New Jersey Nets: Christmas Countdown

W2W4: Nets at Wizards

December, 23, 2011
12/23/11
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The Nets will kick off the 2011-12 season on the road in Washington against the Wizards on Monday night.

Here’s what we’ll be watching for:

WILLIAMS VS. WALL: Deron Williams will match up with 21-year-old John Wall in what figures to be an electrifying battle on the court. Both these point guards can flat out do it all. Williams is obviously more polished at this stage of his career, but Wall is fast-emerging as he enters his second NBA season. Williams finished out training camp strong with a 21-point, seven-assist performance in which he drained four jumpers from the perimeter. If his shot is on, he’ll be a nightmare to defend. At the same time, Wall’s quickness will be a great test for Williams defensively. It’s this type of matchup that will make fans forget about the lockout.

DEBUT OF MEMO: Brook Lopez went down with a broken foot, so the Nets acted quickly, striking a trade with the Jazz for Mehmet Okur. The 32-year-old gives the Nets an added perimeter dimension, given his range extends beyond the 3-point arc. He’s a career 37.7 percent shooter from downtown. From all accounts, it sounds like he’s healthy coming off a major Achilles’ injury that limited him to just 13 games last season. We’ll see if that’s the case on Monday night.

OVER THE HUMP?: Kris Humphries is expected to start at power forward and receive about 24 minutes, according to coach Avery Johnson. Humphries will only have five minutes of preseason action and four practices under his belt, so don’t expect the 26-year-old power forward to be a double-double machine just yet. Nevertheless, Humphries was booed loudly in New York every time he touched the ball. It will be interesting to hear if he gets the same reception in D.C.

BE CAREFUL!: The Nets had an alarming 46 turnovers in two preseason games vs. the Knicks. Johnson certainly wasn’t happy with his team’s “sloppy” effort. The Nets were basically implementing an entirely new offensive system in training camp, but they’re going to have to find some continuity soon -- especially since they play 10 of their first 14 games on the road.

ROOKIE WATCH: This year’s first-round pick MarShon Brooks will make his regular season NBA debut on Monday night. The Nets ranked 28th in scoring last season, so they’ll be looking for Brooks to give them a lift in that department coming off the bench. The 22-year-old Brooks can create his own shot off the dribble, and will be given every opportunity to do so in the Nets’ offense.

Christmas Countdown: Prediction

December, 22, 2011
12/22/11
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Continuing through Dec. 23, ESPNNewYork.com is running a series called "Christmas Countdown" examining a hot topic each day that involves the New Jersey Nets.

Today's Hot Topic: Prediction

Somewhere between 25-30 wins. A borderline playoff team at best.

That’s my prediction for the Nets this season.

Now, that prediction comes with a massive disclaimer. If the Nets are somehow able to land Orlando center Dwight Howard, I reserve the right to change my prediction.

Eight teams are going to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. Baring any injuries of seismic proportions, I expect the Heat, Bulls, Knicks and Celtics to get in. The Magic join that list as long as they keep D-12. The Hawks have qualified for the postseason four straight times, while the Pacers have a young and emerging roster only made better by the addition of David West. And the Sixers are probably going to hover around the .500 mark like they always do.

All that being said, it’s going to be tough for the Nets to make the playoffs this season. Deron Williams is an absolutely phenomenal point guard, and Brook Lopez looks like he could be a legitimate 20-and-8 center this season. But that duo alone isn’t going to be enough to get the Nets over the “Hump.” Pun intended.

Damion James and MarShon Brooks look like they’re going to have a big impact this season, but they’re young and inexperienced. Kris Humphries is back, but he looks like he’s a ways away from being the double-double machine he was last year. Anthony Morrow and Shawne Williams are lethal 3-point weapons, but can they create their own shots?

Remember, this is a Nets team that has gone 36-128 over the past two seasons. A Nets team that went just 5-36 on the road last season and 13-39 in the conference. A Nets team that ranked 28th out of the 30 NBA teams in scoring.

Coach Avery Johnson isn’t trying to pull anyone’s chain when he says this team now is better than the one he had at the beginning of the 2010-11 campaign. The problem is -- as a result of the NBA lockout -- the Nets haven’t had the practice time to develop the type of cohesiveness that a team with seven newcomers (counting DeShawn Stevenson) needs to develop. And playing 10 of their first 14 games away from the Prudential Center isn’t going to help in that respect.

As Johnson said after a two-game preseason in which his team had 46 turnovers, the Nets are “far from a finished product.”

Unlikely most seasons, there is no margin for error. No time for tinkering. Johnson is going to have to find a rotation quickly.

The Nets are very well-positioned for the future. They’ll have a ton of cap space into the summer of 2012 and have assets like Lopez and several first-round draft picks that they can package together in a trade.

But their roster right now -- as currently constituted -- still leaves much to be desired.

That’s why I’m picking them to win 25-30 games. The playoffs appear to be slightly out of reach at this point, but as the New York Lottery Jackpot slogan goes, “Hey, You Never Know.”

