The Nets have lost seven of their last nine and there’s no timetable for the return of their best player. So their movement in power rankings is, not surprisingly, down, down, down. For the first time all year, the consensus is that the Nets are a bottom five team. Now, of course, they have a chance to make a change. They’ve just started a stretch of games where they play at Barclays 13 times in the next 17 contests. However, they’ve already lost the first two of those games.
Spencer Dinwiddie and D’Angelo Russell combined for 69 points on 27-for-43 shooting against Philadelphia on Sunday, and the Nets remain in the top 10 in offensive efficiency, despite the absence of Caris LeVert for the last seven games. But they’ve lost seven of their last nine and rank 28th defensively over that stretch. Their shot defense hasn’t been terrible, but over those nine games, they rank in the bottom six in opponent free throw rate (29th), opponent turnover percentage (25th) and opponent offensive rebounding percentage (26th). The Nets haven’t quite reached Hornets-level hard luck, but their last four losses have all been within five points in the last five minutes, and their opponents have shot 11-for-16 (4-for-6 from 3-point range) in the clutch in the four games. Of course, they don’t get to Jimmy Butler’s game-winner on Sunday if they don’t allow 70 second-half points prior to that.
The Nets have lost four of their past five and seven of their past nine games, sliding toward the Eastern Conference basement. The Nets just lack playmakers with Caris LeVert sidelined, and their 25th-rated defense isn’t enough to keep them competitive if they aren’t scoring in chunks.
D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie had Brooklyn in position to get another blowout victory over the 76ers. Then everything came crashing down in the Barclays Center during the fourth quarter. After taking double-digit deficits into the fourth quarters of their two previous losses, Sunday’s 127-125 defeat was a special type of gut punch.
The Brooklyn Nets fell back down to earth a little bit over the last three games with three tough losses. They dropped a tight one in Dallas, then couldn’t get over the hump at home against Minnesota. On Sunday, D’Angelo Russell dropped 38 points, Spencer Dinwiddie had 31 points, and none of it mattered because Jimmy Butler buried them in the fourth quarter. Three pretty tight games and the Nets just didn’t have enough to secure those victories. The Nets are prepared to absorb these losses as they continue building their culture. The way they’re winning games is a bit weird though.
Brooklyn was pretty even keeled when it came to 3-point shooting in wins and losses last season. When they won, they made 35.3% of their deep shots. When they lost, that accuracy sat at 35.9%. Not really a big variance. This season, the Nets are shooting 37.0% from deep when they lose games. When they win? That percentage drops to 32.3%. It’s the lowest 3-point percentage in the NBA in wins this season. This was a team that outscored opponents by 900 points behind the arc last season. They still rank as one of the highest 3-point volume shooting teams in the league. They just can’t really hit in games they win. So maybe they should try to miss 3-pointers in order to win? That looks much stupider on the screen than it did in my head.
With Caris LeVert’s injury, even more of the scoring burden falls to D’Angelo Russell, who ranks 22nd in the NBA (and first on the Nets) in usage percentage. He’s also shooting a career-high from three-point land, averaging nearly 17 points per game and coming off a 38-point, eight-assist game on Sunday night. As much as Russell catches criticism, he’s only 22 years old.
On the topic of closing games: Maybe the Nets are figuring it out.
D’Angelo Russell put up at least 20 points and six assists for the third consecutive night as Brooklyn flipped a deficit into an advantage during a hot stretch bridging the third and fourth quarters of Tuesday’s 104-92 victory against Miami.
”Big time. We’re growing,” DeMarre Carroll told Brian Lewis of the New York Post following the win, in which 10 of his 11 points came in that pivotal, game-sealing run. “Last year we would’ve easy gave it up. We learned the significance of closing games.”
Brooklyn, 8-11, fell to Dallas the very next night, but Allen Crabbe broke out of his season-long slump with 27 points in defeat.
Brooklyn’s last eight losses have come against teams that are simply better than they are. The Nets are usually quite competitive but, while they are worthy of praise for that, the upside isn’t terribly high on a nightly basis right now.