The Brooklyn Nets and New Orleans Pelicans met in passing on Tuesday night. The Pels on the way up, sporting a 7-3 record in the ten games since their elimination from the In-Season Tournament, the Nets plunging into the red since a West Coast road trip derailed their season.
Brooklyn entered at 15-18, a far cry from both the 13-10 record they sported in mid-December and the vibes of that more joyous time. A blatant tank game against the Milwaukee Bucks, a dud against the Washington Wizards, and the only respite being a couple of wins over the historically bad Detroit Pistons all meant the Nets desperately needed an infusion of good basketball.
They almost produced it last time out, in a 124-108 loss against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The scoreboard didn’t indicate much progress, but the Nets finally put together four quarters of mostly respectable basketball. They out-rebounded the Thunder, forced more turnovers, created far more threes and free-throws, but just couldn’t make any of ‘em.
If the Nets simply stuck with it, a win wouldn't have been too far out of the question in the Big Easy.
But Brooklyn didn’t stick with anything, other than another putrid shooting performance. Even worse, they showed little signs of life elsewhere, not on defense, not on the glass, not at the rim, anywhere. The Nets looked like a defeated team from the jump ball, and avoiding their fourth consecutive loss would’ve been a miracle.
Final Score: New Orleans Pelicans 112, Brooklyn Nets 85.
Somehow, Brooklyn got off easy by trailing only 32-18 after the first quarter of play. Cam Johnson came out aggressive and hit a couple threes, foreshadowing that he’d be the only productive Net on the night, as he finished with 17 on 6-of-12 from three. Really, Johnson may have been more at home in a Pelicans uniform on Tuesday.
The famously non-shooting Pels, who employ not one but two stars that don’t take many threes, entered having made the fifth-fewest long balls in the league, a stat that may shock Nets fans that tuned in. Not only did CJ McCollum get hot early, but so did weaker shooters like Brandon Ingram, Herb Jones, and big man Jonas Valančiūnas.
Worse yet, Brooklyn didn’t make up for the shooting difference with the same attention to detail they exhibited in OKC, but got out-hustled across the board:
Said Jacque Vaughn: “We tried to warn our guys that this team has a tendency to play with leads and start out really well at the beginning of games. We warned our guys about that. So disappointed that we didn’t match their intensity and physicality from the beginning of the game. It was literally the first play of the game.”
New Orleans cooled down marginally in the second quarter, and even turned it over eight times in the first half, which Jacque Vaughn preached as the key to a competent defense in pregame. But the Nets, who scored two fast break points on the night, couldn’t take advantage on the other end.
The shooting woes that cost Brooklyn their last road game didn’t cost them this one, it just made any sense of a comeback an impossibility. Spencer Dinwiddie did not hit a shot from the field, finishing the night 0-of-6 with half his attempts coming on grenades such as this:
Teams starting to show less respect on Brooklyn's PnR, and you can see how it's depressed their 3-point volume. Alvarado barely tags here, has an easy recovery to the corner: pic.twitter.com/mWOr9hPnTv— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) January 3, 2024
The Pelicans switched every action that didn’t involve Valančiūnas, and even when the Lithuanian big man was involved in the pick-and-roll, there was minimal help defense. New Orleans stared Brooklyn’s main threats down, daring them to get buckets, and it worked.
Cam Thomas eventually joined Dinwdidie in the scoreless club with an 0-of-11 performance. Even if a couple of his shots had fallen, the Nets needed more than a little spark off the bench on Tuesday, but Thomas’ disappearance was just another gut-punch in a 48-minute shellacking.
The score was 59-34 at halftime, and a quick 9-3 run out of the break sealed the outcome for the Pels. The rest of the game was a melancholic-to-depressing blur depending on the group out there for Brooklyn. Nic Claxton followed a monster 15/16/5 line in OKC with 8/3/1 and two blocks. Mikal Bridges’ final line didn’t look awful, scoring 13 points on 4-of-11 shooting, but it will be forgotten, hopefully along with the rest of the game.
