and/or Brook Lopez, try to force him to the perimeter and see if the other Nets can beat you, and recently, they haven't had much luck in the win column. It’s 11 losses in 13 games now and 17 in 21.
All of this is another example of why the Nets have not given up trying to acquire Carmelo Anthony. He would require a double-team. He would help space the floor. He would give the offensively challenged Nets someone they can rely on every night to score and help through some of their droughts.
It is short-sighted for anyone to say the Nets should hold on to Derrick Favors, draft picks as well as expiring contracts and just keep building with what they have. You can’t win that way. The only reason the Thunder did is because they got Kevin Durant. You need luck and the Nets don’t always have that in the draft.
They had the worst record in the league and one of the worst ever last season and wound up with the No. 3 pick in what seems like a one-player draft. John Wall is an instant franchise changer. Favors isn’t. He’s going to keep improving and developing, but you’re going to have to wait for him.
So the Nets continue their talks with the Nuggets, hoping it ends with a deal, Anthony agreeing to sign an extension and a lavish press conference. Anthony won’t help them defensively, but he would help their shooting, winning percentages and ticket sales.
Tomorrow, the Nets’ focus has to be on a different superstar, Bryant. No one really stops Bryant, but lately the Nets haven’t stopped anyone.
Devin Harris is a game-time decision due to his left shoulder injury. James is questionable due to a foot injury.
Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for the Record (Bergen County, N.J.)