5 Changes Brooklyn Nets Must Make Before the Postseason
The Nets have a great chance to extend their win streak to four games against the woeful Philadelphia 76ers on Monday night. A win in Philly will help Brooklyn maintain its stranglehold on the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, but it won’t change the fact that the team lost four of five games from Feb. 22 to March 2.
The opponents Brooklyn beat during its recent three-game run, the Charlotte Bobcats, Washington Wizards and Atlanta Hawks, have a combined record of 67-119. So it’s nothing to get overly excited about.
The Nets still have some issues.
They’ve performed poorly against above-.500 competition, struggled in third quarters and have turned the ball over at an alarming rate. To make matters worse, injured shooting guard Joe Johnson is averaging just 11.6 points in his last five games, and $40 million man Gerald Wallace has shot 37.8 percent since the All-Star break.
Beat Above-.500 Teams
The Nets have done a great job of beating the teams they should beat. Against below-.500 teams (at time of game played) Brooklyn is 21-3.
Taking care of business against inferior opposition during the regular season is certainly important. It can help a team reach the playoffs and secure a higher seed. Unfortunately, it won’t give the Nets confidence entering a seven-game series with the Miami Heat, New York Knicks or Indiana Pacers.
Brooklyn is currently 16-23 against .500-or-better teams (at time of game played). They have a chance to improve on that mark in upcoming clashes with the Hawks on March 17 and Los Angeles Clippers on March 23.
Play Better in the 3rd Quarter
There’s been no reasonable explanation for the Nets’ epic third-quarter struggles. Brooklyn ranks last in the NBA in third-quarter scoring (21.7 PPG) and 27th in average scoring margin (minus-1.7) during the frame (via teamrankings.com).
According to Mike Mazzeo of ESPN New York, things got so bad for the Nets in third quarters this season that Deron Williams told interim coach P.J. Carlesimo to shorten his halftime speeches.
“I just think it’s a mentality. Teams come out and I think they know we’ve struggled in third quarters and they come at us a little bit tougher and we’ve gotta do a better job of responding and fighting back," Williams said (via ESPNNewYork.com).
Brooklyn has played better in third quarters as of late, outscoring its last three opponents 78-44 in the period.
Prior to Saturday night’s 93-80 win over the Hawks, the Nets had turned the ball over a combined 85 times in their previous four games.
The Nets can’t afford to play sloppy against elite teams. They must work on cutting the number of turnovers down before the postseason arrives.
Get Joe Johnson Healthy
Starting shooting guard Joe Johnson has played poorly after missing three games with plantar fasciitis. The six-time All-Star failed to score in double digits in 30-plus minutes during the last two games, and it’s clear he’s still injured.
Plantar fasciitis is the inflammation of the ligaments which connect the calve and foot muscles to the heel and the ball of the foot. Repetitive exercise usually results in increased inflammation and debilitating pain. The injury usually takes at least a few months to heal, and the best treatment is to keep weight and stress off the tissue until it has recovered.
In light of these facts, it would be wise of P.J. Carlesimo to limit Johnson’s minutes over the next few weeks. Brooklyn will need Johnson at full strength for the playoffs.
Opting to play the hobbled 31-year-old 30-plus minutes on back-to-back nights was a head-scratching move, and it may speak to the lack of trust the coach has in second-year shooting guard MarShon Brooks.
Tweak the Starting Unit
Many Nets fans have expressed their displeasure with Carlesimo’s decision to feature both Gerald Wallace and Reggie Evans in the starting lineup.
Wallace and Evans are above-average defenders, and both serve a vital function on the court. Wallace always plays with a tremendous amount of effort and leads by example. He’s made a living running the floor, blocking shots, scrounging for loose balls and throwing down earth-shattering dunks.
Evans, meanwhile, leads the NBA in rebounding rate (24.5) and rebounds per 48 minutes (19.8) (via HoopData.com). He grabbed 24 rebounds in the win over the Wizards on Friday night, and has recorded double-digit boards in six of the last eight games.
But all of this can’t mask their offensive deficiencies, which are glaringly evident when both are on the court at the same time.
According to Mike Mazzeo of ESPN New York, Wallace is making just 30.1 percent of his jump shots, 48.6 of his layups and 63.9 percent of his free throws while shooting 37.8 percent from the field since the All-Star break.
Evans is averaging 3.6 points per game while shooting 49 percent from the stripe. According to Zach Schonbrun of the New York Times, he’s ranked 255th in the league in player efficiency rating (10.89).
What does all of this mean?
When the starting five are on the floor the Nets are basically playing three vs. five on offense. Brooklyn would be better off starting Keith Bogans in place of Wallace, or Mirza Teletovic instead of Evans to provide a scoring punch and better floor spacing to the first unit.
For more Brooklyn Nets analysis, follow Andrew on Twitter: