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Game 12 Preview: Nets vs. Blazers

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A Look at the Nets

There's a striking pattern evident in New Jersey's 4-7 record this season.  They have lost to seven playoff-level teams (OK, six playoff-level teams and Miami) and beaten four teams that are either weaker or are playoff-level teams doing their best impression of cellar-dwellers.  (See also:  Chicago.)  Guess which category we fit into?

At least part of New Jersey's problem is that they've only topped 100 points twice.  An even bigger part is that they've only topped 90 points three times.  Their totals lately have read more like Interstate speed limits than NBA scores.  One enormous reason is that Vince Carter has been injured with a sprained ankle.  He returned to practice yesterday but there's no news as to whether he'll suit up tonight.  His absence has left Richard Jefferson as the team's leading scorer.  Jefferson is a fine athlete with great talent but he's never been the type to carry a team singlehandedly.  His 24 points a game have been impressive but leave the Nets 70-odd points short of an acceptable total.  With Carter's replacement Antoine Wright the next leading scorer with 11 points in 33 minutes per game, you can see why the Nets are in trouble.  Jason Kidd is averaging over10 assists and almost 9 rebounds a game, which are stellar numbers, but he's also only scoring 10.8 (which is pedestrian) on 34% shooting (which is pedestrian after meeting dumptruck).  Center Sean Williams is starting for them and putting up nice numbers.  This is good because big Nenad Krstic has been battling knee problems and has sucked more than an octopus in a pacifier factory.  We may see the triumphant return of our old friend Jamaal Magloire tonight if either falters.  Forward Bostjan Nachbar has also had a rough start to the season.  The rest of the roster is not particularly noteworthy, populated by a couple youngsters and a bunch of guys on the edge of retirement.

The scariest thing about the Nets for us is that they are capable of muscling and rebounding us right out of our own building.  They may be struggling, but these players have been in the league a long time (and many of them have been good for a long time) and they know blood in the water when they smell it.  We may fully expect to get popped, bumped, shoved, and jawed at from the get-go.  They are going to get nasty in the paint and try to intimidate us out to the perimeter.

The scariest thing about the Nets for the Nets is that outside of Williams (and maybe Jefferson if you let him drive) they can't hit a shot for anything.  If bricking were a crime these guys would be lifers and a couple would be in line for the chair.  They're averaging 39% as a team.  Unless you're a multi-talented superstar like Kidd or a volume shooter like Iverson or Kobe 39% gets you benched in this league.  It's hard to bench six players in your nine-man rotation though.  They can't hit from distance either.  Plus they turn the ball over way too much.  So far this season they're allowing a mind-boggling number of steals against them--more than 10 a game.  Their defense is solid straight up but when you make them move they have a hard time compensating.  With the injuries and rotating lineups they haven't found rhythm or cohesion.

If you let the Nets feel comfortable they've got enough veterans to take the game away from you.  When it comes easy and they get confidence all of those shots they are missing will start falling no matter how much logic that defies.  If you plant the seeds of doubt in their minds by playing hard and loose and never letting up then they will probably not be able to recover.

What I'd Like to See

  1.  The most important thing tonight is to start fast.  Put the Nets down early and they'll struggle.  Emotion is critical for us.
  2.  Stop Richard Jefferson and you stop the Nets.  (It's not as catchy as "Save the cheerleader, save the world" but then I don't get paid $10,000 an episode to write this stuff either.)  Let's put it this way:  take out RJ and the entire rest of the team could double their scoring averages and it still probably wouldn't be enough.  Martell and Trout will need to stay active and in front of him.

    Another alternative would be for our small forwards to match Jefferson's point production between them and then let the rest of our team worry about outscoring the rest of theirs.  That works too.  But it has to be one or the other.  You can't let him score a ton through weak defense and then not produce yourself.

  3.   A pox upon you if you give the Nets easy points.  They cannot take points from you.  If they have to work for what they get then they lose.  But if you give any team 20+ points off of turnovers you're going to be in for a long night.  Ditto if you let them run. They're probably going to control the boards so you worry about getting back before them.
  4.  A double pox upon you if you shoot late in the clock against these guys.  They only average 74 shots a game.  Unless they're dunking off the break they're going to be grinding all night.  Why grind with them?   Get it up early and get enough possessions and you could probably match their field goals made while wearing a blindfold.  Tempo will be a huge key in this game.
  5.  Their top three guys play most of the game.  Even in the halfcourt run them around and tire them out.  Try to penetrate against them and draw fouls too.  Making them work on defense will further inhibit their already-shaky offensive game.  Martell should make like Reggie Miller tonight and just never stay still.  In fact we should not see any Blazers standing around on either end of the court.  That just plays into their hands.  They cannot cover you if you move people and move the ball.  This is a game we need to win pretty.
  6.  Pretty much everybody on their team turns the ball over a ton.  Remember what I just said about losing when you give the other team 20+ points off of turnovers?  It works in reverse too.
  7.  The team just needs to go out there, soak up the love from the crowd, and have a little fun.
This will be an interesting game.  It is winnable if we want it, but if we come with the same lack of energy that we displayed in the middle of the last road trip New Jersey will take it from us without batting an eye.  (Remember they beat up on bad teams.)  This is not the kind of game that makes the difference between us being a good or bad team but it could be the kind that makes the difference between us being bad and horrible.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)