Brooklyn and San Antonio ring in the New Year

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

When you consider that the Pacers are about 10 points per 100 possessions better than their opponents and when you take into account the sorry state of the Brooklyn Nets, it's not surprising that Indiana won this game by 14 points. Nor is it surprising that Brooklyn couldn't play well in the third quarter. The Nets find themselves 10 games under .500 and are in night two of a hellish three game road trip that will take them to Oklahoma City on the final day.

Awaiting the Nets are the Southwest Division-leading San Antonio Spurs. After capturing the second seed and winning the Western Conference title last season, the Spurs find themselves once again near the top of the Conference. After a bad loss to Houston on Christmas, the Spurs have won two straight, including a come from behind victory over Sacramento on Sunday.  Overall, the Nets are 5-38 when playing in San Antonio. That includes the 2003 Finals, the last Nets victory in the Texas city.

The season so far

How big of a gap exists between these two teams? Let's find out:

2013-2014

Brooklyn

San Antonio

Record

10-20 24-7

Pace

94.59 97.61

Offensive Efficiency

102.1 106.5

Defensive Efficiency

106.2 98.8

Offensive Rebounding percentage

22.9 22.3

Turnover rate

15.4 14.8

Assist rate

16.3 18.8

Rebound rate

48.3 50.1

Free throw rate

33.6 21.8

Effective Field Goal percentage

49.2 53.3

Opponent Effective Field Goal percentage

50.9 48.4

On the injury front, Andrei Kirilenko thought he was gonna be back in the lineup against Milwaukee, but was ruled out. Andray Blatche will miss his third straight game due to personal reasons.

For the Nets that are here, Deron Williams needs to be more active on offense. He's shot well over the past three games, but has surprisingly not used more of the team's possessions while he's been on the court. As he team's best & most versatile player on offense, they need him to maintain his efficiency as well becoming more involved in getting shots up. Williams said as much here. And on a personal note for Williams, he ought to be extra aggressive in this game because he was thoroughly outplayed (twice) by Tony Parker in the two Nets-Spurs matchups from last season.

Look for Mirza Teletovic to see more playing time in this one. He's been solid since joining the rotation on November 27 against the Lakers and has played at least 30 minutes in four of the last five games. It doesn't hurt that he's hit on 45 percent of his three pointers during that time period as well.

For a team near the top of a loaded conference and an efficiency differential that pegs them as legit title contenders, you'd think everybody would be happy in San Antonio. But apparently, there are issues with the team. When matched up against the elite teams such as Oklahoma City, Indiana, Houston, and Portland, the Spurs haven't been able to beat them, and in some instances were thoroughly outplayed. After the loss to the Rockets on Christmas night, Matthew Tynam of 48 Minutes of Hell wrote:

And it’s been a theme most prevalent against the NBA’s elite. The storyline has been well-charted: San Antonio has not looked good when matching up with other supposed contenders. Even in the games they’ve managed to keep close, it’s been the other side that has the extra gear to propel them to the finish line and leave the Spurs trudging in the mud.

At some point, if losses against the good teams continue to pile up, San Antonio will no longer have the comfort of the cushion that was built on the bones of the many bad teams in the league. At some point, if the wins don’t start showing up, the Spurs will be looking up in the standings at their competition with an ever-shrinking slate of games remaining in the brutally long NBA season.

Hmm. Now as someone who watches a team that has disintegrated into a discombobulated mess, I wanna shrug off the Spurs' concerns as an overreaction. However, the narrative of "good against the bad teams, but unable to conquer the elite teams" has a very familiar and recent ring to it. Think back to the regular season of the 2010-2011 Miami Heat. They led the league in efficiency differential and had the league's third best record. However, the narrative persisted all throughout the year that they couldn't beat the elite teams such as Boston and Chicago. Those regular season struggles turned out to be largely irrelevant in the end as Miami ran through those teams in the playoffs. Now the context between Miami in 2010 and San Antonio today is otherworldly different, but I think we do ourselves a disservice when we overly concern ourselves with a small group of games (in this instance, teams believed to be in Championship contention). For what it's worth, the Spurs get another crack against the elite on Saturday January 4 against the Clippers.

In keeping with the worrying theme, the level of play the team has been somewhat worrisome. In a free ranging post over at Pounding the Rock that discussed whether it was time to be pessimistic about the team, J.R. Wilco and Michael Erler (aka Aaronstampler) hit upon a wide variety of issues, including the team's abysmal free throw rate. They're the worst team in the league at getting to the foul line, only getting there around 22 percent of the time. When I saw that, I went to look at their shot charts to see if anything there could explain the struggle. They're ninth in attempts inside the restricted area (about 29 attempts per game) and third in efficiency (about 65 percent). Tony Parker (maybe as a result of injury?), Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Kawhi Leonard have gotten to the line less this season so it'll be interesting to see how that goes for the rest of this season and the playoffs.

One thing the Spurs need not worry about is their three point shooting. The Spurs are third in the Association behind the arc, hitting on 39.5 percent of their attempts from deep. This (among other things) poses a problem for Brooklyn in this matchup due to their struggles defending the three point line. Danny Green, Marco Belinelli & the rest of the Spurs will probably have a bonanza from deep against Brooklyn.

Player to watch: Tim Duncan

He isn't as dominant as he once was, but Duncan is still a highly productive player in his later years. As it turns out, this has been his worst season shooting the ball. Normally a reliable jump shooting big man, TD is shooting only 32.8 percent from the midrange area this year. His struggles sound as if they were the result of an early season struggle (in particular a 1-12 game against Washington) that he's worked his way out of as the season has progressed. Duncan's never been just an offensive player, and he's been one of the best defensive rebounders in the league this season. Surprisingly, the Spurs have been close to seven points worse defensively when he's in the game, although I should note the team as a whole hasn't been as consistent on the defensive side of the ball this year.

In this contest he'll be facing old rival Kevin Garnett. Gone are the days where they were considered the two best big men in the game (& the debates about whether their circumstances influenced their productivity). These days, KG is limited by minute restrictions and terrible play. He's made a killing inside the restricted area and with the Nets lack of size, he should control the inside on both sides of the ball.

From the Vault

If there's one thing that unites Knicks and Nets fans, it's Tim Duncan ripping their hearts out in the Finals. The Spurs did it to New York in 1999 and New Jersey in 2003. Head on back to Game 6 of that series and relive Duncan's finest performance. This was also the final game of David Robinson's career and the last time the Nets have been in the NBA Finals.


More reading: Pounding The Rock

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