Recap: Nets 77, Magic 83 - Play-makers are Few and Far Between in Nets loss
The Nets loss to the Orlando Magic on Friday night (84-77 Magic) was their ninth consecutive home loss and looked very much like two teams playing without their starting point guards.
For the Orlando Magic, the circumstances were urgent, but less dire in the long term. The Magic were coming off four straight losses. The last two and a half were without their young lead guard, Elfrid Payton, who had a badly bruised knee, yet they are still in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race (tied with the Celtics for the 8-seed heading into Brooklyn) and expecting Payon’s return in the very near future.
As we know, the Nets are adjusting to life after Jarrett Jack, which I think in and of itself speaks to the dire situation the Nets are currently in. In a game played at an excruciating pace of 84.7, the teams combined to shoot 39.8% from the field and combined for 30 turnovers which doesn’t sound terrible until you remember that each team had closer to 80 possessions than the 100 possessions the fastest teams in the league are playing at (the Utah Jazz play at the league’s slowest pace at 93.6 possessions per game according to NBA.com). Yet the Orlando Magic did one thing extremely efficiently over the course of the game and the Nets had no chance at matching that (though they could have been better at preventing it). We’ll get to that.
First, it’s worth examining the statement above that represents the discouraging place the Nets are at this season, ‘the Nets are adjusting to life after Jarrett Jack’. A team that was already 28th in the NBA in Offensive Rating (according to NBA.com) when Jack went down, has looked significantly worse offensively in the three games without him. The Nets have averaged 81.6 points per game over their last three and haven’t reached that number in either of the last two losses. Their Offensive Rating dropped to 87.8 over the last three games according to NBA.com.
To be fair, the Celtics, Raptors, and even Magic are in the top eleven in Defensive Rating for the season according to NBA.com. But the Magic, though vastly improved defensively under new head coach Scott Skiles, is not an elite defensive squad. The Nets poor offensive numbers speak to what Jarrett Jack was doing for this squad. Though Jack has never been considered an elite passer, his team-leading 7.4 assists per game are hard to replace, particularly with the players that remain on the roster. Play-makers are few and far between.
On the season, the Nets average 21.3 assists per game, but without Jack they have posted 16, 18, and 17 assists against the Celtics, Raptors, and Magic. The difference doesn’t seem shockingly large until you consider no team in the NBA averages less than 18 assists per game. Though Brook Lopez’ numbers have held consistent with Jack out of the lineup, the types of looks he’s getting are not the same. And in the Magic game on Friday night he was just not a large part of the offense in the first half and was outperformed by Nikola Vucevic significantly in the 3rd quarter.
The Nets struggled to score out of their offensive sets consistently against the Magic. That may have been an issue for them all season long but it’s exacerbated when Larkin is running the offense. Larkin can often make up for it on individual possessions when he gets a chance to use his straight-line driving ability as in the video clip below. But the Nets are known to clog the paint, both on defense and on offense and he doesn’t get the chance to utilize this skill as often as he probably should.
As poor of an outside shooting team as this Nets team has been all season, losing Jack (even at only a 30% shooter from long range) adversely impacts their abilities in from outside as well. And though Larkin made many impactful defensive plays guarding a much larger player in Victor Oladipo during Friday’s game, he will always have trouble effecting larger shooters. In that way, once again, an already very poor team at guarding the outside shot (25th and 26th in the NBA in 3PTA and 3PTM allowed per game via Basketball Reference) may prove to be even worse withough Jack.
That was the glaring difference in this game. The one thing the Magic did well and efficiently all night despite shooting 39.8% from the field. The Magic knocked down 13 of 27 3-point field goals against the Nets (good for 48.1%). That included 11-23 of those 3-point shots that were simple catch and shoot situations according to NBA.com’s Play Type data. Time and again, the Magic created open spot-up looks either out of the post with Vucevic or in drive-and-kick situations initiated by any number of play-makers (Oladipo, Fournier, Harris, Gordon). To put that 11-23 and 48% on catch and shoot 3-pointers in perspective, the NBA’s top team at generating those types of shots are the Charlotte Hornets with 22 per game and the NBA’s most efficient in spot-up 3-pointers is unsurprisingly the Golden State Warriors at 45%.
The Magic topped both those metrics in the game last night while the Nets shot an uninspiring 5-18 (28%) on those same types of catch and shoot 3-point looks. It’s certainly not all on Shane Larkin of course. His scrappy defense on Oladipo any time he put the ball on the floor was extremely effective limiting the Magic guard to only 20 points on a night when the 30% long range shooter dropped 18 of those on his career-high 6 made 3-pointers.
The Nets defensive rotations were horrendous. Multiple times, Joe Johnson’s lack of quickness in rotations led to layups or dunks including a couple by Aaron Gordon in the last 3 minutes that just about sealed it. Lopez (and the bench bigs) showed little ability to slow Vucevic in the third quarter highlighting that the only reason he may have struggled in the first half was his lack of aggressiveness and shot selection.
All in all, another discouraging loss by the Nets where the 3-point line is the difference, they showed flashes in the second quarter (including the bench) and fell apart in the 4th. The Nets travel to Detroit tonight (Saturday) to play another Eastern Conference team in the playoff mix before a long home stand next week.
- I think Brook Lopez and Nikola Vucevic have the same spirit animal (Sea Lion? Deer? Orangutan?). Although Vucevic is the better rebounder and Brook is the better passer, their games are eerily similar. Both are unconventional scorers in the post and really anywhere within 18-feet while both are underwhelming defenders. Their match-up could have been more exciting as both struggled in the first half and as mentioned, Vucevic dominated the 3rd. Brook finished with 17 and 8 on 6-15 shooting, Vucevic with 20 and 10 on 9-23.
- If you’re planning on watching the Nets at Pistons on Saturday night with an adult beverage or two and are looking for a fun drinking game, try these: 1.Drink every time Joe Johnson is late on a defensive rotation (it’s really not his fault though). 2. Drink every time the Nets give up an open catch and shoot 3-point make (mentioned above). 3. Drink every time the great Nets announcing team mentions the lack of practice time the team has had (Warning: please be responsible when attempting this third game, it could lead to a long night).
- The Nets ended up 7-22 from 3-point range and that included two crazy and deep buzzer-beating 3-point makes by Joe Johnson (shot clock) and Wayne Ellington (end of 3rd quarter). Those likely shouldn’t have fallen which makes that number look even worse.
- The Magic scored only 11 points in the 2nd quarter and were held to a season low 37 points in the first half. But put more of that on poor play by the Magic than great defensive effort in general by the Nets.
- Donald Sloan, Thomas Robinson, and Willie Reed had some nice minutes and especially in the 2nd quarter. Sloan in particular had some nice dribble penetration to set up teammates. His severe lack of shooting makes it unlikely he could handle the starting role, but he looked to generate easier looks for his teammates than Larkin as a whole and in limited time.