The New Jersey Nets suffered their second consecutive loss against the Milwaukee Bucks Friday night, making their recent five-game winning streak a distant memory.
New Jersey obviously has a ton of improvements to make both in its play and with offseason roster moves, and as I've preached all year, fans need to patient with this team. Just the fact that the Nets had been able to put together five wins in a row is sign of marked improvement and reason for optimism going forward.
It's not so much the loss to the Bucks that was upsetting, though. It's the manner in which it went down.
Struggling offensively against their past two opponents is understandable. Chicago, whom they played Thursday night, is the best defensive team in the league. Milwaukee isn't so bad itself, ranking sixth overall in opponent field-goal percentage and third in points allowed.
The problem with Friday night's loss is just how awful the Nets were defensively.
Standing in stark contrast to its ability to get stops, Milwaukee ranks dead last in both points scored and field-goal percentage on the offensive end. The team scores just over 90 PPG and has hit just 42.5 percent of its shots for the season.
Despite this, the Bucks dropped 110 points on the Nets, shooting 56.8 percent from the floor along the way.
New Jersey clearly had some defensive breakdowns, particularly in guarding Bucks guard Carlos Delfino.
While Delfino is a career 35.6 percent three-point shooter, that number doesn't necessarily do him justice. During the 2007-08 season, he hit 38.2 percent of this three-point shots and the next year he clocked in at 36.7 percent from downtown.
Clearly the ability is there, even if he is currently having a down year at 33.3 percent.
Coaches are maniacal in their preparation and there is no way Avery Johnson and his staff did not let their players know that Delfino could not be left alone on the perimeter.
Still, the man responsible for Delfino repeatedly left him open and the five-year pro from Argentina made the Nets pay, hitting 8 threes on the night.
Even worse, six of those long balls came from the corners—the shortest three and the most efficient shot there is—and he was wide open on every single one of them.
Again, it is nearly impossible that New Jersey's players were unaware of Delfino's ability to strike from deep. Either they didn't read the scouting report, didn't pay attention to Johnson or were completely unaware of whom they were guarding and where they were on the floor.
The final score of 110-95 shows the Nets losing by 15, but don't let that fool you. The game was closer than that, with New Jersey trailing by only six with about three-and-a-half minutes left in the game.
Delfino's threes were the difference.
A mental lapse or miscommunication while playing a zone defense every now and then is understandable. Basketball is, by nature, tiring and the Nets were playing the second game of a back-to-back. Their contest with the Bulls the night before was extremely physical and it didn't help that they had to quickly fly to Milwaukee afterward.
However, routinely failing to follow through on your assignment, particularly when it largely involves preventing just one guy from taking a specific shot, is unacceptable.
The Nets also did not help themselves out by launching 23 threes of their own and connecting on only eight of them. If the deep shot isn't falling, you have to stop taking it and look to get your offense going some other way.
This is a process, though, and as said earlier, we must remain patient with this team. Every game has its lessons and hopefully the Nets will learn from Friday's matchup. They'll put it all together eventually, even if it does take until next year to happen.
The Nets will have a chance to get things going in the right direction again when they visit Washington Sunday afternoon.
In truth, they need to win that game and prevent this once promising-looking week from becoming a disaster.