Jacque. Vaughn questioned more than his team’s execution, but their attitude as well: “If you’re really desperate about winning, then you dive on the floor. You’ll do it all, you’ll get cuts and bruises and you’ll go home sore. We’re not there yet.”
New Orleans rubbed salt in the wound all night long; non-shooters like Dyson Daniels and Larry Nance Jr. splashed home threes in a fourth quarter full of garbage time, makes that served no purpose other than to remind Nets fans that for other teams, basketball can be easy, even fun at times.
Jalen Wilson flew in for offensive rebounds yet again, on his way to eight points in a dozen minutes. Trendon Watford put in a tough and-one layup, and Harry Giles III even got his opportunity to cook, on his way to six late points:
Let Harry Giles Cook (Nets lose 112-85): pic.twitter.com/8w930nfVQ4— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) January 3, 2024
(The Nets have to make a decision on whether to keep both Watford and Giles by the end of the week. Watford is on a partially guaranteed deal, Giles on a non-guaranteed one.)
But none of that could be described as fun, not with Brooklyn’s stench hanging over the court like carbon monoxide. It wasn’t just a blowout loss than can be excused in the midst of a tough schedule, or after a win, or because these things sometimes happen.
It was a game that held hope, the promise of a big bounce-back performance on the road that died right when the ball was tipped. The first game of 2024 wasn’t one to remember for the fans, who should be entitled to some sort of compensation if they sat through at least three quarters.
It wasn't one to remember for Cam Johnson, either: “Sometimes when you’re in a rut like this, it wears on you. We need to shed it. I think we need to shed it and just focus on being the team that we know we are, get that weight off our shoulders.”
Nobody is confused about the reality of this Brooklyn roster, expecting a contender or even a team that will avoid the play-in tournament. But in the early weeks of the season, the Nets were at least fun, watchable, playing close games down to the wire no matter who the opponent was.
Those days couldn’t feel further away. What the Nets put out on the floor in New Orleans was miserable, dreary, and incapable. Brooklyn didn’t just look like the newest worst version of themselves, they didn’t look like an NBA team at all.
“We didn’t do a lot of things well tonight. We didn’t shoot the basketball well. We didn’t rebound the basketball well. We had no physicality tonight. And so when you have a list of items like that, you’re not going to win a ball game.” - Jacque Vaughn
Time for the saddest milestone watch of the season!
- Cam Johnson’s six made 3-pointers are a season-high for the 27-year-old wing. That is all.
Frank Isola on Cam Thomas
During the YES Network pregame show, Frank Isola discussed an issue — perhaps the issue — that’s been on the minds of Nets fans all season long. Isola vouched for Cam Thomas to once again re-enter the starting lineup, and threw some lofty praise his way.
I think Cam Thomas is their best player. I would start him because he's the one guy I don’t have to worry about in terms of generating offense — I know defensively, they want to get better — but he comes out every night and he’s ready to go.
Now, Isola’s declaration didn’t prove prophetic on Tuesday, since Thomas registered the worst scoring performance of his career, but Brooklyn’s starters didn’t play so well either. Will the debate ever cease? Probably not.
The road does not get easier. It’s a back-to-back for Brooklyn, as they’ll travel across state lines to face a young, defensive-minded Houston Rockets team. Tip-off is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday night.
- Box Score: New Orleans Pelicans 112, Brooklyn Nets 85 - NBA
- Game Highlights: New Orleans Pelicans 112, Brooklyn Nets 85 (Video) - NBA
- Vaughn speaks to the media following the Nets loss - YES Network
- Nancy and Frank look ahead to matchup vs. Houston (Video) - YES Network
- Pelicans roll to wire-to-wire, lopsided victory over reeling Nets - Bret Martel - AP
- Nets’ putrid skid continues with noncompetitive road loss to Pelicans - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Nets look uninspired, suffer 4th straight defeat in blowout loss to Pelicans ($) - C.J. Holmes - New York Daily News
- Pelicans rout Nets for Brooklyn’s fourth loss in row ($) - Evan Barnes - Newsday
- Pelicans run circles around Nets as they end home stand on positive note - Christian Clark - New Orleans Times-Picayune