Christmas Countdown: Player Spotlight

December, 21, 2011
12/21/11
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Continuing through Dec. 23, ESPNNewYork.com is running a series called "Christmas Countdown" examining a hot topic each day that involves the New Jersey Nets.

Today's Hot Topic: Player Spotlight

The Nets didn’t trade for Deron Williams to watch the 27-year-old point guard leave at the end of this season.

They can’t afford to have Williams bolt after playing just 78 regular season games in a Nets’ uniform.

That’s why the Nets are exhausting all of their efforts in an attempt to make sure their superstar stays happy.

Williams has reiterated his desire to remain with the organization on a number of occasions. But, he says, that will only happen if the Nets put the right pieces around him.

If.

It’s the two-letter word Nets fans have come to hate. Unfortunately, it’s a two-letter word they’ll keep hearing until Williams signs his John Hancock on a five-year, max contract extension worth over $100 million to stay with the Nets before they move to Brooklyn in 2012-13.

The Nets went into the offseason hoping they could upgrade their roster and position themselves as a contender in the East. They had a ton of cap space, but their main free agent targets signed mega-deals elsewhere. So GM Billy King went with Plan C and re-signed power forward Kris Humphries, while maintaining flexibility going forward.

Williams has made it no secret that he wants to team up with Orlando center Dwight Howard, forming the most dominant point guard-center tandem in the NBA. The Magic have made it known that they aren’t willing to trade Howard at this particular time, but that could change down the road. Given that they still have Brook Lopez and a bevy of first-round draft picks, the Nets remain the favorites -- along with the Lakers -- to land Howard.

Williams has said he’ll definitely stay if the Nets wind up with Howard. So there’s that.

On the court, the Nets are expecting a healthy season out of Williams. The two-time All-Star averaged nearly 13 assists for New Jersey after being dealt there in 2010-11, but shot a low percentage because he was hampered by an injured right shooting wrist. That shouldn’t be the case this season.

And with Williams returning to his dominant form, the Nets -- as currently constituted -- will most definitely make a run and the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.

Williams has been a winner throughout his basketball career: whether it’s been in high school, college or the professional ranks. He even told reporters he gets “grumpy” when he loses.

The Nets are positioned to have success now and possibly down the road. But that won’t happen unless they retain Williams.

The Nets may be moving into a $1 billion arena next season, but they’ll be worthless if they don’t have any marquee attractions.

D-Will and D-12 or bust it is then.

Christmas Countdown: Forwards, march (!)

December, 19, 2011
12/19/11
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Continuing through Dec. 23, ESPNNewYork.com will run a series called "Christmas Countdown" examining a hot topic each day that involves the New Jersey Nets.

Today's Hot Topic: Forwards, march (!)

The Nets may have rid themselves of Travis Outlaw and his four-year, $28 million albatross via the amnesty clause, but they still have plenty of issues to address at forward.

Consider: As of Monday -- a week before the team’s season opener in D.C. -- their projected starters at the 3 and 4 spots are second-year pro Damion James and veteran journeyman Shelden Williams.

Try to name a worse starting forward tandem in the NBA. You’d be hard-pressed to find one.

Williams is a solid rotation big man who possesses the intangible qualities NBA coaches love -- in bench players. The Nets clearly need to upgrade at power forward, but the prevailing thought is that they want to wait and see if they can land Orlando center Dwight Howard before the season begins. They currently have $18.9 million in cap space, so they have the ability to take on the bloated contracts of Hedo Turkoglu and Chris Duhon.

Kris Humphries appears to be their fallback option if they can’t meet the Magic’s steep demands for their franchise player. Humphries is coming off a career season in which he averaged a double-double in New Jersey, and he may have to settle for a short-term deal in an effort to prove he’s not just a one-year wonder. If Humphries is agreeable to signing a one-year pact, he’d be eligible to be dealt on March 1, and could serve as an expiring contract in a Howard blockbuster. Andrei Kirilenko was allegedly another option -- and the Nets have spoken highly of him -- but he’s hurt and may stay and play in his native Russia.

In the offseason, the Nets contemplated moving 23-year-old Brook Lopez from center to power forward, but had to abandon those plans after failing to score Tyson Chandler or Nene in free agency.

As for the small forward spot, James will likely get the starting nod due to his defensive prowess. He’s probably the Nets’ best wing defender given his size and strength, and did an admirable job guarding Carmelo Anthony on Saturday afternoon, holding the Knicks swingman to 7-for-15 shooting. Coach Avery Johnson has said James is going to be every opportunity to try and contain the hybrid forwards that caused so many nightmares for the Nets last season.

Behind James is ex-Knickerbocker sharpshooter Shawne Williams, who connected on 40.1 percent of his 3-point attempts in 2010-11.

Stephen Graham sits third on the small forward depth chart, but he’s an offensive liability and his $1.1 million salary is only guaranteed unless he makes the team out of camp. And then there's Ime Udoka, whose contract is also unguaranteed.

