The Brooklyn Nets heaped more pressure on their Friday night showdown against the Washington Wizards than would normally accompany a late-December road game against a bad team. But the Nets asked for it, given the blatant and extreme load managing they subjected fans to in their previous game, as well as a significant lineup change instituted in Washington.
Jacque Vaughn sent Cam Thomas back to the bench in favor of Dorian Finney-Smith, and while something had to be done about Brooklyn’s fledgling starting lineup, benching Thomas was no minor adjustment. Sure, it did mean a return to a five-man lineup that’s played quite well this season, but the 22-year-old is a fan-favorite leading the Nets in scoring during a non-contending season.
All that to say, the ends needed to justify the means. A loss to the 5-25 Wizards to start off a four-game road trip would have been unacceptable before the load management and lineup change, but now, it’d be dire.
Well, it was even worse than you could imagine. The Nets indeed lost to the Wizards by beating themselves over and over, missing free-throws and defensive rotations, letting rebounds and lob-passes slip through their hands. It was just awful, all the way around. The Nets now sit at 15-17, the record itself nothing abhorrent but the vibes now at a low-point. They threw Wednesday’s game in the trash for this?
Final score: Washington Wizards 110, Brooklyn Nets 102.
Brooklyn’s new-old starting lineup did not immediately pay the dividends Vaughn had in mind. The shot distribution was more ideal, as his team fired up three after three, but nobody could make an outside shot in the first quarter. Neither team came out of the gates firing, but if the Nets had just made more than one of their first seven 3-pointers, they could have built an early lead.
When asked if he felt a change with the new starting lineup, Cam Johnson simply said, “No, not necessarily.”
The opening frame ended with a 25-25 tie after Brooklyn could not make a field goal over the last three minutes. Extended scoring droughts would become a major story throughout the night for Brooklyn, and the key to an underwhelming first half where they outplayed the Wizards in most facets of the game, other than actually putting the ball in the basket.
Brooklyn shot just 4-of-15 from deep in the first half compared to Washington’s 8-of-20, negating their advantage on the inside. Nic Claxton and Day’Ron Sharpe outplayed their big man counterparts on the other side, while Cam Thomas did his job off the bench. He and Cam Johnson each scored ten first-half points to co-lead Brooklyn in scoring.
But the visiting Nets just didn’t make the Wiz uncomfortable to begin the night, and the advantages they built were washed away by their own mistakes. Sure, Brooklyn protected the ball, but only forced five turnovers leading to two pitiful fast-break points. The easy buckets against a bad team weren’t there. And while they did create open looks in the half-court, six missed free-throws and poor 3-point shooting did them in.
“When you don’t take advantage of each possession, then you put yourself in a position where there’s a little bit more pressure and stress...” said Vaughn.
Thus, the Nets trailed 54-53 at the halftime break. Some early 3-point shot-making in the third quarter quickly gave Brooklyn a nine-point lead, their largest of the night, and everything started to click for the guests:
Dinwiddie has hit two straight corner threes, Cam Johnson just added one, and the Nets are up eight: pic.twitter.com/EpPb4m3KMc— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) December 30, 2023
But just as the starters found their feet, Washington’s reserves showed up once again as a brutal thorn in Brooklyn’s side, just as they had in the first two meetings between these teams. Mike Muscala played 31 minutes as a stretch-5 off the bench, hitting three triples and winning his minutes by a preposterous 21 points. Corey Kispert and Landry Shamet flanked him with even more shooting, with a mixture of Deni Avdija, Bilal Coulibaly, and Delon Wright to throw in some much-needed defense.
It was a unit that the Nets could not figure out, even in their third go-around against it. Thus, Brooklyn quickly coughed up their first sizable lead of the night as the third quarter drew to a close. The defense + Cam Thomas lineup that had performed so well in recent games flailed, and a nine-point lead shrank to two. More missed free throws and avoidable mistakes gave the Wizards an opportunity they took full advantage of in the fourth.
Said Jacque Vaughn: “Their bench really made plays and were really good. Delon Wright, Avdija, that stretch of those guys, Shamet, give them credit for putting us on our heels. Kispert playing really aggressive, and we just couldn’t get stops.”
The Nets did not blow the game in the final frame, but rather, that’s when their repeated mistakes came home to roost. At the end of the second quarter, Thomas went too early with the shot-clock turned off, and Avdija hit a buzzer-beating three on the other end. At the end of the third quarter, Nic Claxton fumbled a rebound off his leg and out of bounds, which led to a Kispert three. Overall, the Nets shot just 17-of-27 from the free-throw line.
That’s sixteen points Brooklyn tossed away, not even counting missed shots or a lackluster defense that forced just one Wizards turnover in the second half.
Avdija and Kyle Kuzma were Washington’s closers on the night, and they provided enough scoring to get their team to the finish line. For the former, the 6’9” wing operated in a straight-forward manner, using the threat of the 3-ball he’d flashed in the first half to carve up Brooklyn’s defense on the inside, getting right to the front of the rim with ease:
Avdija finished with 21 points on the night, second to Kuzma’s 26, which came in all sorts of ways, including a step-back three that served as the dagger...
33 with a 3.— Washington Wizards (@WashWizards) December 30, 2023
26 PTS, 7 REB, 2 AST pic.twitter.com/hOPHmT1fLl
On the contrary, Brooklyn’s fourth-quarter offense was miserable. Spencer Dinwiddie got to the free-throw line a couple times, on his way to 17/8/6 on 5-of-16 shooting, but the results were ugly when he wasn't bailed out by a whistle.
Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson combined for 35 points and four assists on 12-of-25 shooting, making some timely shots but not much more than that. It was a standard Twins game that is much more palatable in a win. The two are, at their core, shot-makers and play-finishers. Maybe Bridges can scale up for a few minutes a game to create offense on his own, which we occasionally see. And for three quarters, he and Johnson played solid basketball against one of the worst teams in the NBA, winning their their minutes comfortably.
But down the stretch, Bridges and Johnson could not take over the game and save their squad from a cacophony of self-inflicted gunshot wounds. They were merely bystanders, and thus, the unstable infrastructure of Brooklyn’s offense crumbled. The Nets scored 18 fourth-quarter points, struggling to create easy looks or make contested ones.
Cam Thomas played 24 minutes on the night, shooting 6-of-15 on his way to 15 points while being a frequent offense/defense sub down the stretch. Jacque Vaughn tried anything and everything on Friday night, but the Nets just weren’t up to it.
Said the head coach: “We got to go into every game with a sense of desperation no matter who we’re playing, and not be cool and not throw behind the back passes when you don’t need to and take advantage of every single possession. And we’re not doing that.”
It was a total dud from everybody involved, from a staff still unable to figure out an answer for Washington’s spaced out offense, to a bench unit that picked the wrong time to disappear, to shooters that forgot how to shoot. The Nets played hard at least, grabbing 18 offense boards to the Wizards’ eight, but they played completely unfocused, and were out-executed at every turn.
“They were just too comfortable. Too comfortable, just hitting the shots that they want,” said Johnson on the game’s ugly ending.
Duds happen in the NBA. You get outplayed, a lack of rest rears its teeth, and so on. Over an 82-game season; letdowns happen. But Jacque Vaughn and the Nets made it clear that there was no room for a loss on Friday night. This was not going to be a letdown game, it was going to be a smooth win over a bad team, flushing out any concerns about lineups or load managing. This was the basket the Nets had put all their eggs into.
Showing up with whatever that was marks an alarm-sounding loss for Brooklyn.
Yes, we have milestones even after a game like that.
- The Nets posted 26 second-chance points on Friday night, their 3rd-highest total of the season.
- Cam Johnson has now scored 15+ points in his last five games, his longest streak of the season and one that ties a career-high. In those five games, he’s shooting 16-of-27 (59.3%) from deep.
- Day’Ron Sharpe’s 10 points were good enough to extend his streak of double-digit performances to five, another career-high.
Kids back in G League
On Wednesday, as part of their strategy to rest players against the Bucks, the Nets called up five young players from their G League affiliate on Long Island. They performed well, scoring exactly half — 61 — of the team’s 122 points vs. Milwaukee, led by Jalen Wilson’s 21 points and 10 boards. But on Friday, all five — Wilson, Noah Clowney, Dariq Whitehead, Armoni Brooks and Keon Johnson — were back on the island to play a G League game vs. the Cleveland Charge. They lost 123-122.
YES Network on FIOS update
Some FIOS customers received a notice recently that it was possible that because of a cable carriage dispute they might lose YES Network as well as other channels on New Year’s Eve. However, a spokesperson for YES tells NetsDaily that negotiations are proceeding and there is optimism the dispute can be resolved.
“We remain in productive, on-going negotiations and are hopeful a deal will be reached without any interruption,” said the spokesperson.
Brooklyn’s first opportunity to right the ship on this road trip comes against a fearsome Oklahoma City Thunder team on New Year’s Eve. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. ET on Sunday night.
- Box Score: Washington Wizards 110, Brooklyn Nets 104 - NBA
- Game Highlights: Washington Wizards 110, Brooklyn Nets 104 (Video) - NBA
- Jacque Vaughn on the Nets’ tough loss to Wizards (Video) - YES Network
- Cam Thomas discusses the Nets’ late issues in Washington (Video) - YES Network
- Cam Johnson on tough loss to Wizards (Video) - YES Network
- Avdija, Kuzma lead Wizards to 110-104 victory over the Nets - Matt Sugam - AP
- Lineups changes not enough for Nets in loss to pitiful Wizards - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Nets’ Lonnie Walker IV could return to action vs. Pelicans - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Nets’ Cam Thomas pulled from starting lineup, but it didn’t matter ($) - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Nets’ lineup change leads to same outcome as they falter down stretch in loss to Wizards ($) - C.J. Holmes - New York Daily News
- Why Jacque Vaughn’s decision to rest Nets’ starters against Bucks was necessary ($) - C.J. Holmes - New York Daily News
- Stumbling Nets fall flat against Wizards ($) - Evan Barnes - Newsday
- Nets coach Jacque Vaughn: I make decisions on playing time ($) - Evan Barnes - Newsday
- Nets: In today’s NBA, there is rest for weary ($) - Evan Barnes - Newsday
- Nets Fans Must Look To Future With Team Under Siege On & Off Court - Steve Lichtenstein - Steve’s Newsletter
- Cam Thomas’ move to the bench explained by Nets coach Jacque Vaughn - Erik Slater - Clutch Points
- Kyle Kuzma, Deni Avdija pace Wizards past Nets ($) - Ava Wallace - Washington Post