By Fred Kerber,
New York Post (Not Online)
PHILADELPHIA - There was a time this season when the Nets' rotation basically was the starters and then pick a name out of a hat.
Coach Lawrence Frank needed to trust his reserves. He didn't.
"It was one of those things where it's hard to get in a rhythm when you're not playing that much," said forward Scott Padgett. "But at the same time, we weren't giving him much of a reason to play us."
Eventually, the bench started giving what Frank wanted. Padgett hit five straight 3-pointers in one game. Cliff Robinson scored a season high in another. Jacque Vaughn gave his determined defense every night. Trust grew.
So did the Nets' position in the league.
Now, the Nets still will rise and fall on the strength of their starters but no one can deny the role the bench has played in the recent success, which included a 10-game winning streak - OK, that was followed by three defeats. Overall, the Nets were in far better shape than earlier this season as they entered last night's game here with a full three-game lead over the second-place Sixers.
Give the bench some of the credit. They finally know their roles and are producing.
"In the beginning, L. Frank was trying to figure out who he was going to use and what he was looking for on a consistent basis, so he was using a lot of different guys, giving some guys more minutes than others. It was fluctuating," said Robinson. "Now he's comfortable with the rotation he's using and guys know what to expect each night. And knowing what to expect enables them to give more consistency.
"Not knowing is always tough because you're trying to find your role and get some consistency, but it's hard to do that when your minutes are fluctuating. And you don't know when you're going in or out."
The change in Frank's approach produced some casualities. Jeff McInnis (now injured), Marc Jackson and Zoran Planinic - ironically, the top three reserves at the start of the season - were pushed to the end of the bench. Padgett, Robinson, Vaughn and Lamond Murray moved up and got the bulk of the bench time.
"We had a situation where we weren't playing well together and we didn't have a lot of cohesion as a unit. When you're not playing well and all of us [are] pretty much new guys to the team, it didn't provide a lot of confidence for Coach," Padgett said. "But when we started playing better as a team and we went on this run, we've had more consistent minutes from a lot of different guys and it's allowed him to have more confidence in us and leave us out there, which builds our confidence.
"It was difficult because as a player, you always want to be on the floor. And the team was struggling, so everybody thinks if they're not playing they can help, and to not be able to do much about it, it's hard. But in this league, sometimes it takes time. Now, I think Coach is more confident in us and as a unit we have more [confidence]. And the better we play as a unit, the better we'll be as a team. You know what the starters are going to do."
Basically, Frank knows what the reserves are going to do.