The New Jersey Nets started out their 12-70, 2009-10 season by collapsing in the fourth quarter on the road against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
It was only fitting then, that in their first game in Minnesota since last October, the Nets were dealt a loss thanks to another quarter-long failure.
New Jersey entered halftime with a one-point lead, then came out of the break completely flat, being outscored 23-9 in the third quarter, eventually losing by a score of 103-88.
It was a flashback to last season, when the Nets would suffer long stretches of offensive ineptitude. In that third period the team went 4-of-17, which was particularly disheartening because they did not play horribly on defense.
Minnesota (7-for-15 in the third) made just three more field-goals than New Jersey. It was not as though they exploded and dropped a 35-point quarter. The Nets just could not do anything with the ball in their hands.
Take away that third quarter, and this was a one-point game.
The Nets also committed seven turnovers in the third—something that has been a problem all year.
New Jersey has two days off before their next game, and it is possible, even probable, that there will be a shakeup in the starting lineup.
If they do go that route—and based on recent games they should—Sasha Vujacic (22 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists against Minnesota) could find himself as a starter.
The newest Net has shown that he can be streaky, which shooters usually are, but he is a better all-around player than Stephen Graham.
Graham, who has been getting the starting nod lately, provides no resistance whatsoever on defense and cannot match the scoring ability of Vujacic.
Graham can be a fine role player. He has no business as a starter, though.
Adjusting the starting five would not fix everything, however.
The Nets need to do a better job of getting Brook Lopez the ball closer to the basket. Lopez is certainly capable of hitting outside shots, but he has gotten better with his post moves as the season has gone along.
Teams are trying to take him away, complicating things for New Jersey. Still, they need to figure out a way to get him going early in games, and feeding him the ball in the post would help.
They also need Devin Harris to find his shooting stroke. He was just 3-of-13 against the T-Wolves, and has been cold in consecutive games.
With the recent injuries and lack of depth on this team, it may simply be too much to ask of two players that they carry the load as Harris and Lopez need to.
These losses would be easier to take if the team was as competitive in them as they were earlier in the season, when games were usually decided by less than 10 points.
New Jersey has been blown out far too frequently in the past few weeks, so something has to change.
We'll see if anything does Wednesday when they host Chicago.
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