Recap: Nets 82, Magic 105 - “Yeah, There’s a Lot Going On Here…”
The Brooklyn Nets were overwhelmed by a younger, more athletic, and, frankly, better opponent Monday night, in suffering an 82-105 home loss to the Orlando Magic. The Nets hung around through the first quarter or so, even assembling a 10-2 run that was aided largely by a four-point play to begin the second quarter, but allowed the Magic to convert on 53.8% of their 76 field goal attempts on the evening and were outscored by 23 points over the final three quarters.
In the first quarter the Nets were aggressive on offense, with five of their first six field goal makes consisting of assisted layups in the lane. Orlando kept pace, with their second-year point guard, Elfrid Payton, going to the basket and then setting up his bigs (Nikola Vucevic and Channing Frye) for face-up jumpers, as the Nets began settling for longer jumpers with their second unit. Payton’s 10 points and four assists (to one turnover) sparked a seven-point lead heading into halftime, that would soon grow into double digits as the Magic scored 31 points on 14/24 shooting in the third quarter.
Brooklyn struggled to find chemistry in integrating their bench pieces into the rotation, even going to the Brook Lopez/Andrea Bargnani big man combination for over eight minutes in search of offense. Both Bargnani and backup two-guard Wayne Ellington scored in double figures in slightly over 20 minutes, as each played more minutes than Shane Larkin, who scored just two points on 1/5 from the floor. Lopez and Joe Johnson struggled to score efficiently, combining for just 17 points on 23 shot attempts, with nine boards, five assists (all from Joe), and three turnovers. Thaddeus Young supplied his usual double double, his 12th of the season, with 10 points and 11 rebounds, but sported a game-low plus/minus of minus-21 in his 34 minutes of court time.
Brook Lopez, to his credit, took a lot of the blame for the team’s poor performance, while Jarrett Jack even dropped the “E”-word following the loss to Orlando. The Magic won for the first time in their last seven visits to the Barclays Center, while the Nets snapped a four-game winning streak against Orlando and look to be on a different trajectory than the (13-11) Magic this season. The (7-17) Brooklyn Nets will play next on Wednesday for another 7:30pm home tipoff, against the (14-9) Miami Heat.
In what is unfortunately becoming a trend this season, head coach Lionel Hollins again went to the dual-seven footers frontcourt of Brook Lopez and Andrea Bargnani in a losing effort. The pair shared the court for just under nine minutes, and though they finished with a respectable (given the context) minus-one over two separate shifts together, they didn’t offer much in the way of defensive resistance against the aggressive Orlando Magic.
According to their shared stats so far in 2015-16 (see chart), expecting defense from a Brook/Bargs frontcourt is akin to counting on a Billy King trade to salvage this season. Of all three lineup combinations, the Brook/Bargs pairing allows the most points on a possession basis, while lineups featuring only Andrea “hold” the opponent to just under 50% from the field. Given his track record over his ten-year career (!) and offensively-inclined skillset, Bargnani simply lacks the foot speed and agility required to stay with modern power forwards either on the perimeter or off-the-dribble, and needs a very specific frontcourt mate to maximize his limited defensive traits (namely, pretty decent hands and an impressive wingspan).
Brook Lopez, after numerous back and foot surgeries, might not be that ideal defender. Though massive and yet relatively mobile, Lopez is almost useless in stepping out to defend the perimeter and is a better fit as a below-the-free-throw line defender in the pick and roll, where his teammates can funnel defenders into his huge frame. Brook’s size and coordination makes him a threat around the rim, but more advanced offenses can stretch him out and force Bargnani to step up and help the helper, often to disastrous results.
The expected benefits to Brook/Bargs would presumably lie on the offensive side of the ball, in playing two skilled bigs and scoring threats together, but that hasn’t exactly been the case thus far. While the team’s scoring rate has stayed strong with the duo on the court, the shooting and passing numbers jump with just one seven footer on the floor.
In watching Brook and Andrea play together, especially in the first half of Monday’s game against Orlando, it’s almost as if each player is taking turns in acting as the spacing option. Brook Lopez was the first example, in his second quarter shift with Bargnani, as he went 0/5 (with a turnover) on three flat-footed jumpers, while missing a long, running floater and a forced jump hook along the right baseline. Bargnani added a turnover, and rimmed out a fadeaway jumper from the mid-range area.
The duo played much more comfortably together in the second half, for a 2:36-stint in the third quarter. This time it was Bargnani as the spacing option, where he floated off of the attention that Lopez drew on his rolls to the rim and stepped into his jump shot, even catching and up-faking from three that led to a made jumper off the dribble. Bargs made two of his three shot attempts (all jumpers) in the third quarter run alongside Lopez, and the Nets played the Magic to a seven-to-seven stalemate over Brook/Bargs’s second shift.
Given the 23-point deficit in the final score, the Nets’ problems obviously extend far beyond an 8:49-stretch that saw the team outscored by just a point. Of a more alarming note, however, is Hollins’s constant juggling of the bench rotation and reticence to play quicker and younger players, instead preferring to slow down the game by working out the kinks in the Andrea Bargnani/Brook Lopez frontcourt. It could be a weapon that will pay dividends at some point down the line for the Brooklyn Nets, but the defensive issues should be ever present, and the offensive upside might not be enough to overcompensate.
(HUSTLE) PLAY OF THE NIGHT
Perhaps the only benefit to the Nets running a super-big frontcourt with Bargs and Brook was also throwing out a smaller backcourt along with it, featuring Shane Larkin, Markel Brown, and Wayne Ellington. Markel made his presence known immediately, in pressuring Orlando’s Victor Oladipo full court before the second quarter could even begin, and eliciting an awkward inbound from Jason Smith. With Oladipo’s momentum taking him upcourt, Brown swooped in for the interception and elevated for the layup, plus the foul, which would lead to a (delayed) four-point play a second later following a Scott Skiles technical foul. Brown is still a young player who is prone to mistakes on either side of the ball, but devoting minutes to developing his game and playing him in lineups alongside Larkin and Thomas Robinson (who only saw four minutes) should at least speed up the game and give the Nets more mobility on defense.
DUNK OF THE NIGHT
Sorry, Bargs, but Orlando’s Andrew Nicholson gets the honors, after up-faking Thaddeus Young out of his shoes and then going strong to the basket. I guess you can give Bargnani some credit for the (half-hearted) defensive rotation and swipe, but either give the foul or get out of the way. Nice move by Nicholson to take it to the middle of the lane and wind up for the right-handed power dunk, particularly after flashing a three-point stroke earlier in the game.
CROSSOVER OF THE NIGHT
It’s not even officially a crossover, since he lost the ball when the help defense stepped up, but any time you can put it through an NBA defender’s legs on the fastbreak, you deserve a shoutout in any column I’m writing. Hat tip to you, Mr. Hezonja, and here’s hoping for an offensive surge at some point in his rookie season. (Also, shouts to the Brooklyn crowd, who could still appreciate a nutmeg despite a 20-point blowout on the home team, and turn their “boo’s” into “ooh’s”.)
SHAMELESS PLUG OF THE NIGHT
Yay, Star Wars Night at Barclays! Considering the dwindling attendance numbers of late, hopefully all of the fans walked out with a free Brook Lopez bobblehead, after sitting through a 20-point blowout loss. While I’m not much more of a Star Wars fan than Jarrett Jack or Mike Fratello, it was still fun to hear Ian Eagle continually bust his broadcast partner up about his professed knowledge of the night’s sponsor.