Rumors surfaced at a more casual pace this week. Carmelo Anthony was playing games for the Denver Nuggets and Brook Lopez was scoring best-in-class numbers for his position over in Newark. Despite the improved efforts of Lopez and the gang the Nets of the present are still losing games.
They weren’t blown out - as in previous Wednesday-Friday-Saturday combos - but they still bricked and bobbled their way to three painful almost-wins at the hands of the Suns, Lakers, and Blazers. An almost-win is still a categorical loss, though, something fans have been witnessing almost three out of every five games this season.
The New Jersey Nets can’t catch a break these days, but it’s not for the lack of trying while fending off media chatter by sheer necessity – lest they put up a very Cleveland-like 57 in game against a contender. Why don’t we just let the games and players speak for themselves. Either way, they've now dropped ten of their last eleven games. At times, the ends looked a lot sharper than the means would have you believe.
The Lopez Bowl.
Brook and Robin Lopez put on a show, didn’t they!? Well, at least Brook began what would be a week of strong performances. The frontcourt attack was clicking. Every big man outside of Johan Petro, who still plopped in six in limited minutes, scored in double figures. You would think that with the success the bigs were enjoying downlow that Avery would opt to overwhelm Phoenix with size, but instead he allowed Alvin Gentry to control the pace - as Fratello pointed out - and ran with a small ball lineup much of the game.
This meant we were treated to 69 minutes of Travis Outlaw, Stephen Graham, and Quinton Ross. Thirteen points, nine fouls and thirteen missed shots later and it was brutally plain to see that Vince Carter still has that pep in his step and singlehandedly can outperform a mix of backups, even in his near-geriatric state.
Harris created for his teammates, highlighted by his timely dump to the Hump downlow just before the final buzzer. Is there a better way to send it to overtime than with an emphatic dunk? Methinks there isn't. Anyway, this one had shades of Oklahoma City, as we watched the Nets miss shots, play a little out of control, and fail to get stops, as it seemed their only focus was on getting the ball and chucking shots. Not a bad effort overall, but still another sour loss.
The Kardashian Bowl.
This one looked pretty good, right? It really looked like the Nets were going to steal one here, but alas the tendency to drop a quarter and put themselves in early game holes proved too much. The Hump was probably pretty amped up, what with jockeying for rebounds and loose balls with his future brother in law Lamar Odom. Humphries finished he game was a commanding fifteen rebounds in less than thirty minutes. The former Lakers Farmar and Vujacic also put together strong performances, scoring twelve and seventeen respectively off of the bench.
Brook Lopez didn't let Andrew Bynum get anything going against his home-state team, putting up thirty five points on 13-19 fromt he field. Compare this to Bynum's two points, and I think it's safe to say Lopez had a rejuvenatory game. Did Lopez have any help? Help simply wasn't on its way.
Derrick Favors and Stephen Graham both produced ugly goose eggs, shooting 0-for-10 between them. In addition to that useless two egg omelete was Harris and Outlaw putting together twelve between them. If it wasn't for the former championship backup backcourt it might have been a blowout. It should also be noted that since Morrow's injury, the Net's three point shooting has been simply abysmal - worst in the league in December and fifth from the bottom so far in January.
The statistic that was being thrown around by Sportcenter announcers after the game was how out of the 18 games the Nets have scored fewer than 90 points, they have only won one of them. A really, really paltry statistic (what has changed since last year!?). Much like the previous night, this was a West Coast homecoming for one of the newly minted Nets. Travis Outlaw got the chance to return to his place of 6th man glory and performed slightly above his normal capacity. He actually scored in double figures!
Brooklyn Lopez put together another thirty-plus point night, marking the first time in his career he crammed two thirty-pointers back to back - and in consecutive nights no less! Perhaps he was reading NetsDaily over the past two weeks and decided the "Trade Lopez!" calls needed to stop in their tracks.
On the flip side, maybe Favors allowed all of that 'we love Favors' fan rhetoric to get to his juvenile head, as he put together yet another game full of rookie mistakes and sparse box score offerings. The Humphries, Farmar, and Vujacic bench proved effective yet again, but the lack of a real scoring threats on the wings cost the Nets once more. Graham will reintroduce his butt to the bench soon, we imagine.
And now on the players we know, love, and some that we hardly know:
Brook Lopez - He's still grabbing rebounds like Rebecca Lobo, but at least he's scoring the ball like Sheryl Swoopes these days. He totally overpowered Andrew Bynum and Marcus Camby, en route to two thirty point games. His shooting percentages have been rising, and these signs of offensive optimism have got to please Net's fans wondering what the Net's might be left with should a Carmelo trade go down.
Despite his heightened scoring acumen this week, he still has some things he needs to work on. First, he really does act like a big baby at times. In the Phoenix game Avery went with Favors late, perhaps to match the speed the Suns had on the floor, and Lopez couldn't have been more upset. On the bench you could see him mouthing curse words while he furrowed his brow and looked around with hopeless frustration. Sometimes he just needs to cool it. Tantrums aside, we'd love to see more weeks like this from Lopez.
Derrick Favors - Maybe all of this Carmelo talk is truly getting to him. Beyond his poor scoring numbers this week, he wasn't even doing what he does best - grabbing rebounds. He didn't get what might be considered major minutes, but he still started all three games and looked as active as he always does. Perhaps Avery was just keeping him on a particularly short lease with all of these trade rumors swirling. One twist of Favor's knee and the Carmelo goal will be nothing more than a pipe dream.
He might have stayed on the floor longer if Kris Humphries wasn't dunking, rebounding, and defending like the lottery pick he once was. Until a trade is either consumated or abandoned this young whipper snapper will put together inconsistent performances while playing wildly inconsistent minutes. Such is life for the man who can score the Nets Carmelo Anthony.
