The beads of sweat are beginning to recede. The arthritic pain of feverishly pounding the refresh button on NetsDaily to catch the latest Carmelo rumors have subsided. After what felt like forever, The New Jersey Nets are winning games again and teenage manchild Derrick Favors is here to stay, apparently.
If you read the news you would think that the only thing that happened this week in Newark was a press conference - a hell of a press conference, but there were finer moments to be had. The team played with renewed energy and confidence, not allowing the opponent to blow them out early. It was, in a word, refreshing. Dropping a full strength Jazz squad, a surging Pistons team, and losing by one, disgusting point against the Mavericks should be seen as steps in a generally corrected direction. But enough with the sweeping generalities of the week, let's get to the games.
It was only an eight point win, but it felt like the Nets won by twenty. The Nets controlled the pace of the game and attacked from all corners, finishing with seven players in double figures. Prokhorov's press conference hours before the game, despite stated ignorance of that fact by many a Net, seemed to have paid off. There might not have been a stronger third quarter played in the state of New Jersey since 2008.
Newark's own shot 50% from three, about 80% from the line, and recorded more blocks, rebounds, and assists than the Jazz. On its face, this game could have been an unbelievably depressing one - what with Carmelo negotiations called off, a miserable losing streak, and a strong opponent, but surprisingly it wasn't. I cannot tell you the last time I was so "into" a Wednesday regular season Nets game. There's just something about the villanous words of Prokorhov that really gets the blood flowing.
Sure, the Nets only scored 89 points, but they absolutely embarrassed the recently competant Pistons. Quarter after quarter, the Nets parried every attempt Detroit deployed at cutting it close. It wasn't a pretty game by any means, but at least the Nets forced the Pistons to miss fifty - FIFTY - shots. For the Nets, it was another balanced scoring night, with ten players scoring six or more. Gone are the days when they only record twelve assists compared to twenty turnovers. The Nets simply played a good game and never really let the Pistons compete.
Once again the 3-point shooting was elegant, headlined by the hamstring himself, Anthony Morrow. Morrow's under-two-minute scoring binge was something us fans have been waiting for the moment Stephen Graham began biing announced in the starting five. Morrow makes the team offensively stronger, without question, and with each passing game, his minutes will presumebly rise. Morrow's offense, combined with Damion James soon-to-return hustle and defense, could mean a string of winning weeks after the All-Star Game.
Hit your free throws. That's what coaches preach from childhood and on this night, it was the ultimate undoing en route to a knee-bucklingly sad loss. The balls were bouncing the Nets way and after blowing a fairly steady lead they had held throughout the Nets went on an eleven to two run with only a minute and change to go to get right back in it. Though Brook Lopez bricked a free throw within two minutes not long before Devin Harris put the Nets up two by going 1-2 at the line, and that, ladies and gentleman, proved to be the Nets undoing.
It could have been an 88-84 lead with around a minute to play. Then the Nets allowed Tyson Chandler, who had a strong game against Lopez, to get to the line. Luckily, he was trying to "Be Like Brook" (future Nike commercial) and miss clutch free throws. But, of course, after missing 93 shots in the game, Dirk Nowitzki had to finesse in a slow fadeaway with six seconds left to go up one.
The tension at the Rock was thick. With six seconds to go, the Nets executed like they were the Minnesota Lynx as they nervously passed the ball around the top of the key so that Farmar could hoist a late, lopsided shot that really had no chance. It was a crushing loss, and even more crushing when Mark "All Class" Cuban had the audacity to complain after a winning game. At least Snooki and Kim Kardashian shared a mid-court meeting of the minds during the third quarter (I bet Net Income loved it.)
And now, let's recap the performance of the Nets employees:
Brook Lopez: From his game-to-game statlines, it wouldn't seem like he was doing anything particularly extraordinary compared to recent weeks, but his in game effectiveness was at a premium this week. He scored efficiently and didn't force the issue as much as he has in recent weeks (and losses). Perhaps he feels as though some pressure has been lifted - and it has - but he's played this week like every win would get him a free day pass at Epcot. Keep it up!
