Seventeen. Seventeen straight losses in a row now following tonight's loss in Brooklyn. If it makes anyone feel any better, it seems like the Nets were just flat-out better and more physically well-suited to handle this Bobcats team. Ok, it doesn't make me feel better, but it's something, I suppose. It's not as if the Nets came out roaring in the name of giving new interim coach PJ Carlesimo a victory in his first game as coach. In fact, their energy wasn't anything special; they were able to exploit mismatches inside and out from the get-go, and that was a problem.
In the first frame where the Bobcats were out-scored 33-15, the Nets built their initial lead with threes, and dumping the ball into Brook Lopez into the paint for him to flip it in, or draw the foul. There were mismatches all over the floor and the Nets never shied away from exploiting them. This trend continued into the second, where Brooklyn gave the ball to Joe Johnson against the much smaller Ramon Sessions on consecutive possessions.The ISO-Joe worked perfectly as Johnson was able to drive the ball on Sessions, or simply pull-up to rise over him for a quick jumper. The idea was simple: make the Bobcats stop it, and they couldn't. It helped once they got Henderson on him, and it was even better once they could get Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on him, but MKG picked up his fourth foul late in the second and had to sit.
The Bobcats tried to go small, and out-run the Nets, but that didn't work either since the Nets would counter with their "small" lineup of Brooks-Bogans-Johnson-Wallace-Lopez, and were still overmatched. Physically, this team was just too much for them, in that they had a hard time getting good shots off over the length of the Nets, and it showed in their 31% field goal percentage at halftime. Say what you will about Byron Mullens, but the team missed his threat of being able to stretch the floor as Bismack Biyombo and Brendan Haywood were tasked with trying to carry the offensive load. Haywood rebounded OK, but provided little else. And Biz managed to get to the line several times, but only converted roughly half of the time.
See the problem? But wait, there's more.
Being unable to have a big like Mullens with the current personnel meant that the Nets would be able to clamp down on the Bobcats' physically overmatched backcourt, resulting in poor shooting nights for Kemba Walker, Ramon Sessions, and Ben Gordon. Without having a Mullens type player to draw a defender out of the paint, the Bobcats' spacing also disappeared, resulting in many disjointed possessions. You could see the difference in the boxscore alone in the the three point attempts column when the team took just three attempts in two quarters.
After two, we had a score of 56-38, but it didn't look like the Bobcats were physically capable of coming back despite their efforts. Right now, I'm not even talking about the talent disparity; this team just isn't physically built to do well regularly against teams with this kind of combined size and ability.
With nearly a twenty point deficit to being the third quarter, I began to pay more attention to how the Bobcats weren't scoring than how the Nets were. And I'll tell you what: you don't accidentally shoot in the low-30's too often. Tonight was no exception to that rule, either.
The story was the same for much of the second and third for the Bobcats. Not only were many of their shots of the contested variety, but they were off-balanced, too. Fadeaways! Stepbacks! Leaners! Floaters! We saw it all! Young players tend to struggle with this without even realizing it in most cases, and it becomes a crutch instead of a weapon in the arsenal, which is what those types of shots are meant for. Mike Fratello said it best when he said they're not high-percentage shots, or not as high as they could be even when taken from midrange.
With MKG in foul trouble, and the team struggling to come by offense, they attempted things like Hakim Warrick and Jeff Adrien post ups. Predictably, these sets ended how you thought they might. If I never see Warrick attempt to back down a defender only to be pushed out to the free throw line for a contested off-balanced leaner, it'll be too soon. Of course this was better than Biyombo attempting to post up, and making Andray Blatche look like Ben Wallace in his prime. Yes, Brendan Haywood shot 4-7, but he also had four offensive rebounds, meaning he had good second chance opportunities, and wasn't exactly having the offense run through him.
The importance of good post play in basketball really cannot be understated as it really makes everything flow much better.
We saw more issues with the balance of the roster, and the lineups Mike Dunlap is forced to use. We know that much of the offense will come from the guards already, but when the Nets were able to clamp down on the perimeter, and take away the driving lanes -- things that Sessions and Kemba thrive from -- we saw things like the near shot clock violation where Jeff Taylor dribbled the ball from the sideline, to the top of the arc, and to the free throw line where he dumped the ball off to Haywood to force a quick mid-range jumper. Don't get me wrong-- I like Taylor and Brendan Haywood's better functions, but these are not go-to offensive players, and the offense sputters at times with a lineup like Kemba-Sessions-Taylor-Biz-Haywood.
Of course, part of the problem was MKG's foul trouble, and the fact that he would be limited to 19 minutes overall. Still, these situations will arise, and the Bobcats will need to find a way to create offense somehow when they do if they want to start to win again.
If it weren't for a 13-3 run with both teams' reserves on the floor, the Bobcats would not have finished close to the 38% they shot from the floor tonight. If you want to take anything away from tonight, it's that they never stopped trying, evidenced by their late run. Which is commendable since they were facing a tough task against a team they don't match up particularly well with, despite the fact that they fired their coach about 36 hours before tip-off.
For the Nets, Joe Johnson finished with 16-2-4 on 6-14 shooting, Deron Williams had 19 points with 2 assists, but Lopez led the way with 26-11-2 and 3 blocks. For the Bobcats, Haywood led the way with 8 points, 8 rebounds, and Hendo finished with 6-5-4 with 3 steals.
Let's put this one -- and the other sixteen -- behind us and hope for better luck in NOLA tomorrow night.