Travis Outlaw - Simply put, he's not the best. The minutes he logs are at times massive, like the thirty eight minute adventure he skipped through against Los Angeles, and far too often those minutes have little to show for them. His best game of the week was against his old team, the Blazers. He attacked without getting stripped, he shot marginally well, but he still didn't seem as on as he did during the first 10 games of the season when he could put up twenty or more when he tried hard enough.
He would make a fantastic backup, as was his specialty before the Nets, and the fanbase will have to get used to him because he's in no way a part of any trade talks, thanks in part to his versatile value to the team - plays the three and four - and his elephant-in-the-room contract. Maybe he misses Morrow more than we could have ever imagined.
Stephen Graham - I hope he's having fun, because it doesn't project to last much longer. He is a liability from a scoring standpoint, and his defense, passing, and rebounding aren't exactly all-world to back it up. Once Anthony Morrow returns Graham should be relegated to the pine, a la Quinton Ross. It hurts when your starting shooting guard scores a total of six points in three games.
Graham needs a benching, and it's unclear whether he will get minutes when Morrow returns or trades are made because he just isn't earning them.
Devin Harris - Up and down week, for sure. His scoring remains inconsistent, but at least he is passing the ball like his position would suggest he can. Fifteen assists against the Suns was a nice thing to see from a tradtionally shoot-first guy - especially that feed to the Hump to send it to overtime. Though, for the next two games he couldn't top the eight point mark, and shot well under 35%.
This might be another case of trade rumor blues, but when he's not getting to the line, not driving, and not taking the volume of shots he needs to be effective - all while playing starter's minutes - you have wonder what the problem is. The silver lining here was the strong play from Farmar behind him.
Kris Humphries - What more can you say? Has he been the most consistent, exciting, and favorite player of the fans so far this season? There's a strong possibility he's all three. The Hump has been playing excellent basketball for a while now. He hasn't been taking too many mid range bricks, he hasn't been trying to do too much, either. It's been a pleasant mix of putbacks, dunks, layups in traffic, and pivotal rebounds. Grabbing fifteen rebounds in less than thirty minutes against Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom, and Pau Gasol was, just, awesome. It's those types of performances that keep the Nets from getting utterly embarassed by some of the top flight teams in this league.
if Humphries is forced to start post any trade that might go down it should be seen as a good thing. He has proven that if he's given thirty-plus minutes he ca probably produce a double-double with some emphatic, fan-pleasing blocks along the way. His buzzer-block of Steve Nash was the type of thing we haven't seen since Kenyon Martin (not even Swat was that good).
Jordan Farmar - Yes, he committed a foul against the Suns that probably iced it for Phoenix, but he's still a solid veteran and wonderful bench player to throw out there when your starter isn't getting it done.
His consistency has gone somewhat untalked about this season. He's typically good for two three-pointers per game, a couple of assists, and some double digit scoring. He's reliable in the time that he plays, and he offers slightly finer passing instincts than Harris possesses, leading to increased chances for the big men playing with him.
Sasha Vujacic - It's a little crazy that the Lakers weren't playing him AT ALL, because he seems to be as sharp a shooter as advertised. With games of nineteen, seventeen, and thirteen Nets fans probably don't care how close T-Will was to a triple double down in Houston (he hasn't been close, by the way). He has admirably filled the role of a scoring shooting guard in Anthony Morrow's absence, taking and making a lot of three pointers - though he did shoot a combined 3-15 against the Lakers and Blazers.
His versatility will be a welcome trait for the Net's bench to have going forward. Hopefully his contract won't be flipped for more assets or used as filler in some new iteration of the ongoing Nuggets trade talks. He has proven himself very valuable of the bench, and has provided much-needed scoring that other Nets fail to muster.
Johan Petro - Hasn't really needed to shine due to the glistening offensive output of Brook Lopez, but he still did a decent job this week. he scored six points in each game he played, playing fewer than fifteen per during that stretch. Toss in a high field goal percentage, made free throws, and some rebounds and you've got yourself a servicable - albeit not flashy - big man off the bench. There isn't much more to say other than keep it up Petro. It's appreciated...for now.
Quinton Ross - Stephen Grah...Quinton Ross has been what he always is: a low scoring, low producing swingman. How has he been in the league this long you ask? Well, maybe it's his satisfactory defense, or propensity for not taking the shot when others are open. Maybe he just has a great personality, I don't know. Either way, he did very little in very few minutes. Hopefully he won't have to play anymore than he already does.
Troy Murphy - How's it hanging, man? Did you see the Notre Dame game over the weekend? Yeah...
Ben Uzoh - Well, the young gun only played one minute this past week, not enough to really analyize, or even notice for that matter. Now all he has to do is fall into one of the cushier jobs in America: NBA bench warmer with a guaranteed contract. I bet most of you would love to make over 400k to PRACTICE basketball.
Anthony Morrow - Massage the hammy, massage the hammy...
Avery - Well, he was outcoached by Alvin Gentry, plain and simple. Devin Harris would routinely get stuck with Channing Frye or Hakim Warrick on the blocks, leading to easy buckets. Why was there no adjustment? You've got some 'splainin' to do AJ. I'll go easy on the guy, though, as he has to play eight guys who he might not be coaching in a week while keeping them healthy, happy, and stress free. Not an easy task. More of a guidance counselor than a coach really. He could have used the Net's size more in recent games, but you can't blame him for the odd substitutions - he has to do as the ownership wishes.
Maybe THIS is the last time we talk about this roster, but in the meantime, let's all getting amped up for today's game against the Warriors. Go Nets!