Devin Harris: Oh Devin, you think you could pull a fast one and tell us you had NO idea Prokhorov called off the Melo trade, didn't you? Well Devin Harris played like he was here to stay as he doled out twenty eight assists to go along with fourty one points and one FEROCIOUS block against the Pistons. He did all this playing a little less than thirty two minutes a night. He played the part of distributor and captained the Nets to two quality wins... if only he could hit clutch free throws.
Derrick Favors: Due to the outlandish performances Kris Humphries put in, Favors was relegated to a supporting power forward role. Against the Jazz he came out as aggresive as we've seen, attacking and rebounding to the pleasant tune of twelve points, six boards, and three blocks. He was a menace on defense and rarely missed on the offensive end. If the coaching staff would feature him more in offensive sets, he might end up dropping in anywhere between 15 and 20 points a night - he looks pretty good for someone barely old enough to buy cigarettes in his home team state (not that you should, Derrick).
Stephen Graham: Ah, ole' empty box score Stephen. The Graham experiment is about to come to a close and I can't say that it brings tears to my eyes. Welcome back Anthony Morrow! (Spoiler alert: Graham could potentially move to SF when Morrow is at full strength.)
Travis Outlaw: The real winner in the Carmelo trade, at least from a personal perspective, might be Travis Outlaw. He didn't have an especially potent week, but he did shoot 6-13 from three and kept his turnovers to a very agreeable minimum. What's puzzling, though, is that Outlaw earned the most minutes during this plus-week. Curious, but it's hard to argue with the end results.
Kris Humphries: Want to know how good this season has been for Humphries? He grabbed 15 rebounds and pinned a shot in the corner of the rim against three Dallas Maverick seven-footers. The guy continues to play consistently good defense, and hustles so effectively on offense that at least four of his points every game come from putbacks and exciting tip slams. A calming presence downlow.
Sasha Vujacic: Combined with the rugged post play of Humphries, Vujacic provides shooting and scoring punch off of the bench, as well as a sometimes-needed third ball handler to break zone presses. He didn't score as much this week as in prior weeks, but he also had to share touches with new teammate Anthony Morrow. Overall, he played over thirty minutes twice and didn't hold the Nets back at any point during the three games.
Jordan Farmar: When your backup point guard is dishing out eight, three, and seven assists in three games playing about twenty a night you have to be pleased. It feels like years since the Nets have had a better backup point than Farmar. He can hit the three, sometimes surprise fans with an out-of-nowhere drive and elevation, and he can find the open man perhaps better than anyone on the team. Similar to the Hump, he's a calming presence with the second unit.
Anthony Morrow: If it wasn't for that Reggie Miller-esque two minutes against the Pistons we wouldn't have much to talk about, but it happened so...welcome back! Once Morrow gets his legs back under him and can play 25 to 35 minutes a night, the Nets will have more offensive options and will be able to, presumably, take some of the scoring pressure off of the oftentimes forcing-it Lopez.
Johan Petro: Since when did he start being effective? Petro played very limited minutes, but rarely really became a detriment. He fouled hard, made a couple of shots, and rebounded on the defensive end when he could. He's far from a premier player, but for the minutes he's playing, he isn't awful.
Ben Uzoh: One minute, one point. Is Uzoh's new nickname "Mr. Efficiency"? It just might be...it just might be.
Quinton Ross: One minute, one rebound. Together with Uzoh, he had an absolute MONSTER one minute.
Damion James: Looked sharp on the bench.
Troy Murphy: Probably looked sharp lounging around at his parent's place in Sparta.
Avery: Without the broken (absent?) play call at the end of the Mavs game, he coached a pretty damn good week. His players were all scoring, all passing, and the Nets rarely allowed unanswered runs. His use of Morrow was near masterful against the Pistons, and his words about Favors after the Jazz game were coaching gold.
Here's a refresher if you missed it: "I told him, ‘When I was 19 years old, I was trying to pass a trigonometry test. You’re 19 and you’re in the NBA. Do something. Make me jump out of my seat. I want to see you go for a block, just come out of nowhere, dunk on somebody, just come out of nowhere and just do something, get me excited.’ I thought he tried to make some plays tonight."
Let's start this week right with a trouncing of the 2009-2010 New Jersey Ne...er..the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight! (notice how little we talked about Carmelo Anthony? That dude is old news.) Go Nets!