Posts Tagged ‘Andray Blatche’

Game 2 could answer questions on Brooklyn bench

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Through the Lens: Nets vs. Raptors Game 1

TORONTO – The Toronto Raptors will go into Game 2 of their first-round series with the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV) knowing that they will likely get better games from starting wings DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross than they did in Game 1.

Ross and DeRozan, each playing their first career playoff game, combined to shoot 4-for-17 (1-for-8 from 3-point range). The Nets’ defense had a lot to do with their struggles, but first-game jitters were also a factor.

That’s the glass-is-half-full view for Toronto. But Brooklyn has one too, because the Nets know that their bench can’t play much worse than it did on Saturday.

Alan Anderson, Andray Blatche, Mirza Teletovic and Marcus Thornton shot a combined 6-for-22, missing all 12 of their 3-point attempts.

Anderson helped on the other end of the floor, but if Teletovic and Thornton aren’t making shots, they’re not helping much (beyond providing floor spacing). The Nets outscored the Raptors 55-37 in 23 minutes with at least four starters on the floor and were outscored 50-39 in 25 minutes with at least two reserves in the game.

Those numbers make Andrei Kirilenko‘s DNP all that more curious. Kirilenko can give you something on both ends of the floor and doesn’t rely on shot-making to make an impact. The Nets were 25-9 when Kirilenko played at least 14 minutes in the regular season.

But the Nets are a deep team and Jason Kidd came closest of any other coach to mimicking Gregg Popovich‘s minutes distribution. Only Joe Johnson (32.6), Deron Williams (32.2) and Brook Lopez (who played just 17 games) averaged more than 28 minutes a game in the regular season.

If Kirilenko would have played on Saturday, somebody who played at least 1,200 minutes would have sat. And Kirilenko’s on-off-court numbers don’t jive with that 25-9 record. Brooklyn was better both offensively and defensively with Kirilenko on the bench this season. While he’s a great off-ball cutter and brilliant passer, he shot just 5-for-31 from outside the paint and seemed to lose all confidence at the free-throw line after the All-Star break. With Shaun Livingston and Mason Plumlee, there are already two guys in the Nets’ rotation who can’t shoot beyond 15 feet.

Interestingly, the Nets are now 3-0 against the Raptors when Kirilenko doesn’t play and 0-2 when he does. Kidd will have to decide whether or not that’s a coincidence. He said Sunday that one DNP for Kirilenko “doesn’t mean that he’s not going to play any of this series.”

Plumlee brothers make their marks

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Mason Plumlee spikes an alley-oop pass

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Traded to Phoenix last July, center Miles Plumlee‘s had a closeup view of the inseparable bond the Suns’ twin brothers Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris have always shared.

Miles and Mason Plumlee, a rookie center-power forward with the Brooklyn Nets, each might stand 6-foot-10 and around 240 pounds, but these brothers are not twins. Their version of brotherly love growing up was more like the push-and-shove of a textbook sibling rivalry.

“It’s funny, we were so competitive growing up, we fought more than we got along most of the time,” Plumlee told NBA.com recently during a phone interview. “But basketball was the one thing that kind of kept us together and brought us together even when we weren’t on good terms with one another.”

Surely then they had grown so close through basketball during high school that making the decision to do it again at Duke, with Miles, 25, heading there first, followed the next year by Mason, 24, was always part of the Plumlee plan.

“Not at all,” Miles said. “I committed to Stanford and he was going to Duke, so for a whole year that wasn’t the plan until certain things transpired. My coach [Trent Johnson left for LSU] and Duke came into the picture. If you asked me a year before, I would have said, ‘Yeah, I don’t want to play with Mason.

“We grew up and realized we don’t have to fight about everything and from then on we’ve been super-close, and it’s been fun to go on this journey with him.”

These days the brothers talk on the phone as often as best friends.

“We talked today,” Mason said, smiling, during the Nets’ recent trip through Dallas. “You spend a lot of time on the road, so just seeing what city he’s in, seeing what he’s up to. We’re very close.”

They’ve got plenty to talk about, too, as each is coming to the end of unsuspectingly successful seasons. Miles walked out of Indiana, traded with Gerald Green for Luis Scola after having spent 68 of 82 games his rookie season planted on the Pacers’ bench behind Roy Hibbert and Ian Mahinmi. Mason, the 22nd overall pick by the Nets in June, figured to get much the same bench treatment on a veteran team and behind the likes of Kevin Garnett, Andray Blatche and Brook Lopez. 

Both are carving out a place in the league. Miles, the 26th pick by the Pacers in 2012, stepped into the starting center position with the Suns, a team most saw as one that would be bringing up the rear in the Western Conference. He got off to a fast start, averaging a double-double by showcasing an evolved low-post game and running the floor in the Suns’ up-tempo attack, while dispelling any notion he’s little more than a physical, solely defensive-minded player.

“The big thing for me has always been my confidence and being a little more calm mentally on the court,” said Miles, a candidate with Green for Most Improved Player of the Year. “I’ve always kind of had the skills and the talent, I just hadn’t had a chance to get that confidence going. I [played] roles in college and I played on a lot of winning teams and I loved it, but it’s part of the reason people were surprised I was drafted as high as I was.

