Week Seven was a rough one for the New Jersey Nets. They faced three teams that are clearly better than them, two of them on the road, one of them being the two-time defending champs.
Although the Nets were unable to pull out a win last week, they played tough games and looked particularly good in their Sunday game against the Lakers.
Before we delve into specifics, here's a quick recap of the week:
New Jersey went 0-3 on the week, giving them a record of 6-18. They are in last place in the Atlantic Division and have the worst winning percentage in the Eastern Conference.
Since I'm not a big fan of jumping on teams while they're down, I'm going to try to look at the positives that came out of this week. First, though, let's look at what led to their losses.
The team's performance against the Lakers was exceptional, given that they are a drastically inferior team to LA. The main reason for the loss in that one was New Jersey's inability to consistently knock down open shots.
The Nets were just 4-of-20 from three in the game, and many of those misses came on open looks. Just look at how the Lakers went 7-for-16 from downtown in that same game. They were much more opportunistic. When a shooter was left with space, he generally hit the shot.
The Lakers also had the benefit of being able to deploy Kobe Bryant.
When LA needed points at the end of the game, Bryant came through again and again. Basically, Kobe and the rest of the team know how to close out games and the Nets do not.
It's fairly obvious by now that the Nets need a player who can get them points in a hurry. For all we know, in a few years Brook Lopez will be that guy. When he's aggressive and drawing fouls, he certainly looks like that type of player.
He's not there yet, though.
New Jersey does not have a player they can give the ball to and say, "Here you go big guy. Go win us this game." In actuality, it's what separates teams in the NBA.
Just look at some of the top teams.
When Boston needs buckets, they hand it to Paul Pierce. Miami has LeBron James and Dwayne Wade. Dallas has Dirk Nowitzki.
Even think about Orlando. When they went to the Finals a couple years ago, when in need of points down the stretch, they gave the rock to Hedo Turkoglu and let him do his thing. Without him last season, they were dispensed by Boston rather easily.
Notice that these are all perimeter players. They are able to get the ball outside, attack the rim and either draw a foul, get a basket or find an open teammate after a double-team.
Devin Harris is very good, but he's not capable of taking over games in that way. Maybe Terrence Williams can develop into that type of player. Only time will tell.
The Nets are in no way contending for a championship this year, so I'm no longer sure that it would even be a smart move to try and get a guy like Carmelo Anthony via trade. He's even said that he won't sign an extension unless it's with the Knicks, so New Jersey will have to figure something else out.
They have a bunch of draft picks for 2011, so maybe if they don't already own a high draft pick, they can trade up to pick a future superstar.
Okay, back to the games.
Aside from being overmatched, the main problem in the games against Atlanta and Dallas was the way the Nets would bury themselves early.
In both games, they allowed their opponent to get sizable first half leads. They would hang around and even get the games close, but were never able to regain the lead or even tie the game.
In Atlanta, the Nets led 44-42 with 3:58 left in the second quarter, before the Hawks went on a run and took a 60-47 lead into the half. New Jersey fought hard in the second half, but were unable to overcome the deficit.
At Dallas, the Nets trailed 23-19 with 2:11 left in the first quarter. They were behind, but the game was still close.
Then, Dallas extended the lead to 30-19 after the first and held a 55-40 advantage after the first 24 minutes of action.
The lack of late game execution was apparent in these games as well.
Behind 98-87 with 3:51 left in the game against the Mavs, the Nets scored just two more points the rest of the way and lost 102-89. With Atlanta holding a slim 102-97 lead with 3:24 left in the fourth, New Jersey scored only four points down the stretch and wound up losing 116-101.
The Nets need to find a way to score late. If they don't have a player who can fill it up when they need it, they'll have to manufacture baskets another way. Players also need to take advantage of their opportunities throughout the game and hit open shots.
Now to the positives of all of this.
I've been saying this for a while now, but the Nets are proving they can hang with the top teams. Maybe it's simply how they played against the Lakers. This week just had a different feel to it despite the losses.
If they can play that hard against the teams that are more on their talent level, there's no reason to think they can't string together some wins in the near future.
This will also be a very valuable experience for the players. Let's say they can find a way to start winning some of these close games. Once they are eventually able to land a superstar either through the draft, free agency or via trade, there will be less of a burden on the said player and the team will be exponentially better.
That is assuming these guys end up winning some games, however. If they can't figure out how to do that, adding a big time player may not help all that much.
As for individual achievements, Lopez was New Jersey's best player last week. He averaged 24 points on 50 percent shooting and it even looks like he's starting to rack up some rebounds again. Against Dallas and LA he had eight and nine, respectively.
Harris missed most of the game against the Mavs due to a shoulder injury, but played well in the other two contests. Against Atlanta and the Lakers he averaged he averaged 17 points and 12 assists, although he needs to hit his shots more consistently.
Kris Humphries recorded two double-doubles on the week, but could soon lose his starting job to Derrick Favors.
Anthony Morrow continues to be somewhat inconsistent. If the team had a better option he would likely be coming off the bench.
The biggest news of the week had to to with Travis Outlaw, Damion James and the previously mentioned Terrence Williams.
Outlaw ceded his position as a starter to James, but James broke his toe against Dallas and will need surgery. It's an unfortunate circumstance for James, as his hustle and effort had gotten him the starting gig.
Outlaw, however, will not be rejoining the starting five despite the injury. Quinton Ross started against the Lakers. The return of Williams could also eventually lead to a new starter.
Williams did not provide any eye-popping statistics in his two games back, but he displayed the aggressiveness and attacking mentality that Avery Johnson wants from him.
He had opportunities to settle for jump shots, but always drove to the rim. He still puts up the occasional crazy shot or attempts an overly ambitious pass, but I believe he will be a starter before too long.
The Nets have four winnable games coming up this week. Whether or not they are able to pull off an unbeaten week is another story.
The upcoming schedule consists of Philadelphia, Washington, Toronto and Atlanta. The Nets beat Atlanta earlier this year and will be looking for revenge against the Sixers.
If they can play with the same type of effort they did against the Lakers and avoid the early holes they dug themselves against the Hawks and Mavs, 2-2, at least, should be expected.
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