Because of an injury to Devin Harris that caused him to miss two-and-a-half games, it's hard to say too much about the team-wide performance of the New Jersey Nets this past week.
Despite being without their playmaker, the Nets found themselves in three of their four games, and, really, should have won two of them.
There are still some areas where the absence of Harris should not have made an impact, which will be discussed shortly. The team also has a terribly hard time sustaining momentum, another aspect that will be looked at.
There will be more of a focus on individual performances, but first, here's a quick recap:
- at New York, L, 111-100
- vs Oklahoma City, L, 123-120 (3OT)
- at Charlotte, L, 91-84 (OT)
- vs Boston, L, 100-75
New Jersey went 0-4 on the week, giving them an overall record of 6-15 and dropping them to last place in the Atlantic Division.
With Harris out, it stood to reason that the week would be a disaster. He missed most of the second half against New York and was in street clothes against Oklahoma City and Charlotte.
Given that the Nets went winless, the week is still somewhat of a mess, but the team was much more competitive without him than would have been expected.
As has been a problem all year, New Jersey was killed on the boards, being out-rebounded by an average of 50.8-41.5 and 11.3-8.8 on the offensive glass.
Rebounding should not have been affected at all by the absence of Harris. The problem here is that Brook Lopez averaged just six rebounds a game last week, including grabbing just two against the Bobcats—a completely unacceptable number from a 7'0" center.
It seems that teams have taken note that Lopez can be knocked off his game. If someone gets physical with him and bumps him around a bit early on, it takes away his aggressiveness.
I've been saying all year that Lopez is a willing student under Avery Johnson. He takes criticism well and is said to be extremely coachable. At some point, though, that willingness to learn needs to translate to the court.
Thick skin and a good work ethic are excellent. These traits need to show themselves during games if Lopez is to become the elite player many hoped he would be.
It's been clear this season that the Nets have a problem with putting teams away late. This inability to close teams out is evident not only in the final minutes of games, but also at the ends of quarters.
Against the Knicks, New Jersey held a 58-49 lead with 1:05 left in the second quarter. They were unable to extend the advantage and ended up going into the half up 58-55.
When facing the Thunder, they were in front 49-41 with a minute left before halftime. They did not score again, and the lead was down to 49-44 at the break.
In overtime against Oklahoma City, the Nets got out to a quick six-point lead, then let it slip away and were forced into a second OT. In the second extra period, they got out to another early lead and couldn't hold it. Then, up three in the closing seconds, Stephen Graham inexplicably fouled a three-point shooter, sending him to free-throw line to tie the game and force a third overtime.
By that time, the Thunder had had enough and put the game away.
Also, in their dreadful performance against Charlotte, the Nets staged a huge fourth-quarter comeback, only to score just one point in the first four-and-a-half minutes of overtime and lose the game.
You see, it's not just the ends of games where the Nets have trouble. As of right now, they have an inability to sustain momentum, which is largely costing them games. Being unable to hold leads at all points, not just late in games, is a huge factor in this team being so far below .500.
As for individual players, Travis Outlaw is becoming the most frustrating player on the team. It appears he believes he is a better three-point shooter than he actually is.
For some reason, Outlaw has decided to launch nearly four threes a game—not good when you're a career 36.5 percent three-point shooter.
He had one season (2007-08) when he shot 39.6 on threes, but he attempted just 1.2 thee-point shots a game that year. There have been nights this season when he's had it working from long range, and in those instances it's fine for him to shoot when open.
He needs to understand when his shot isn't falling, though. Against the Bobcats, he was 0-for-8 from three. There's no reason for him to be shooting that many three-balls, particularly on a night when they're not dropping.
He needs to stop shooting so many long shots. It's hurting the team, and it is my opinion that, if they had a better option, he would be a bench player. It's really where he belongs.
Troy Murphy is beginning to see some extended minutes, though he's having a hard time getting it going. He's a good talent, so it should be just a matter of time before he gets it together.
I'm not sure how it would work out, but the Nets may want to consider using a bigger lineup that features Murphy, Lopez and Kris Humphries in the frountcourt. It may not end up being effective, but it's worth giving it a shot, as it would allow Outlaw to move to the bench and could help Murphy find his game.
Damion James is also seeing increased minutes, and while he's having trouble finding the stroke, he provides good energy and hustle. He was a good shooter in college, so hopefully in time his shots will start to find net.
New Jersey's best player this week was Jordan Farmar, who filled in admirably for Harris.
In his two starts against the Thunder and Bobcats, Farmar averaged 22 points and nine assists on 46 percent shooting. He's looking like one of the better signings this offseason, not just for the Nets, but in the league as a whole.
Farmar and Harris play well when on the floor together as well, and Farmar has certainly earned himself more playing time.
After some inconsistency earlier this season, Anthony Morrow has come on as of late, averaging 15 points a game, shooting over 50 percent from the field and hitting 47 percent of his threes last week.
The looks that Outlaw is getting from downtown should be going to Morrow. He is one of the best thee-point shooters in NBA history. The Nets need to use him as such.
New Jersey has three games coming up this week, and they are not going to be easy.
They travel to Atlanta and Dallas, then host the Lakers. A record of 0-3 would not be all that disappointing, as long as they keep the games close. A record of 1-2 would be nice, and 2-1 would be a grand success.
I am an eternal optimist when it comes to my teams, but 3-0 isn't happening.