Recap: Nets 104, Trail Blazers 112 - Nets Guards Can’t Hang
The Brooklyn Nets’ 104 to 112 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers got out of hand quickly, thanks to Portland’s dynamic backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum setting the tone early. McCollum’s 13 first quarter points helped the Blazers establish an early double-digit lead, and while the Nets (and Brook Lopez) chipped away over the remaining three quarters, the combination of offensive miscues and defensive lapses, particularly from their guards, would prevent the Nets from taking the lead permanently after fighting back in the fourth quarter.
It seemed as if every time the Brooklyn starters or second unit bundled together a couple of buckets in the pursuit of momentum, it was Lillard or McCollum manufacturing offense off the dribble and making tough shots to curb it. The perimeter shooting and ball handling from either Blazer guard helped to stretch the Nets’ defense to all spots on the floor, and allowed their quick and agile bigs the necessary spacing to roll to the hoop untouched. McCollum roasted Wayne Ellington for 21 first half points and 34 overall, and single-handedly outshot the Nets from beyond the three-point line in the first half (4-0).
As has been the case all too often of late, the Nets’ offense mostly evaporated outside of Brook Lopez’s efforts. His ability to generate his own offense can often lead to a trickle-down effect on his teammates as long as he’s getting into the lane and collapsing the opposing defense, but as the team’s effort and ball movement slowed, his flat-footed jumpers became more prevalent. His counterpart and former practice foe, Mason Plumlee, attempted to use his superior speed whenever he could, by beating Brook up the court and rolling hard on his circuitous routes to the rim, and kept pressure on Lopez all evening.
Also combining to put additional stress on the broad shoulders of Brook Lopez were the Nets’ own starting backcourt of Donald Sloan and Wayne Ellington, who combined to score 18 points while surrendering 68 to their opponents. Lopez will shoulder his share of blame for his team’s poor record and performances this season, but he deserves credit for altering his game to the Nets’ (lackluster) personnel. Mostly gone are last season’s short-rolls and mid-paint floaters from pick and rolls with Deron Williams, replaced instead by a mixture of pick-and-pop jumpers and face-up drives off of isolation post ups. Outside of some early season chemistry with Shane Larkin, Lopez doesn’t have a point guard partner able to get into the paint or draw the help-big while turning the corner on high-screens, and it’s not surprising to see Brook’s usage rate at his highest mark in three seasons (thanks to Basketball-Reference for the stats assist).
Without backcourt teammates able to defend, or shoot, or run pick and roll (et cetera…) against one of the league’s better guard combos, the Nets couldn’t quite capture the upset victory on the first night of their nine-game circus road trip. Brook Lopez submitted another dominant performance with 36 points (on 24 shots!), and continues to carry the Nets’ offense almost single-handedly without the benefits of modern-day amenities (such as shooters and wing talent), but until the team can surround him with commiserate talent, the Brooklyn Nets continue to waste All-Star-quality efforts from their franchise center as the losses continue to accumulate.
The (15-42) Nets will play next on Thursday at 9pm, against the free-falling (14-43) Phoenix Suns, on the second stop of their season-high nine-game trek away from home.