Sure, the Nets want to win. You don't become a professional athlete unless you are insanely competitive.
There's something to be said for playing meaningful late-season games, though, and the only significance New Jersey's remaining games is to get a little momentum heading into next season.
That's a whole lot different than playing to make the postseason.
Despite all of this, the Nets played a pretty competitive game against the Pacers, losing 102-98. Really, though, they could have won with some better execution and shot selection.
At 22-47, New Jersey obviously has some problems. Some big factors holding the team back recently has been an over-reliance on three-point shooting, trouble consistently getting to the free-throw line and—when players do get to the charity stripe—an inability to knock down the freebies at a high rate.
All three of these deficiencies were on display against the Pacers.
Too often, the Nets settled for jumpers from downtown when they would have been better served putting the ball on the floor and forcing the action. By all means, if the shot is there, take it.
The problem is, New Jersey's players are putting up these shots when they shouldn't be.
Early in the game, the Nets were very patient on offense. They made it a point to get the ball in the post and work from there. There were some exceptions, but for the most part, they got good looks at the basket from the mid-range area.
When they couldn't get it down low, the guards did a good job of driving toward the basket and making something happen that way.
While the team took, and missed, five threes in that quarter, the shooters were at least open. The only really egregious one was taken by Stephen Graham—who should not, under any circumstances, be taking deep shots.
Something happened after the opening period, however, and the Nets' offense grew stagnant. They stopped attacking the basket and settled for contested threes.
In the second and third quarters combined, the Nets went 3-for-12 from downtown and most of those attempts were forced.
Things changed in the fourth quarter and New Jersey ended up hitting five of its nine three-point attempts; one of those misses was a meaningless heave at the buzzer.
Why did the shots suddenly start falling?
Because the players got back to driving hard to the rim, getting Indiana's defenders to move their feet and opening up some room on the perimeter.
Attacking with the dribble also has the added benefit of forcing opposing teams to foul. Through the first three quarters, the Nets attempted a total of six free throws.
In the fourth quarter alone, they got to the line 12 times.
Putting the ball on the floor, when done in a controlled fashion, has so many advantages it's hard to list them all.
For the purposes of analyzing this game, let's look at what it does for free throws and threes.
When you attack defenders, you put them on their heels. As long as you make the right decision, you'll either get a good look for yourself, open up a shot for someone else or get fouled.
Driving the ball enough forces defenses to collapse, thereby freeing up shooters on the outside.
When you have three-point specialists like Anthony Morrow on your team, this becomes an extremely effective way of handling your business.
In truth, as long as you aren't recklessly barreling into defenders and picking up offensive fouls, there's not much that will go wrong. When you don't settle, you control the game instead of allowing your opponent to dictate what happens.
Of course, you need to knock down your shots, and it isn't helping that Morrow (1-of-6 on threes against the Pacers) is struggling with the deep ball right now. That's just how it goes with shooters, though. He'll likely go off in an upcoming game.
Then, there is the importance of actually hitting your free throws when you do get put on the line.
Although the Nets had 12 free-throw attempts in the final period, they connected on only six of them.
The team has really dipped in free-throw percentage lately.
On the season, the Nets are a 75.9 percent free-throw shooting team, yet they've been in the 60-70 percent range the past couple of weeks, and against Indiana they shot 66.7 percent.
Had they been able to hit just two more free throws, putting them around their season average, it would have been a two-point game.
This would have made going into foul mode unnecessary and the big threes the team hit in the fourth could have had an entirely different impact on the game.
Instead of playing catchup, it's possible those shots would have tied the game or even put them in the lead.
It's about putting pressure on the opponent—and the closer the game is, the higher the stakes are on each possession.
Perhaps Indiana doesn't execute as well if the game is tighter. Maybe they force some bad shots of their own and the Nets are able to pick up some easy baskets in transition.
Unfortunately, we'll never know.
This is largely due to the settled-on jumpers, the lack of aggressive drives to the basket that lead to foul shots and the poor execution at the free-throw line.
The Nets have a very winnable game Wednesday night in Cleveland, even without Williams. If they can do better in the areas highlighted here, a victory shouldn't be too hard to come by.
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