“I showed some of the coaches and GMs in the draft process I had more to my game than the general public probably perceives. I just built on that, and you play through the post a lot more in the NBA than at the college level and that helped me slow down and extend my game.”

With five games left, Miles is averaging 8.3 ppg, shooting 57.4 percent, and 8.0 rpg. Phoenix (46-31) is clinging to a playoff spot in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.

“He got going early and often, so that kind of made me want to get going myself,” Mason said. “Once I saw him doing it, I’d tell him if he had a good game and we were about to play that team, the coaches would see it in scouting and I would say, ‘I can do what he does.’ So I’d try getting a little playing time out of that, and just knowing that if he could make it happen, I could make it happen.”

Mason has played in 64 games, aided by the early, season-ending injury to Lopez, and he had his 19-game streak in the Nets starting lineup snapped Saturday when Kevin Garnett made his return from injury. Moving to the bench didn’t bother Mason, who scored 16 points on 8-for-10 shooting with seven rebounds in a win over Philadelphia.

He’s averaging 6.8 ppg on 64.0 percent shooting, and 4.1 rpg in 17.4 mpg, and will be playing in the postseason with the rejuvenated Nets. He’s played a key role. In the last 20 games, Mason is averaging 7.9 ppg on 66.3 percent shooting and 5.8 rpg in 21.2 mpg, like Miles, showing he’s more than just a physical big man.

“I never thought that,” Mason said. “I don’t really put too much stock into other peoples’ opinions. I just kind of do my thing and keep it moving.”

And don’t look now but in a couple years, there could be a third Plumlee in the league. Marshall is a 7-foot, 260-pound center at Duke. He’ll be a junior next season.

“It would be crazy to play against Marshall because he’s always been so much younger than us,” Miles said. “I’ve never had to take him quite as seriously because even when we were at Duke during practice, I was like I’m going to laugh it off.

“I’d have to take him seriously, so it would be a lot of fun to have him in the league.”

Ah, brothers.

Thornton keeps cooking for hot Nets

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Joe Johnson, Nets storm back to stun Mavs in overtime

DALLAS – The Brooklyn Nets delivered an improbable road win on coach Jason Kidd‘s 41st birthday, but it’s reserve guard Marcus Thornton, acquired at the trade deadline, who is the gift that keeps on giving.

Brooklyn rallied from a 14-point deficit in the third quarter, forced overtime, took control and then held on for a 107-104 win over the stunned Mavericks on their home floor. Thornton was in the thick of the Nets’ fourth consecutive victory with 20 points and seven rebounds in 24 minutes. He scored 11 in the fourth quarter, dropping three of his four 3-pointers to push the Nets into the lead.

“He’s been great for us,” said Joe Johnson, who scored six of his 22 points in overtime. “I can’t even count how many games he’s been clutch for us and got us back in the game or won games for us, so we need a guy like that.”

The 6-foot-4 shooter spent the first four-plus seasons of his career on losing clubs, first playing near his hometown of Baton Rouge with the then-New Orleans Hornets and then for the past two-and-a-half seasons in Sacramento. A month ago he got the call that he’d been traded to the Nets. In 14 games since swapping the black-and-purple of Sacramento for the black-and-white of Brooklyn, Thornton has had five games of least 19 points. He had five in 46 games with the Kings.

“It’s been huge, man, it’s been huge,” Thornton said of the trade. “I’m starting to find myself again and get back to being the player that I was a couple of years ago.”

For the first time in his career Thornton, a second-round pick out of LSU by the Miami Heat in 2009, is surrounded by hardened veterans on a team that’s surging toward the playoffs. Those guys have taken to calling him “The Microwave,” the nickname synonymous with longtime Detroit Pistons sixth man Vinnie Johnson, known for coming off the bench and lighting it up.

“K.G. [Kevin Garnett], Paul [Pierce], Joe, D-Will [Deron Williams], they all have championship standards,” Thornton said. “Being able to be a sponge around them has been great.”

Thornton, who has been a serious upgrade from the man he replaced, aging sixth man Jason Terry, is averaging 12.5 ppg with Brooklyn while shooting 46.3 percent overall and 40.6 percent from beyond the arc.

“When you get in the postseason there’s going to be some nights the first five may not have it,” Johnson said. “You need a guy that can come in and get hot, and get hot quick.”

On Sunday, Thornton did just that and in the process mopped up the Mavs (42-29), who fell for the second time in overtime in their first four games of a franchise-long eight-game homestand. The loss dropped them behind Memphis and into eighth place. The race tightened at the other end, too, as Phoenix rallied to beat Minnesota and is now just one-half game behind Dallas — and even in the loss column — for the final playoff spot.

With Pierce and Williams struggling to find their range, really until the overtime period, Thornton put up eight points in the second quarter and had nine in the first half to keep the cold-shooting Nets within striking range, 48-41. He jump-started their charge in the fourth quarter with consecutive 3-pointers to open the period and whittle the deficit to 72-71. His third 3 of the final quarter came at the 7:47 mark and put Brooklyn ahead 79-75. And with 5:54 left, his putback of an Andray Blatche miss made it 81-77 in favor of the Nets.

