The Brooklyn Nets have recently suffered two blowout losses to the Memphis Grizzlies and Houston Rockets. Although the final score in the game against the Rockets doesn't seem extremely lopsided, the Nets were clearly outplayed and outworked throughout the entire game against both teams.
These two losses might actually be another turning point in the Nets' season. Not only did they find out the limits of their team, but they also realized two of their major weaknesses.
Matching up against the Grizzlies, the Nets' lack of great interior and team defense in the paint was quite obvious. Of the 43 made field goals from the Grizzlies, 27 of them came in the painted area (per Basketball Reference).
Marc Gasol pounded them in the paint, going 10-for-15 en route to 20 points. Even Jerryd Bayless, and rookies Tony Wroten and Chris Johnson repeatedly attacked the Nets with easy cuts to the rim.
Brook Lopez's defense has been improving, but he still needs help from his teammates to halt penetration to the basket. Right now, he's not on the same level of paint clogging as the likes of Tyson Chandler or Kevin Garnett.
According to Hollinger's Team Stats, the Grizzlies and Nets are ranked 28th and 29th respectively in pace, each controlling fewer possessions in a game than most other teams in the league. Both teams primarily spend most of their time operating in a halfcourt set.
However, the Grizzlies are ranked second in defensive efficiency, while the Nets are sitting at a mediocre 19th.
Any team that plays at a sluggish pace and barely gets out in transition, while giving up a lot of easy baskets in the halfcourt set is a recipe for disaster. The Grizzlies are seventh in the league in points in the paint per game at 43.9, while the Nets are 23rd in the league in opponents points in the paint (per Team Rankings).
If they want to contend for a championship, this team must find a way to tighten up their interior defense. Perhaps a trade to bring in another big body in the paint could help, but it will probably improve once the team starts to trust each other and practice their rotations.
I mentioned earlier that the Nets and Grizzlies were playing at the second slowest pace in the NBA, but the Nets are having trouble imposing their control of the game.
Unlike the Grizzlies, who dictate their own pace of the game to maintain the second best defense in the league, the Nets are letting other teams run circles around them.
However, that's not far from the truth, considering that the Rockets are the youngest team in the league, while the Nets have a few key players going on the wrong side of 30 (i.e. Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace).
With the Rockets exceptional youth and energy, they're ranked first in fastbreak points per game with 18.6. They also happen to be second in the NBA in fourth quarter points per game, which further emphasizes that they can sustain a high level of play towards the end of the game with their young legs.
Coincidentally, the Nets are 18th in the league in opponent's fastbreak points allowed per game and 25th in the league in fourth quarter points per game.
Make no mistake though, by no means are the Nets old and destined to play a slow tempo. Lopez, Johnson, Wallace and Deron Williams can all run up and down the court in the amount of minutes they play.
The reason for the Nets' mediocre transition defense is probably due to effort, but it looks like some players are simply lost at times when running down the floor.
The back-to-back losses against the Grizzlies and Rockets exemplified the two key problems that the Nets have been dealing with all season. This article isn't meant to bash the team, but to examine why the Nets couldn't compete against those two teams.
Against the Miami Heat in a potential playoff matchup, poor transition and paint defense might as well be a death sentence for the Nets. Maybe these two games opened the eyes of the team and coach, but can these issues be resolved when the playoffs approach?
They certainly have the talent to do so, but it will require a total team effort to repair their defensive dilemma.