Avery Johnson hopes to build a team the way his mentor and former coach Gregg Popovich has in San Antonio. But the Nets are eons away from the Spurs.
You knew it before the two teams played each other last night, and the Nets didn’t do anything to make you believe they’re one or two players away. Maybe they are if those two players are Dwight Howard and Chris Paul.
The Spurs dominated the Nets inside and out, trouncing them, 102-85, in a game that had San Antonio’s greatness and New Jersey’s shortcomings on full display.
It’s a credit to Popovich and the Spurs’ stars that they didn’t take this game lightly when they could have. They have the NBA’s best record, are near the end of a long Rodeo road trip and are playing one of the worst teams in the league.
But the Spurs played a professional game, led by Tim Duncan and Tony Parker early on and Manu Ginobili in the second half. They took turns beating down the Nets.
The trio combined Parker’s quickness and gift of getting into the paint and making plays with Duncan’s presence on both ends and Ginobili’s shot-making ability to thwart any hope the Nets had of winning their final home game before the All-Star break.
The Nets had no answer for the Spurs’ size, desire, execution and star power.
They couldn’t stop Parker in the halfcourt or transition, couldn’t compete with the Spurs on the glass and couldn’t hit shots. They needed more from Devin Harris against Tony Parker and more from Brook Lopez and power forwards Kris Humphries and Derrick Favors against the Spurs’ bigs.
The Nets needed more from everyone if they were to beat the Spurs, or even stay close with them. But even if the Nets somehow beat San Antonio, it wouldn’t mean they turned the corner and have a bright future.
It’s about doing it consistently: coming to play every night, following the defensive game plan and having an identity. But it also comes down to having stars, players who can lift you in tough times, and who make everyone around them better. The Spurs have all those things.
“They’ve been doing it for years,” Harris said. “They’ve been playing together for years. They know one another extremely well. They’re battle tested. What makes them so impressive is they don’t really care who scores. They move the ball and whoever gets the open shot so be it.”
George Hill, Gary Neal and DeJuan Blair are great finds by the Spurs, but they’re probably not as effective if not for Popovich’s system and playing with Duncan, Parker and Ginobili.
They have the All-Star appearances, championship rings and all the cred in the world. It’s easy to follow the leads of those players.
The Nets don’t have any of that and are a long way from having that.
They have five draft picks in the next two years, salary-cap flexibility and a young roster that Johnson surprisingly said reminds him of the Spurs in the early years of David Robinson.
“There are some similarities there,” Johnson said.
He wants to believe that, but Johnson can’t really believe that. He played on those teams that had Robinson and Sean Elliott.
The Spurs had defensive stoppers inside and outside and had someone who they could count on Robinson for 20, 10 and a few blocks every night. They won 56 games in Robinson’s first year. The Nets have won 56 of their last 206.
That Spurs team was one player away. The Nets aren’t one or two players away. Maybe they are if their names are Howard and Paul.
“We’ve got to do a better job of moving the ball. Sometimes our passes weren’t on time and on target. We’ve got to do a better job of holding our position, breaking down the defense -- a combination of things. And then l when we are open, we’ve got to make our shots. In the NBA if you can get one wide-open shot, you’re in great shape. But if you can get 10 or 15, you’re in beautiful shape and you’ve really got to make the defense pay in that situation.”
- Johnson on what went wrong
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Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)