“How we stick together through adversity” is what Thronton said most impresses him about his new club. “We could have easily gave up when we went down 12, 15 points, however many points it was in that third quarter, but everybody kept their heads up and we kept playing.”

The Nets (37-31) needed it, too, on this first stop on a three-game road trip. They win kept them 1 1/2 games out of the Atlantic Division lead after Toronto won earlier in the day.

“Yes, yes, winning, man, winning,” Thornton said. “This is my first year in five years being able to say I have a chance to go to the playoffs. That alone in itself is a blessing.”

Now Thornton returns to friendly territory as Brooklyn heads to New Orleans for another important game on Monday night.

“Go back home, see my mom and all my friends,” Thornton said. “Been getting ticket requests since two weeks ago so got to deal with that. But I love going back and playing at home.”

Almost as much as he’s loving this fresh start with the Nets.

Nets Keep Looking To Spend, Improve

Brooklyn acquired guard Marcus Thornton from the Kings to increase its offensive production.

Brooklyn picked up guard Marcus Thornton from the Kings to increase its offensive production.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The first trade of deadline week went down Wednesday afternoon, with the Brooklyn Nets acquiring Marcus Thornton from the Sacramento Kings for Reggie Evans and Jason Terry.

The deal adds about $700,000 in salary and $2.7 million in luxury taxes to Brooklyn’s books this season. Next season, when all three guys are still under contract, it adds about the *same amount.

* More salary, less tax, because, at this point, Brooklyn is only in the third of five tax-payment tiers for ’14-15. Give ‘em time, though.

So, it’s a bit of an investment for Mikhail Prokhorov. But in theory, it should help the Nets continue to move up the Eastern Conference standings.

Brooklyn is 14-6 since Jan. 1, a stretch in which they’ve gone from 10th to seventh in the East. They’re just 2 1/2 games out of a top-four seed and need to keep moving up to avoid playing the Pacers or Heat in the first round and have a decent shot at the conference semifinals.

After all the money they spent last summer, anything less than the second round would be a colossal failure. So hey, they might as well spend a few more million if it can make them better.

And as good as the Nets have played in 2014, they still have plenty of room for improvement. They rank 15th offensively and sixth defensively since Jan. 1. Given all their talent, they should be better at putting the ball in the basket.

That’s where Thornton comes in. Since Jan. 1, the Nets have scored 108.3 points per 100 possessions with Deron Williams on the floor (a rate which would rank fifth in the league in that time) and just 100.6 with him on the bench (a rate which would rank 25th). Though Williams hasn’t been at his best, he’s still the most important offensive player on his team.

Shaun Livingston has been one of the Nets’ bright spots and has worked well with Williams in the starting lineup, but the Nets’ second-unit offense could use a boost. Terry has been a disappointment, Alan Anderson‘s production has dropped off and, as brilliant as Andrei Kirilenko has been, he’s made two shots outside of the paint all season.

The problem is that Thornton has been having the worst shooting season of his career, with an effective field goal percentage of just 45.7 percent. That’s worse than Terry was shooting.

So, the hope for Brooklyn is that Thornton can find his shot again. It was less than a month ago that he tied a career high with 42 points (shooting 7-for-15 from 3-point range) against the best defense of the last 37 years.

While he’s been rather inefficient this season, Thornton gives the Nets a higher ceiling and more potency than they had with Terry. If he plays well, he certainly fills a need.

The same could be said about Jordan Hill, if the Nets can get him from the Lakers for their disabled-player exception. In the same way that their offense takes a hit when their Williams sits, their defense falls apart when Kevin Garnett goes to the bench.

But you wonder how Hill would fit in a second-unit frontline that already includes Kirilenko, Andray Blatche and Mirza Teletovic. Each of those guys brings something to the table, the Nets have outscored their opponents by 21.5 points per 100 possessions in 115 minutes with the three of them on the floor together, and at least one of them would see a decrease in minutes if Hill was brought on board.

And then there’s the money. The Nets wouldn’t be sending any salary to L.A. in exchange for Hill, so he would cost them about $1.3 million in salary ($3.5 million prorated for the remainder in the season) and a whopping $16.6 million in luxury tax, bringing their total tax bill to more than $98 million. Add that to their salaries and they’d be a $200-million team.

That’s a lot of dough for a squad that doesn’t stand much of a chance of reaching the conference finals. But you can’t say that the Nets aren’t afraid to make a move or spend some money to address their needs.

‘Amnesty THAT!’ An Amnesty Find Is Rare

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The two-word tweet Kobe Bryant directed at Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban after he grilled Cuban’s team for 38 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists in a game last season was priceless. Earlier that week, Cuban suggested that the Lakers should consider amnestying Bryant this offseason as a means for Los Angeles to shrink the enormous luxury-tax bill coming after next season.

The notion was resurrected after Bryant, due to make $30.45 million in 2013-14, tore his Achilles tendon in the third-to-last game of the regular season because of the assumed probability that he will miss a chunk of next season. Of course, the Lakers had no intention to amnesty Bryant by Tuesday’s deadline.

Had they, making him available to a team for dirt cheap, Bryant would have become the first superstar cut loose via the amnesty provision that took effect at the conclusion of the 2011 lockout as part of the new collective bargaining agreement.

Twenty players in all have been waived via the amnesty provision. Three got the news Tuesday, bringing this summer’s amnesty total to five.

The wisdom of the provision is to allow each team the one-time ability to remove a contract from its books. The team must still pay the player’s remaining salary, but it no longer counts against the salary cap or luxury tax.

The amnestied player (who must have been under contract prior to the new CBA) goes through a waiver process with teams under the salary cap granted first crack to acquire the player through a bidding process. The highest bidder wins and signs the player at the bid price with the former team responsible for the balance.

It could provide a cheap way for a team to fill a hole with a serviceable rotation player set free by a team needing financial relief – which was the Miami Heat’s purpose Tuesday in amnestying popular sharpshooter Mike Miller. More often than not, however, teams, naturally, have utilized the amnesty provision to eradicate expensive mistakes or free themselves of players no longer worth their lucrative deals such as waiving disappointing, non-productive players (Darko Milicic, Travis Outlaw), older/high-mileage players (James Posey, Elton Brand) or headcases (Gilbert Arenas, Andray Blatche).

Of the 15 players amnestied in 2011 and 2012, four (Posey, Charlie Bell, Ryan Gomes and Milicic) were never signed by another team and eight (Arenas, Bell, Josh Childress, Baron Davis, Gomes, Milicic, Posey, Brandon Roy) are currently out of the league. Only five players remain with the teams that signed them through or after the amnesty waiver process, and of those just three — Luis Scola (Phoenix), Blatche (Brooklyn) and Chris “Birdman” Andersen — played significant roles last season.

Of the five players amnestied this summer, the underwhelming Tyrus Thomas has yet to be signed. Drew Gooden, Linas Kleiza and Miller are in the midst of the 48-hour waiver bidding process. Metta World Peace, amnestied by the Lakers, signed a two-year deal with his hometown New York Knicks.

The 6-foot-11 Blatche and the Brooklyn Nets are hands-down the feel-good story of the amnesty provision. Just 26, Blatche’s talent is immense, but so was his penchant for doing dumb things with the dysfunctional Wizards. Fed up, Washington gave up on him. Few teams bit until the Nets figured they had nothing to lose, signing Blatche to a one-year deal for less than $1 million while the Wizards were on the hook for more than $7 million. Blatche emerged as an integral part of the Nets’ return to the playoffs, averaging 10.3 ppg and 5.1 rpg off the bench. Last week Blatche re-signed for a reported two years and $2.9 million.

But Blatche is clearly the exception. The Mavericks hoped to get a steal with their winning bid of $2.1 million for the amnestied Brand, who was due to make $18 million last season with the Philadelphia 76ers. Brand, while well-liked in Dallas, posted his worst statistical season of his career, averaging 7.2 ppg and 6.0 rpg. He recently signed a free-agent deal with Atlanta.

Chauncey Billups, amnestied in 2011 by the Knicks to make room to sign Tyson Chandler, played just 42 total games the last two seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers, and recently signed a free-agent deal with the Detroit Pistons. Center Brendan Haywood was nonexistent in Charlotte last season after being amnestied by the Mavs.

And remember the potential Childress had? Amnestied by the Phoenix Suns in 2012, he’s one of the eight players no longer working in the NBA. The amnesty bust list goes on and on.

So who are the 10 teams yet to play their amnesty card, and which players are eligible? Here they are: Atlanta (Al Horford), Boston (Rajon Rondo), Chicago (Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah), Detroit (none), Memphis (Mike Conley, Zach Randolph), New Orleans (none), Oklahoma City (Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Durant, Nick Collison), Sacramento Kings (John Salmons), San Antonio (Tony Parker) and Utah (none).

But that is now speculation for next summer.

Bench Mobs: Four That Got Better

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Every general manager’s goal is to assembly an energetic, productive bench.

A strong second unit filled with single-minded role players enhances a team’s chances at winning. Just look at the two-time champion Miami Heat and perennially contending San Antonio Spurs: both clubs received significant bench contributions throughout the 2012-13 season. Still, a deep and talented bench does not ensure success — the Los Angeles Clippers being Exhibit A.

Arguably the NBA’s deepest bench last season, L.A.’s reserves ranked fourth in scoring and second in overall production (points, assists and rebounds combined). The second unit of Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom and Ronny Turiaf ranked as the third-best defensive unit in the league. Yet the Clippers lost in the first round to the Memphis Grizzlies, whose thin bench was considered a major weakness.

The goal is to build a well-rounded and deep roster that doesn’t falter when the starters sit, that can change pace when needed and can light it up just as well as lock it down.

