HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Last season, the Brooklyn Nets won 20 of their first 22 games against teams that didn’t make the playoffs. This season, the Nets are already 1-3 against that same group.
Now, the teams they’ve lost to – Cleveland, Orlando and Washington – are all improved. And it’s possible that more than one of them will make the playoffs this year. The Magic have shown an ability to defend at a high level, the Cavs upgraded their roster, and the Wizards are healthy, with a young and improving backcourt.
But none of the three have a winning record through the first 11 days of the season … and neither do the Nets after blowing an eight-point, fourth-quarter lead in Washington on Friday.
The Nets did beat the Heat last Friday and have a chance to knock off the unbeaten Pacers on Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV) in Brooklyn. A 2-0 mark against the two best teams in the Eastern Conference would certainly make up – at least in terms of the team’s psyche – for the three losses to the teams that picked 1, 2 and 3 in the Draft this past June.
But at some point, Brooklyn needs to find some consistency and maybe an identity while they’re at it. Defense was the bigger concern entering the season, but offense has been the bigger issue through the first five games. Through Friday, the Nets rank 22nd in offensive efficiency, scoring just 98.4 points per 100 possessions. Their All-Star starting lineup – maybe because it’s only played 48 minutes together in five games – is scoring at that same rate.
It’s not time to panic, but it is time to figure some things out. ESPN New York’s Ohm Youngmisuk was in Washington with some quotes from a frustrated Kevin Garnett, who has shot *14-for-46 (30.4 percent) thus far…
*Garnett, listed at 6-11, has taken 32 shots from mid-range and five from the restricted area.
Saturday, the Nets get an opportunity to bounce back and measure themselves against the Indiana Pacers, a team that will stand in their way of trying to get to the NBA Finals.
But the Nets won’t even sniff the Eastern Conference Finals if they don’t start figuring out how to play more consistently and put away the Wizards and Magic.
“This is our issue right now,” said Garnett, who finished with four points on 2-of-11 shooting in 24 minutes. “We’re trying to figure it out. It’s not so simple to hit a button or say this is it.”
Unfortunately for the Nets, they have to go through early growing pains before they will truly know how they stack up against Indiana, which only looks like its getting better and better at 6-0.
“We’re dealing with multiple things here,” Garnett said of what the Nets need to improve on. “When we win, obviously it looks good. But teams are making adjustments to us as far as systematically defensively. Offensively, I don’t think we’re in a rhythm.”
“Obviously it’s a process,” Garnett added. “It’s not an easy process trying to figure it out. [Some] nights it looks great. Some nights it looks like tonight: pure crap.”
It may just be a case of sustaining how they play early on. In their five games, the Nets are a plus-24 in the first quarter (with the league’s sixth-best first-quarter offense), but a minus-7 in the second, a minus-6 in the third, and a minus-19 in the fourth.
Nets coach Jason Kidd is still determining how his rotation is going to work out. As noted above, the starters have played just 48 minutes together. Kidd has, at times, gone with a full second unit, but has also used all kinds of mixes between the starters and reserves. He obviously wants to preserve his starters’ minutes, but all the mixing and matching may be preventing the different lineups from finding that rhythm they’re seeking.
Saturday provides another opportunity to figure things out, but the No. 1 defense in the league will not make it easy.