Three Man Weave

Three Man Weave: Week 23 Edition

The Brooklyn Nets might actually be resilient. As we addressed in last week’s Weave, the Nets’ 32-40 record would imply a pretty liberal interpretation as to the definition of “resiliency”, but over the last two months they’ve been at least an average team (14-12, with Tuesday’s game against the Indiana Pacers on March 31st). It just so happens that a two-month stretch of average basketball is good enough to get an Eastern Conference team not only into the playoff conversation, but also sole possession of the eighth seed.

A loss Monday at home against the Boston Celtics was a typical-Nets performance, by following up big back-to-back wins against the Milwaukee Bucks and Pacers with a letdown loss to another rival in the race for the eighth spot. The Nets’ offense collapsed in the closing quarter and stopped going to Brook Lopez, who dominated with another 30+ point game, and was subsequently outscored by 10 in the fourth quarter of a lopsided 110-91 defeat.

The Nets didn’t make the same mistake in their next game Wednesday in Charlotte, or suffer a similar letdown. In a legitimately entertaining big-man battle between the Hornets’ Al Jefferson and Lopez, the Nets rode their center to a three-point victory that featured some dueling clutch baskets and just enough Nets defense to prevail and secure a potential playoff-tie-breaker over the Hornets. Deron again flirted with a triple-double and the Nets - outside of Brook Lopez and 13 points from Alan Anderson - struggled to score for the second-consecutive game, but the Nets’ bench responded in Friday’s upset-victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson led the team with 20 points apiece while the bench supplied 54 in Brooklyn’s 106-98 home win over the Cavaliers. With Thaddeus Young out for the weekend with a hyper-extended knee, Mason Plumlee joined Lopez in the starting front court to maybe their best results of the season, and the bench trio of Jarrett Jack/Bojan Bogdanovic/Alan Anderson all scored in double digits with a plus/minus-rating in the positive-double figures. Cleveland’s “Big 3” of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love combined for 68 points but saw just 30 from the other seven Cavs.

Another eight-point victory, this time against the Los Angeles Lakers, gave the Nets a share of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference standings. Brook Lopez again topped the 30-point threshold and his fellow starters (Joe, Mason, Deron Williams, and Markel Brown) provided 55 points, but the second unit was hijacked by (the recently-signed) Earl Clark, who took as many shot attempts as his next two-closest teammates off the bench. Joe Johnson was impressive in dropping 18 points with seven assists and eight rebounds, and in using Brook’s attention to find good looks for himself and others.

A Boston loss later in the evening would drop them a half-game behind Brooklyn for the eighth seed in the playoffs. The Pacers will come into Brooklyn on Tuesday tied with Boston at a half-game back, adding extra significance to another potential tie-break situation (season series tied at one). A Wednesday game in Madison Square Garden against the New York Knicks will come on the second night of a back-to-back, with another home-and-road back-to-back Friday against the Toronto Raptors and then the next night in Atlanta. The Nets will need to bring their playoff intensity in their last three weeks of the season to maintain positioning or potentially improve their place in the Eastern Conference standings.

Brook Lopez was instrumental to the Nets’ 3-1 week and either led or tied for the team lead in points in each contest, and was named the Eastern Conference’s Player of the Week Monday afternoon. It’s the first Player of the Week distinction for Lopez in his six-year career, and the second to a Net this season after Deron Williams took it home in the second week. I covered Brook Lopez’s impact on the Nets’ late-game offense in a recent Brooklyn Film Festival post, and the national recognition of Lopez’s two-way play is much deserved.

In Week 23’s Three Man Weave our experts address Brook Lopez’s dominant play on offense and possible plans this offseason, the bench’s contributions to the Brooklyn Nets’ scoring, and the Nets’ place in the race for the last few playoff seeds in the East.

Upcoming games:

Tuesday, vs. Indiana, 7:30 pm

Wednesday, @ New York, 7:30 pm

Friday, vs. Toronto, 7:30 pm

Saturday, @ Atlanta, 7:30 pm

1.) The Brooklyn Nets’ bench came up huge in the win over Cleveland with 54 points, but contributed only 22 in the next game against the Lakers. Can the Nets count on their bench to carry some of the scoring burden, or do the starters need to play better on offense? If so, which starters?