Four teams looking to make a charge in their respective conferences — including the all-in Clippers and the go-getter Golden State Warriors in the West; and in the East the rugged-but-reinforcement-thin Indiana Pacers and the money-is-nothing Brooklyn Nets — completed significant offseason signings and trades that should bolster each club’s depth:

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

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Loses: G Bledsoe, G Chauncey Billups, F Odom (still available), F Grant Hill (retired), F/C Turiaf

Additions: G J.J. Redick, G/F Jared Dudley, G Darren Collison, F Reggie Bullock (draft pick)

Why they’re better: Only two members of the aforementioned third-ranked defensive unit, Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes, are returning as of today (Odom remains a possibility) to the Clippers’ second unit, so they could slip defensively. But the firepower is all-world with Redick (a 39 percent career 3-point shooter) and Dudley (40.5 percent) joining Sixth Man runner-up Crawford (35.0 percent). Collison has plenty to prove after twice losing his starting job in Dallas to late-30-somethings Derek Fisher and Mike James. The ultra-quick Collison backed up Chris Paul as a rookie in New Orleans and he now has a defined role that should suit his game. Plenty of experience and savvy leaves town in Hill and Billups, but they played a combined 51 games last season. Hill was not part of the playoff rotation until former coach Vinny Del Negro got desperate late in the first-round series loss. New coach and senior vice president of basketball operations Doc Rivers has given himself plenty of options with a bench unit that might top last season’s group. Free agents Barnes, center Ryan Hollins and guard Willie Green return.

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

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Loses: Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry

Additions: Marreese Speights, Toney Douglas, C Jermaine O’Neal, Nemanja Nedovic (draft pick)

Why they’re better: Simply, Andre Iguodala. Acquiring the veteran forced out Jack and Landry, but also provides instant depth for a young team that basically rode seven players in the playoffs after David Lee injured his hip. The tough call for coach Mark Jackson will be moving either semi-conscious shooter Klay Thompson or confident forward Harrison Barnes to the bench (both started every game they played last season) to make room for the 6-foot-6 Iguodala. Thompson could challenge for Sixth Man of the Year honors and he’d easily replace the scoring punch Jack provided. The second-year Barnes, who truly emerged during the playoffs, can provide everything the blue-collar Landry delivered only with advanced skills in every facet, especially with his burgeoning offensive arsenal. Barnes could discover some very favorable matchups off the bench. Speights, more accurately, will be expected to fill Landry’s role. The Warriors also bring back impressive frontcourt youngsters Draymond Green and Festus Ezeli, who should benefit from the presence of the steady veteran O’Neal.

INDIANA PACERS

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Loses: F Tyler Hansbrough, F Jeff Pendergraph

Additions: F Chris Copeland, G C.J. Watson, G Donald Sloan, F Solomon Hill (draft pick)

Why they’re better: The wild card here is forward Danny Granger, who missed all but five games last season with a left knee injury but will be back. With Paul George emerging as a star, Granger could find himself as the Pacers’ sixth man — imagine that. A better bench might have pushed Indiana past Miami in the East finals. The Pacers were one of six teams whose bench averaged fewer than 80 mpg, and they ranked 29th in scoring. The veteran Watson should stabilize a backcourt that had no consistent answer (D.J. Augustin) coming off the bench last season. Watson is a solid veteran who rarely turns the ball over — less than one a game in 19.0 mpg last season with Brooklyn — and is the type of team-first player president of basketball operations Larry Bird wants for coach Frank Vogel. And then there’s the unexpected feather in Bird’s cap — forward Chris Copeland. The 29-year-old late-bloomer provided the Knicks with energetic play off the bench and surprising accuracy from beyond the arc (59-for-140, 42.1 percent). The 6-foot-8, 235-pounder gives Indy a rugged backup for David West and weakens a rival.

BROOKLYN NETS

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Loses: G C.J. Watson, G Keith Bogans, G MarShon Brooks, F Kris Humphries

Additions: G Jason Terry, G Shaun Livingston, G D.J. White, F Andrei Kirilenko, C/F Mason Plumlee (draft pick)

Why they’re better: While a pudgy Deron Williams hobbled about on bum ankles for the first couple of months last season, the Nets’ bench carried the team, so they were no slouches to begin with. But when you add Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the starting lineup, that turns rebounding machine Reggie Evans and offensive weapon Andray Blatche into reserves and instantly improves that group. Terry remains a dangerous streak shooter even after a down season in Boston. The 6-foot-7 Livingston has quietly resurrected his career and should find a home backing up D-Will, who played like an All-Star in the second half of last season. The coup was snagging Kirilenko, who signed for $3.18 million after opting out of his $10-million deal with Minnesota. Kirilenko is always a nagging injury away from missing handfuls of games at a time, but the 6-foot-9 countryman of Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov is a do-it-all stat-sheet-filler. He is a sneaky offensive presence on the baseline and a rangy defender the Nets can use against Carmelo Anthony and other rival scoring threats.

Kirilenko, KG Help Nets Take Key Defensive Step Forward

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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – “Defense wins championships” may feel like a cliché, but there’s a lot of truth to it.

Of the 24 teams to make The Finals over the last 12 years, 23 ranked in the top 10 in defensive efficiency during the regular season, and the 24th – the 2006 Dallas Mavericks – ranked 11th. Over the same span, six teams that ranked 13th or lower in offensive efficiency made The Finals.

The San Antonio Spurs improved from 11th in defensive efficiency in 2011-12 to third last season, a big reason why they came just a few seconds from their fifth championship. The Indiana Pacers and Memphis Grizzlies got themselves into the conference finals with the two best defenses in the league.

The Brooklyn Nets? They weren’t getting anywhere close to The Finals with the league’s 19th best D. In fact, they couldn’t get to the conference semis because they played some of the most atrocious defense you’ll ever see and allowed the injury-depleted Bulls to score 62 points in the first half of Game 7 of the first round.

