Bigs giving Garnett-less Nets fits
March, 26, 2014
By Mike Mazzeo | ESPNNewYork.com
The Brooklyn Nets are probably going to start the playoffs on the road.
And they’re going to need Kevin Garnett in that first-round series and beyond -- even if it’s only for 15-20 minutes a night.
The Nets have gone 10-4 in Garnett’s absence as he tries to recover from back spasms. But after getting dominated inside by Anthony Davis (24 points, 14 rebounds) and Al Jefferson (35 points, 15 rebounds) in consecutive overtime losses, it is clear they miss their defensive anchor and rim protector.
In Wednesday night’s 116-111 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats at Time Warner Cable Arena, the Nets gave up 15 offensive rebounds and 16 second-chance points.
Brooklyn had no answer for Jefferson, who hit 15 of 27 shots.
“Nobody on the planet can guard him,” Paul Pierce told reporters in Charlotte.
In the previous two meetings between the teams -- only one of which Garnett played -- Jefferson had needed 32 shots to score 30 points.
And you get the feeling Garnett could have made things a little tougher for the Bobcats’ talented big man had he been on the floor Wednesday.
Bottom line: Brooklyn is going to need a healthy KG in the postseason to combat the likes of Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer or Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson.
The Nets have won 11 in a row at Barclays Center. But it’s because of their 10-21 start and losses like these last two -- losses in which they were dominated inside -- that they probably won’t start the postseason there.
Time to push? The Nets (37-33) played a franchise-record three overtime games on their road trip. They lost two, which dropped them 2 1/2 games behind the fourth-seeded/Atlantic Division-leading Toronto Raptors (40-31) in the process.
There isn’t much time to make up that ground. And Toronto’s remaining schedule is just as easy as Brooklyn’s. The Raptors will face three teams with winning records the rest of the way, while the Nets face two.
But Brooklyn’s focus should be on fine-tuning its offensive and defensive systems, and, more importantly, getting healthy and staying that way. Andrei Kirilenko (ankle) and Marcus Thornton (back) aren’t 100 percent and the Nets will need them come playoff time.
Plenty to crow about: Nets coach Jason Kidd has continued to point out the positives, and there are many.
Deron Williams is averaging 17.5 points on 48 percent shooting along with 5.8 assists and 1.9 turnovers in March.
Joe Johnson has been much better of late. While Pierce has been a force at power forward both offensively and defensively. Shaun Livingston continues to make an impact despite not needing the ball to be effective. And Mason Plumlee has emerged as a reliable rotation player in Garnett’s absence.
As a team, the Nets are executing better late in fourth quarters, making key shots and getting key stops.