Nick Huth: At almost any level of basketball, it should rarely be the bench’s responsibility to provide the consistent offense, and the same can be said for Brooklyn. Although scoring outbursts from Bojan Bogdanovic, Jarrett Jack or Alan Anderson can occasionally win games, the scoring of the starting lineup is the backbone of Brooklyn’s success, or lack thereof. Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson won’t be able to combine for 48 points every night like they did against the Lakers, but those two need to score for the Nets offense to fall into place.

Jack Moore: The bench has been great. I mean really, really great but without contribution from the starters, it won’t mean much. Plumlee has been nothing but a warm body since Lopez came back into the rotation. He needs to step up BIG TIME.

Jeremy Briggs: If the Lopez/Joe Johnson pairing in the starting lineup can continue to produce in the way they did against the Lakers, that’s more than enough firepower from the starters. Brook has been a legitimate number one scoring option for a couple weeks, and has shown that he can carry the Nets to victories over beatable teams. Moving Thad to a bench role when he returns from injury could help to bolster the current solid play off the pine.

2.) Brook Lopez has been a monster of late, averaging 28.8 points and 9.3 rebounds in about 37.5 minutes per game since the triple-overtime win against Milwaukee, and being named the NBA’s EC Player of the Week. How much better does Lopez look compared to earlier in the season, and does his recent play affect his decisions as far as his contract this offseason? Does Brook Lopez opt in for another season with Brooklyn in 2015-16 or enter free agency?

Huth: Lopez has clearly been one of the best players for Brooklyn since that thriller against Milwaukee and it seems like his confidence has fully returned after a shaky season full of trade rumors and slumps. I don’t know if the recent streak is enough for him and his agent to feel confident in getting a big contract elsewhere, but it may just be enough for him to opt out to search for a long term deal. But as an aging big man with an injury history, the recent performances shouldn’t be enough to change his reputation throughout the league.

Moore: Brook has shown great strides in terms of consistency as of late. At the start of the season, he would be promising and then disappear. Now that is not the case. As for his contract, I think he needs to opt-in. His injury held him back this year and he will need to show teams that he is able to stay on the floor.

Briggs: Brook looks infinitely better. He’s moving more quickly and freely, his touch on all of his quirky flip-shots has been impeccable, and he has been the go-to game-changing scorer that makes his current contract understandable. His play of late creates an interesting dilemma for himself. He is still young (26!) and therefore is on track for at least one more hefty contract. The big variable, though, is his health. How much would a team on the open market be willing to invest in someone who has missed large chunks of games in 3 of the past 4 seasons? Would it be enough for him to turn down a player option for the 2015-16 season that’s worth almost $17 million? If he opts into next season’s contract, is he willing to bet on his ability to stay healthy and perform at a high enough level to warrant another large contract offer? It will be interesting to see what decision Brook makes and what his rationale will be.

3.) The Eastern Conference’s eighth seed will probably change a few different times before this column is published, but how far can the Nets realistically climb in the standings? Are the seventh or even sixth spots attainable, and if not, who should the Nets fear most in their fight for the last playoff spot?

Huth: Although they’re 7-3 in the last 10 games, I wouldn’t count on the Nets to keep up the streak and close out the season as a sixth or seventh seed. That means the Celtics, Pacers and Hornets will be right there with Brooklyn until the final week. None of those teams are playing as well as Brooklyn right now, but those four teams have been notorious for inconsistency all season. All the teams play each other a few more times, but Brooklyn has the hardest road. The Nets have to play Atlanta, Chicago, Portland and Toronto while the other three teams have a simpler road.

Moore: Charlotte and Indiana are the teams to watch. Easy schedules down the stretch and with Paul George possibly back, yikes.

Charlotte - Detroit, Indiana, Philadelphia, Miami, Toronto

Indiana- Nets (*important game*), Boston, Charlotte, Heat, Knicks

Briggs: It’s the eighth seed or bust for the Nets. They just don’t play consistently enough to climb any higher than that. Tuesday’s game against the Pacers won’t decide things, but it would huge if the Nets can pull out the win. Indiana is probably the biggest threat to steal the Nets’ current playoff berth.