Since the Nets had no way of getting Dwight Howard or Andre Iguodala this summer, about the best thing they could do was add Kevin Garnett and Andrei Kirilenko. At this point, Paul Pierce is almost an after-thought acquisition because of how important KG and AK-47 will be.

Garnett is the best defender of the last decade. In fact, of the 275 players who have logged at least 5,000 minutes over the last six seasons, none has had a lower on-court DefRtg than Garnett. Over his six years in Boston, the Celtics allowed just 96.0 points per 100 possessions with Garnett on the floor and 101.4 with him on the bench.

Lowest on-court DefRtg, last six seasons

Player MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg
Kevin Garnett 12,266 106.8 96.0 +10.9
Tony Allen 8,278 102.6 96.4 +6.2
Taj Gibson 6,690 102.9 97.0 +5.9
Paul Pierce 15,744 106.6 98.3 +8.3
Paul George 6,194 103.7 98.4 +5.3

Minimum 5,000 minutes played
OffRtg = Team points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Team points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Team point differential per 100 possessions

(Curious who’s at the bottom of this list? The answer: Charlie Villanueva (109.8), Andrea Bargnani (109.5) and Ryan Gomes (109.2).)

Of course, though Garnett continued to have a big defensive impact last season, he is now 37 years old and limited to 30 minutes per game, maybe less. That’s why landing Kirilenko with their tax payer’s mid-level exception on Thursday was so huge for Brooklyn.

(By the way, the MLE only became available when the Nets couldn’t reach a buyout agreement with Bojan Bogdanovic – whom they drafted in 2011 – and his Turkish team. Whoever that GM is in Turkey, he shouldn’t ever have to buy a drink in Park Slope or Fort Greene.)

Kirilenko doesn’t have nearly the same on-court numbers as Garnett (his teams have allowed 103.3 points per 100 possessions with him on the court over the last six years), because the Jazz were more of a middle-of-the-pack defensive team while he was there and last year’s Timberwolves were same. But both were better defensively with Kirilenko on the floor. He has all the tools – length, athleticism and instincts – of a great defender.

Plus, the Nets have added a great defender for when Garnett rests. In fact, if Kirilenko plays the same 32 minutes per game that he played last year, he can spell both KG and Pierce at the two forward spots and the Nets won’t have to rely on Reggie Evans nearly as much as they did last season.

Even if Pierce or Garnett are out with an injury, the Nets have fill-in starters in Kirilenko and Evans. Joe Johnson is able to slide over the the three, Mason Plumlee is a rookie who looks ready to contribute and Mirza Teletovic as a stretch four. Though Kirilenko will take some of his minutes, Teletovic’s ability to recover from a rough rookie season and spread the floor will still be important.

When the Nets committed $313 million to Deron Williams, Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries and Brook Lopez a year ago, many of us thought they were locked into that group for years to come. But we should have never underestimated the power of owner Mikhail Prokhorov‘s deep pockets. They’ve managed to add Pierce, Garnett, Kirilenko and Jason Terry, while retaining Andray Blatche, who gave them big production off the bench last season. Luxury tax be damned, this is the best top eight in the league.

Blatche, of course, is mostly getting paid by the Wizards. But while Kirilenko is a bargain at $3.1 million per year, he’s really costing the Nets upwards of $15 million when you factor in the additional luxury tax they will have to pay.

So Prokhorov is clearly all-in for a championship in the next two seasons. You never know what’s going to happen over the next 11 months, but Prokhorov and GM Billy King have done everything they can to put their team into position to compete for a championship. And it starts with what should be a much improved defense.

Lopez, Blatche Power Up Nets’ Run

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CHICAGO – In this league of small ball and limited or specialized, defense-and-rebounding big men, the Brooklyn Nets have been going old-school middle on the Chicago Bulls in their first-round Eastern Conferene playoff series.

Brook Lopez, the NBA’s 10th-leading scorer during the regular season (19.4 ppg) against defenses both good and bad, ranks sixth in playoff scoring, getting his 23.6 points per game against one of the league’s most lockdown and locked-in defensive units. The 7-foot Lopez has topped 20 points in all five games and is pushing higher (21, 21, 22, 26 and 28). Lopez grabbed 30 rebounds in the three games heading into Game 6 Thursday at United Center, and his 3.4 blocked shots is tops in the postseason.

Then there’s Andray Blatche, who has backed up the best season of his eight-year, underdeveloped career with equal impact for the Nets in this series. Blatche, who carries more weight at 6-foot-11 than his roster-claimed 235 pounds, has almost identical numbers against Chicago as he had across 82 games in his first season as a Brooklyn sub. He is averaging 19.8 minutes and, pro-rated out to 36 minutes, is playing at a clip of 19.3 points and 8.4 rebounds while shooting 52.3 percent.

And here is the best part for Nets fans: Together, Lopez and Blatche have been loads of trouble for the vaunted Bulls’ defense. Brooklyn coach P.J. Carlesimo has used them in tandem a total of only 36 minutes in the five games, but when they are on the court at the same time, the Nets have outscored Chicago by 38 points. That’s better than every other Nets tandem, including Lopez and Deron Williams (plus-28 in 171 minutes) and Williams and Joe Johnson (minus-2 in 166 minutes).

