It was alI too poetic seeing the Brooklyn Nets lose to the Houston Rockets last night. Not the flowers and sunshine kind of poetry you learn about in elementary school. More like a depressing, Edgar Allen Poe, sad Tik Tok slide show kind of sort.
Of all teams, it just had to be the Houston Rockets, the ones holding nearly all their draft capital until 2027, to submerge the Nets to a point further below the .500 mark than they’ve been since 2020. The boys from Space City, defeating the Nets by a a 112-101 final score, won in more ways than one, rending the Nets two fold losers as well.
The Spencer Dinwiddie vs Cam Thomas debate continues to look laughable, as both players turned in stinkers for the second time in as many games. While one twin cooked, the other locked himself in the fridge. Nic Claxton played admirably, but Houston’s own budding center outshined him. Here’s what else we learned.
Shooters Love Playing This Team
Brooklyn’s inability to defend the perimeter is truly special. With their opponents shooting 42.1% from deep against them in their last 15 games, they rank dead last in the league.
Even against the scrubs, the Nets no deterrent for long range artillery. Amidst this 2-10 skid, the Washington Wizards, Detroit Pistons, and Utah Jazz all shot 40% or better from three against the Nets. Each of those teams currently rank in the bottom-10 for 3-point percentage. The New Orleans Pelicans, who came into their previous game with Brooklyn averaging the fifth fewest threes made per game (11.5), promptly blitzed the Nets from deep with 16 made threes on 41.6% shooting.
There’s several issues contributing to this kryptonite for Brooklyn. Above all else, they over-help on drives which opens up looks for guys on the wing. Their weak point of attack defense is a catalyst there, but their strategy to collapse inside almost immediately after a ball handler penetrates despite having one of the best shot blockers in Nic Claxton dropping back continues to puzzle me.
15-of-28 is 15-of-28, but the Nets' strategy still includes giving up these wide open threes off heavy gap help pic.twitter.com/nvgP3eCjT7— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) January 4, 2024
Buying too much into the analytics feels like the only explanation here. With the Nets playing weak shooting teams like the ones mentioned beforehand, one can forgive them for making a business decision and doubling up on their paint defense at the expense of the arc.
Regardless, the results have been putrid, and when that’s the case, you need a shake up. Brooklyn got by for a while with these defensive lapses on the account of their own hot shooting. But while that’s disappeared, their wet paper towel defense has only grown weaker, hence the ugly record of late.
Cam Thomas, Mikal Bridges, and Spencer Dinwiddie....Come On
You cannot call Cam Thomas, Mikal Bridges, and Spencer Dinwiddie a “three-headed monster.” You couldn’t at the start of the year. That always felt a bit overzealous given each guy’s limitations — even with that term so commonly used in sports dialogue to describe a team’s three best players. But now, you really can’t call them that.
Over their past 10 games, these three offensive pillars meant to hold up Brooklyn’s offense have turned into toothpicks. They’ve combined to average 43.9 points per game. Right now, there are college teams getting more points from their three leading scorers than that. Each guy is shooting below 40% from the field, while Thomas is the only one shooting above 30% from three, just squeaking by with a 34.1% clip.
Both Dinwiddie and Thomas’ abilities to finish around the rim have plummeted of late. Neither player is shooting above 50% in the restricted area over their past five games. Dinwiddie continues to hunt for contact to no avail and Bridges is frankly missing looks we saw him hit consistently all last season.
As it stands now, you’re simply not going to win games with your leaders putting up figures like that. While everyone experiences bad games, it’s the fact that this is over a 10-game stretch that warrants concern. This is no longer a bad break, it’s tumble down a mountain that just won’t end.
I’d still like to see Bridges play a bit more off-ball. He’s going through the worst stretch of his career right now, so bringing him back to the basics and then building on that feels like the wisest plan of action. Get him some looks out on the wing, if that goes well, see how his jumper looks navigating the pick and roll especially if Brooklyn’s playing an opponent in the drop.
We Have Life in the Turnover Department
The Nets forced Houston into 16 giveaways last night, generating 16 points. Nothing special, but surely an improvement from what we’ve seen lately with the team entering last night as the worst ranked team in opponent turnovers per game.
As we all know, this did not translate into a win. Brooklyn shooting just 38.7 percent shooting from the field and their horrendous 3-point defense made sure of that.
Maybe I’m digging too much for a positive here, but Brooklyn’s activity at the defensive end at least showed they might have some fight left in them. Saying that in early January is a rough spot to be in, but like it or not, that’s where we are with Nets showing little to no resistance at the defensive end up until last night.
Royce O’Neale and Trendon Watford gave the team a solid defensive punch off the bench. While Brooklyn’s aforementioned scheme on opponent drives still allowed Houston to rain fire from three, those two still poked and pried at the ball often. Each guy finished with two steals, including one for O’Neale that led to a dunk at the other end and put Brooklyn ahead after Houston had just jetted out to a seven point lead to start the second frame.
Royce O'Neale with consecutive steals and scores, and a nice play from Day'Ron to retake the lead for BKN pic.twitter.com/cRrFsUNMGg— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) January 4, 2024
Even on the plays that did not result in clean steals, the Nets were able to disrupt the Houston offense with deflections in the half court. Even Cam Thomas, a player known for his offensive prowess (well, except for last night) and defensive shortcomings was active cutting off passing lanes, coming up with a steal last night on one of those pursuits.
Moral victories mean very little when you’re the losers of 10 out of your last 12. But that’s all the Nets can get at this point. Their next opponent averages the fifth fewest turnovers per game so far this year. Seeing how their effort holds up against them should prove interesting.