The New Jersey Nets got out to a promising start in Week 21 when they beat the Boston Celtics and extended their winning streak to five games. After that win, however, the Nets lost their next three, dashing all hopes of miraculous playoff run.
The biggest problem last week was one that has been present for most of the season: the offense.
New Jersey was extremely inefficient on the offensive end. To make matters worse, after getting out to a strong start defensively against Boston and Chicago, the Nets completely broke down on D against Milwaukee and Washington.
Before getting into specifics, here's a quick recap of the week:
The Nets were 1-3 on the week, are 22-46 overall and remain stuck in fourth place of the Atlantic Division and 12th place in the Eastern Conference.
You can see from the above scores that New Jersey had trouble scoring. They averaged just 87 PPG over the four-game stretch and their field-goal percentage of 40.7 for the week is just plain awful.
However, before we get too hard on the Nets for their offensive woes, let's remember that Boston, Chicago and Milwaukee are some pretty good defensive teams. Struggling against them is understandable.
What makes it rough is the game against Washington, one of the worst defensive teams in the league.
Perhaps things could have gone differently for the Nets had Deron Williams, who will be missing at least three games, played against the Wizards.
Williams has been nursing a wrist injury since he came to New Jersey, and his play had become affected to the point that Avery Johnson felt he needed to be shut down for a little while.
It's possible that Williams will miss the rest of the season even, and while that seems like a real downer, there are some positives that could come out of that scenario. I'll have more on that in the next day or two.
An aspect that was particularly frustrating in the Washington game was how the Nets started out incredibly strong and efficient on offense, only to fall apart after halftime.
By the end of the game, New Jersey's shooting percentage fell to 43.7, but in the first half it was well above 50.0 percent.
Again, that could largely be due to the absence of Williams. It does highlight a problem with this Nets team as currently constructed, though.
Aside from Williams and Brook Lopez, the Nets don't have any players who can create their own shots. Everyone else is reliant upon being set up by one of the point guards. This becomes a problem when opposing teams either key in one of the points guards, or when, for whatever reason, things become stagnant on offense.
This happens from time to time. It's just part of basketball. What the Nets need is someone who can get things going during these situations.
This obviously can't happen this season, and it really wouldn't do much even if it were possible. It's just something the organization needs to address over the summer.
One way for the Nets to be better on offense would be to take less threes. The only player on the roster who should be putting up a large number of shots from downtown is Anthony Morrow.
The Nets averaged 21 three-point attempts a game last week, though, and they connected on only 29.7 percent of them. Guys like Williams, Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic and Travis Outlaw can hit threes, but they are not nearly on the same level as Morrow.
There's no reason this team should be taking so many deep shots. If the players can resist the urge to chuck it up from behind the arc more often, perhaps the overall offensive product will begin to look better.
There were two other big issues that came to the surface last week, and they are again ones that have held the team back all year.
The Nets are terrible on the road (4-29 bad, only Washington is worse) and they routinely play to the level of their competition.
Even though the games weren't always pretty, against Boston and Chicago the Nets played some very tough games. They were tight, they were intense and we can even go so far as to say they felt like playoff games.
It was the reason that, despite losing to the Bulls, the week looked promising and Nets fans were dreaming of the postseason. The team traded blows with the Eastern Conference's top two teams and even beat one of them.
Then, they traveled to Milwaukee, came out sluggish and didn't look anything like the team that had won five straight games. Something was clearly off, and for those who have followed the team all year, it wasn't all that surprising.
It just stings a bit because it seemed like the team had turned the corner.
Where New Jersey had its biggest letdowns against the Bucks and Wizards is obvious in the statistics.
Chicago and Boston shot a combined 41.0 percent while Milwaukee and Washington were each above 50.0 percent.
The only reason this could have happened is that the Nets believed they would simply walk right through these last two opponents. They simply did not take them as seriously as they did their first two and the results were on par with the effort.
New Jersey also had 22 turnovers against the Wizards, another indication that the team was not focused.
The best individual performances of the week came from, who else, Lopez and Kris Humphries.
Lopez averaged 22 PPG on 54.4 percent shooting and came away with 6.8 RPG. The rebounding numbers still aren't great, although some of that is surely to do the way Humphries crashes the boards. It's also worth noting that Lopez did record a double-double against Washington with 21 points and 10 rebounds.
One thing I'd like to see from Lopez is for him to get more assertive on offense. He needs to mix it up in the paint for consistently and should really be taking more shots.
Lopez averaged 17 shots a game last week. Given his high shooting percentage, I'd like to see that number go up. It's a mixture of Lopez getting aggressive, the coaches making it a point of emphasis and his teammates getting him the ball when he has an advantage over his defender.
Humphries had a double-double in each game last week and has now tallied 10 such games in a row. He's getting a little inconsistent with his shot, but based on how much he improved from last season to this one, it's reasonable to assume that facet of his game should get better before next year.
The fact that he averaged 14.8 RPG last week also helps offset any difficulties he may at times have with his shooting stroke.
Hopefully the Nets can figure out what the problem with playing on the road is quickly, because they have three road games next week.
They'll start out hosting Indiana (30-40) Monday night before visiting Cleveland (13-55), Orlando (44-26) and Atlanta (40-30).
Given the opponents, the potential of Williams being out the whole week (it seems he'll be returning Friday against Orlando at the earliest) and the worrisome proposition of three consecutive games on the road, going 1-3 again wouldn't be too bad.
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