Some of that may be attributed to small sample size, but it’s also an indication of Brooklyn’s advantage with two offensively gifted big men against a Bulls front line that is playing hobbled (center Joakim Noah‘s plantar fasciitis, forward Taj Gibson‘s sore knee). Lopez and Blatche have given the Nets relief valve’s against Chicago’s shifting, aggressive defense, asserting the middle on a unit that breaks the court down strong side vs. weak.

“Well, they’re skilled,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said of the Nets’ big men. “The thing is, both Lopez and Blatche can shoot the ball, they can put it on the floor, they can post the ball and they can get to the offensive board. When you add to it the greatness of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, it spreads you out pretty good.

“You may defend the initial part fairly well and then it’s the second and third part that you’re recovering, and making a second and third effort as a team, not just individually. Now when the ball is shot, you have to get back to bodies,,and that requires a lot of discipline and commitment.”

Play in the paint has dictated swings in this series. The Nets were at their best in Game 5′s victory, with 54 points in the paint to Chicago’s 42, a 24-12 edge in second-chance points and 17 offensive rebounds to 22 on defense for the Bulls. Lopez grabbed six of those, with Reggie Evans and Kris Humphries taking three each. Meanwhile, Blatche scored 10 of his 13 points in the fourth quarter, helping the Nets own that period 33-18.

“Defensively and with rebounding, we have to do better,” Thibodeau said. “At playoff time, the more you go after, the more you’re going to get. Having a multiple-effort mentality is critical.”

Brooklyn’s mentality seems to be driven by taking that NBA playoffs’ “BIG” slogan seriously.

Nets Do It All Offensively To Stay Alive

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BROOKLYN –
When you score 110 points in a slow-paced playoff game against a top-five defense, you’re doing a lot of things right. And the Brooklyn Nets did a lot right in their 110-91 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Monday, avoiding elimination and sending this first round series back to Chicago for Game 6 on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, TNT).

There are four factors when it comes to scoring efficiency: Shooting from the field, turnovers, free throws, and offensive rebounds.

The Nets shot 50 percent from the field and 6-for-17 from 3-point range. Check.

The Nets committed just 11 turnovers, zero in the fourth quarter. Check.

The Nets got to the line 23 times and connected on 20 of the 23 attempts. Check.

The Nets grabbed 17 offensive rebounds and turned them into 24 second-chance points. Check.

All those checks enabled the Nets to survive a gut-check. They rebounded (literally and figuratively) from Saturday’s heartbreaking loss in Game 4, answered some questions about their heart and resilience, and put themselves in position to bring this series back to Brooklyn for Game 7 on Saturday.

And don’t let the final score fool you. The game was very much up for grabs late in the game. After leading by as many as 10 points in the third quarter, the Nets were up just one after Jimmy Butler began the fourth with a 3-pointer. They were still up only five with a little over four minutes to go.

At that point, any observer still had Saturday’s collapse – a 14-point lead gone in less than three minutes – fresh in their mind. But this was a different night, one in which the Bulls couldn’t stop the Nets, who didn’t go more than two straight possessions without a score over the final 32 minutes.

“The difference tonight was that we were able to sustain it for essentially a full 48 minutes,” Brook Lopez said afterward. “We really came together as a team, played through the entire shot clock, and turned our good looks into great looks.”

Brooklyn scored at least 25 points in each quarter and went off for 33 over the final 12 minutes. And they got critical contributions from everywhere.

Deron Williams clearly knew he could take advantage of the absence of Kirk Hinrich and a mismatch with Nate Robinson. He pushed the ball down the floor, got the Nets into their offense early, and took Robinson into the paint, totaling 23 points and 10 assists.

Lopez took advantage of the Bulls’ heavy strong-side defense by flashing from the weak side and attacking the basket. He shot 10-for-14 in the paint and registered 28 points and 10 rebounds.

Andray Blatche was good Andray Blatche on this particular night, mostly staying in control and scoring 10 of his 13 points in the critical fourth quarter. The Lopez-Blatche combo was a plus-14 in eight minutes on Monday and is now a plus-38 for the series.

And the much maligned Gerald Wallace came up huge in the final minutes, opening the game up with a sequence in which he drained a corner three, stole a Nate Robinson pass, and turned it into a breakaway dunk on the other end.

This is who the Nets can be. They ranked ninth in offensive efficiency this season, but have the personnel to be a top-five team on that end of the floor. They have three guys – Williams, Lopez and Joe Johnson – they can run their offense through. With Hinrich out and Joakim Noah still somewhat hindered by plantar fasciitis, they have distinct matchup advantages. And with the Bulls so limited offensively, they have plenty of opportunities to run the floor. They registered 21 fast break points on Monday.

It’s just a matter of energy and execution, keeping the ball and the players moving. If you have the talent, there are ways to beat the Bulls’ defense. The Nets have now played well offensively in three of the five games in this series.

“I believed we would respond,” Nets coach P.J. Carlesimo said. “As disheartening a loss as Saturday was, there have still been enough good minutes in this series.”

