Three Man Weave: Week 19 Edition
After completing an eight-game road trip that has kept them away from the Barclays Center since February 6th, the Brooklyn Nets finally return home again this week for their next five games. The Nets began their long road trip with three straight losses in Washington, Milwaukee, and Memphis, and came out of the All-Star break embracing small-ball in their starting lineup, in the wake of trading starting power forward Kevin Garnett to Minnesota for Thaddeus Young.
By Friday’s first post-All-Star-and-trade-deadline game against the Los Angeles Lakers, head coach Lionel Hollins went to his wings to replace KG’s spot in the starting lineup, shifting Joe Johnson to the power forward (alongside Deron Williams, Alan Anderson, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Mason Plumlee) and keeping Brook Lopez on the bench as the backup center. A sprained ankle held Bojan out of the next three games and allowed rookie Markel Brown to seize his spot in the starting lineup with his strong play on the defensive end and on the boards, beginning with his 10-point, 11-rebound, 4-block starting lineup debut Monday in Denver.
The Nets were possessions away from prevailing in New Orleans Wednesday and in Houston Friday, ultimately losing by a combined 10 points. Their defense limited the Pelicans’ Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans to a combined 7/24 shooting from the field, but allowed Dante Cunningham, Quincy Pondexter, and Omer Asik to shoot 20/30 for 50 points, in a game that saw New Orleans without Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, and (former-Net) Ryan Anderson. The next game, against a Houston team without Dwight Howard, the Nets held MVP front-runner James Harden to 15 points on 4/15 shooting, but his 12 assists helped to get Terrence Jones and Trevor Ariza going, to the tune of 46-combined points on 27 shot attempts.
In the Nets’ last game of their eight-game trip, and on the second night of a back-to-back (and the fourth road game in six nights), Deron Williams came out firing for 25 points in a win against the (Tyson Chandler and Chandler Parsons-less) Mavericks. After struggling upon returning from his rib cartilage injury on February 2nd, Deron has played well with the starters again, averaging 34 minutes last week (in four games) with 16.5 points (43.1%), 5.8 assists (to 1.5 turnovers), and 4.3 rebounds per game. Jarrett Jack missed the first two games after the All-Star break with a tweaked hamstring and returned to the bench to score double-digits in two of his next three games, playing with Deron in double-point guard lineups down the stretch.
Thanks, in part, to the All-Star break and trade deadline for interrupting the longest road trip of the Nets’ season, Brooklyn will return home with a 3-5 record and a brand-new starting lineup, just in time to play the league’s best team in the Golden State Warriors Monday at the Barclays. The Nets will need Markel Brown’s tenacity and defensive effort to stay with co-MVP front-runner Steph Curry or Klay Thompson on the perimeter, and some more vintage DWill performances against the league’s stingiest defense. Wednesday will bring the Charlotte Hornets to Brooklyn, in a battle between two Eastern Conference eighth-seed hopefuls, and then the new-look Phoenix Suns Friday and the Utah Jazz Sunday evening.
As the Brooklyn Nets have fought and scrapped to survive out West and on the road in the month of February, their competition in the Eastern Conference playoff race has tightened up in the post-deadline landscape. Starting point guard injuries in Charlotte and Detroit were thought to have given the Nets some wiggle room in the fight for the eighth seed, along with the fire sale in Boston and offensive struggles in Indiana, but trades and a possible Paul George return could make it a compelling race to end the season.
In Week 19’s Three Man Weave, our experts will look at the Nets’ small-ball lineup preferences of late, and touch on Markel Brown’s presence with the starters. Their final query will concern the Atlantic Division and the Nets’ claim to second place, behind the Toronto Raptors and as the Boston Celtics make a push into the playoff picture.
Monday, vs. Warriors 7:30 PM
Wednesday, March 4 vs. Hornets 7:30 PM
Friday, March 6 vs. Suns 8:00 PM
Sunday, March 8 vs. Jazz 6:00 PM
1.) Lionel Hollins has stuck with small-ball starting lineups featuring Deron Williams, Markel Brown (Bojan Bogdanovic in the Lakers game), Alan Anderson, Joe Johnson, and Mason Plumlee in all five games since the All-Star break. How long can he stick with this starting lineup and how do you feel about Hollins embracing small-ball with his starters?
David Vertsberger: Hollins embracing small-ball, whether it works or not, makes me happy. Simply because I wasn’t sure he’d be this open-minded with what’s been written about his prior tenure. Not sure how long he can stick with it, considering the wins aren’t exactly piling on, but if the team is on track to make the playoffs he probably won’t shake it up again.
Jeremy Briggs: I have to say, I am surprised with Hollins’ willingness to switch things up. It’s definitely a welcomed change, as small-ball is what propelled the Nets to the playoffs last season. While I don’t see the same amount of skill and versatility on this year’s squad, the new rotation has brought about a different energy for the team. However, with the way the season has gone to this point, it won’t be long before this streak of play proves to be fools gold just as other hot stretches have been.
Brady Jennings: I think much like last season, we will see a “small-ball” perimeter-based lineup during the latter half of the season. Markel Brown and Alan Anderson aren’t exactly KG and Pierce, but at least they have some flexibility on the perimeter. I, for one, am surprised Hollins chose to play this style out of the All-Star break, seeing as he was known for his loyalty to big-man lineups in the past.
2.) A few Weaves ago I asked if there was enough room in the rotation for Bojan Bogdanovic and Sergey Karasev. Between his recent play and the quicker lineups, can Markel Brown continue to earn minutes down the stretch?
Verts: Markel Brown’s done more than enough to have earned his spot in the rotation. Whether he should remain a starter or not is a valid question, but his physicality, speed and effort on the defensive end has been a major boon to the Nets lineup that shouldn’t go away anytime soon.
Briggs: There’s no reason for the Nets not to play Markel. He provides energy and athleticism; two things that Brooklyn has desperately lacked all season. He should be a mainstay in the rotation for the remainder of the season.
Jennings: Sure, why not? I don’t know much about him other than he was pretty good at Oklahoma State. I say continue to give the rookie some meaningful minutes and see if Brooklyn has found a diamond in the rough.
3.) Which is the second-best team in the Atlantic Division?
Verts: Let me respond to your question with some of my own: Which one team in the NBA plays at Madison Square Garden on 41 nights a year? Which one team has the legendary Phil Jackson running its basketball operations? Which one team wears the symbolic orange and blue with pride night in and night out? Having said all that, it’s probably the Celtics.
Briggs: Is Kentucky eligible as an option? In all seriousness I’ll go with the Celtics. They are extremely well-coached and have arguably the most dynamic (healthy) player in the division.
Jennings: Oh wow, what a depressing question. As far as this season goes, I would probably have to say the Nets, however Boston is pretty close. I’m giving Brooklyn the nod solely based on the experience of their key players and coach. It would not surprise me at all if Boston and Isaiah Thomas caught Brooklyn in the standings by the time the season ended. At least one of these teams will make the playoffs while New Orleans or Phoenix will not. Go Eastern Conference!!!