Indeed. Though they’re down 3-2, the Nets have now outscored the Bulls by 17 points over the five games. If they can keep that point differential moving in their favor on Thursday, they’ll have a Game 7 on their home floor, and Saturday’s collapse will be long forgotten.

Have We Seen The Best Of The Nets?

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BROOKLYN – The Brooklyn Nets gave one away on Thursday, blowing an early 16-point lead and falling to the very undermanned Chicago Bulls, 92-90. Ultimately, the loss may not mean anything, because the Nets still have a 1 1/2 game lead on the Bulls for fourth place in the Eastern Conference and face Lottery teams, against whom they’re 29-6 this season, in five of their last seven games.

A fourth-place finish in the East would give the Nets home-court advantage in first round, likely against Atlanta or Chicago. A loss in that series would be a disappointment, especially when you consider Brooklyn’s payroll. A win would set them up to lose in four or five games to the Miami Heat.

Other than losing in the first round, there’s no avoiding that fate, which has basically been the path the Nets have been on for the last couple of weeks, since the Knicks and Pacers started playing well again.

I wrote about this yesterday. And maybe this is just who the Nets are. Maybe they’re just a good, but not great, basketball team.

But it’s hard not to wonder if we’ve ever really seen the best of the Nets this season. They currently rank ninth in offensive efficiency and 19th defensively. They could and, really, should be better.

Injuries have been an issue. Deron Williams has missed just three games this season, but was clearly not at his best for the first 50 games, dealing with sore ankles and other various ailments. He’s been much better since the All-Star break, but Joe Johnson has had a couple of different injuries since then. Brook Lopez‘s foot injury in late November is what really knocked the Nets off track after a strong start. And Gerald Wallace, in standard Gerald Wallace fashion, has been banged up too.

The Nets have looked like a great team at times. They have road wins in Boston, Oklahoma City, New York and Indiana. But, other than a 12-2 stretch after P.J. Carlesimo took over for Avery Johnson, success has always been rather fleeting.

Carlesimo made some minor changes, gave Mirza Teletovic a shot in the rotation after the break, and is now giving MarShon Brooks more consistent playing time than he’s had all season. But he has been pretty vanilla with his lineups, and that’s where the Nets may be leaving something on the table.

Of Lopez’s 2,079 minutes on the floor, 1,639 (79 percent) have been played with either Reggie Evans or Kris Humphries at power forward. Neither Evans nor Humphries, of course, spaces the floor very well.

Teletovic is very different from Evans or Humphries, in that he can shoot from beyond five feet. But he has played just 112 minutes at the four next to Lopez.

Andray Blatche has also shot the ball well out to 19 feet or so. But he has played just 86 minutes with Lopez. The Nets’ five best players are arguably Williams, Johnson, Wallace, Blatche and Lopez, a group that has played just 20 minutes together over four games this season.

One of the best lineups the Nets have had this season is a small one. Williams, Keith Bogans, Johnson, Wallace and Lopez have outscored their opponents by 18.3 points per 100 possessions in 107 minutes together. Now, those numbers are skewed somewhat by a couple of late-December games against the Bobcats and Cavs, but that lineup has played just seven minutes together since the All-Star break.

In total, Lopez has played just 242 minutes with someone other than Blatche, Evans, Humphries or Teletovic at power forward. And those minutes have been very good, especially defensively.

Nets efficiency with Brook Lopez on the floor

Power forward MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Reggie Evans 1,125 105.6 103.2 +2.4 +69
Kris Humphries 514 106.1 105.1 +1.0 +14
Mirza Teletovic 112 115.8 110.4 +5.3 +19
Andray Blatche 86 104.8 100.3 +4.6 +17
Other (small lineups) 242 106.3 99.2 +7.1 +72
TOTAL 2,079 106.4 103.5 +2.9 +191

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

When asked about his lineups, Carlesimo has said that he goes with matchups. But he has obviously been leaning heavily on Evans of late, even using him on two crucial offensive possessions in the final minute of Thursday’s loss, thinking Evans might get the Nets a second chance with an offensive rebound.

The Nets have actually been better offensively with Evans on the floor (scoring 105.4 points per 100 possessions) than with him off the floor (103.8), but most of those off-floor minutes have come with Humphries, similarly limited offensively, at power forward.

This is why it’s hard to know if we’ve seen the best of the Nets this season. Those 242 minutes of small-ball aren’t a lot to go on. And neither are the 86 minutes Lopez has played with Blatche.

Lopez is Brooklyn’s most important player on both ends of the floor. And in the playoffs, his minutes should surely increase from the 30.7 per game he’s played in the regular season. Does that mean that Blatche will be limited to just 10-12 minutes, or will we actually see the two on the floor together? Is there a matchup (Josh Smith, perhaps) that will allow Carlesimo to play Wallace at the four?

In four games against Atlanta (all under Carlesimo), the Nets have played small a total of seven minutes. So the answer to that last question is probably “no.”

Now, it’s unfair to really condemn the coach for not taking more chances with his rotation. He took over in the middle of the season, with the Nets going through a serious rough patch. More than anything, they just needed to get their best players playing well. And obviously, Lopez and Williams are doing just that.

Still, we have to wonder if this team has reached its potential.

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John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. Send him an e-mail or follow him on twitter.