As for the wildcard, it’s Dennis Horner, an NBDLer who made quite an impression in his NBA debut. And then there's second-round pick Jordan Williams, who hasn't been able to practice recently due to dehydration issues. The 21-year-old was a tremendous rebounder at Maryland, but he's still acclimating himself at the NBA level.

There’s no question forward is the Nets’ weakest position, and one that needs to be improved immediately.

Christmas Countdown: Backcourt breakdown

December, 18, 2011
12/18/11
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Continuing through Dec. 23, ESPNNewYork.com will run a series called "Christmas Countdown" examining a hot topic each day that involves the New Jersey Nets.

Today's Hot Topic: Backcourt breakdown

Last season, only one player in the NBA averaged 20 points and 10 assists per game: Deron Williams.

Nets GM Billy King pulled off a blockbuster trade so that Williams could anchor his team's backcourt.

The superstar point guard can do it all, from finding an open teammate to finishing at the rim off dribble-drive penetration. He's also capable of playing tenacious defense when he wants to. And most importantly, he's healthy coming off offseason surgery on his right shooting wrist.


AP Photo/Tom HeveziDeron Williams (left) and Anthony Morrow will be the Nets' starting backcourt.


Joining Williams in the Nets' starting backcourt this season will be Anthony Morrow, the second most-accurate 3-point shooter in league history (.465). Only former Bull Steve Kerr has a better 3-point field goal percentage than Morrow, who briefly surpassed Kerr for the honor in 2010-11.

Morrow isn't a great defender by any means, but he has the uncanny ability to make shots in crunch time, and opposing defenses won't be able to key in on him late in games because the Nets will also have long-range threat Shawne Williams on the floor as well.

The Nets finished 28th in points per game last season, so they'll be looking to rookie MarShon Brooks to provide a scoring spark off the bench. Brooks was the second leading collegiate scorer in the nation at Providence last year, and coach Avery Johnson wants the 22-year-old to be aggressive -- even at the expense of hoisting up some bad shots.

Brooks loves to create off the dribble and has a potent fadeaway jumper from about 15 to 20 feet. Like Morrow, his defense still leaves much to be desired, but he's young and if there's anybody who can help him improve on the defensive end, it's Johnson.

Jordan Farmar and Sundiata Gaines will serve as the team's backup point guards behind Williams. Farmar or Gaines may also play with Williams on occasion, allowing the two-time All-Star to shift over to the two-guard spot and operate off screens without the ball in his hands. Farmar needs to improve his shot selection, while for Gaines, it's all about consistency.

Johnson was pleased that all three of his point guards played overseas during the lockout, and feels like they'll be ready to play from the start of the 2011-12 campaign.

Given the uncertainly at power forward, there's no question that the guard spot is the Nets' deepest position right now.

Christmas Countdown: Bench boss

December, 16, 2011
12/16/11
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Continuing through Dec. 23, ESPNNewYork.com will run a series called "Christmas Countdown" examining a hot topic each day that involves the New Jersey Nets.

Today's Hot Topic: Bench boss

“It’s a process.”

“This is what I signed up for.”

Nets coach Avery Johnson likes to recycle those quotes a lot.

That’s what happens when you go from coaching a perennial playoff contender in Dallas to coaching a rebuilding team full of youth and inexperience in New Jersey.


Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty ImagesAvery Johnson knows what it's like to be a player during a shortened season.


Avery arrived in the Garden State with the highest regular-season winning percentage (.735) of any coach in NBA history. But a 24-58 campaign in 2010-11 changed that, and Avery now sits in 17th place on the all-time list in that category.

The Nets made a lot of strides in Johnson’s first season on the bench, winning twice as many games as they did in 2009-10. Still, they ranked 28th in scoring and were a middle-of-the-pack team defensively.

This season, Johnson sounds optimistic that his team can continue to improve on both ends of the floor. During practice this week, players were heard yelling on the court in an effort to improve communication on the defensive end. On offense, the Nets are going to run a lot of motion with point guard Deron Williams sometimes playing off the ball and coming off a myriad of different screens.

Given that training camp is only two weeks long, implementing his system is certainly a daunting challenge, but Johnson is up for it. He knows more growing pains loom on the horizon, but he’s ready and willing to endure them.

Johnson has certainly earned the respect and admiration of his players. Williams called him a “player’s coach,” and center Brook Lopez agreed.

“He’s hard on us, but he’s been here before. He played in a lockout season so he knows what it’s like,” Lopez said. “He knows it’s condensed, so he definitely knows how to run practices in this situation.”

Johnson’s task in 2011-12 will be maintaining a positive relationship with Williams while making sure players like Lopez (rebounding) and rookie swingman Marshon Brooks (defense) improve.

With a healthy Williams, Lopez, Anthony Morrow, Shawne Williams, Brooks and an upgrade at power forward, the Nets can be a playoff team in the Eastern Conference this season.

And if they’re somehow about to land Dwight Howard from the Magic, they can become an instant contender.

For now, that’s just a pipe dream, though. Getting the team to the playoffs? It may be a process, but it’s certainly a realistic goal.

Christmas Countdown: Worst-case scenario

December, 15, 2011
12/15/11
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Continuing through Dec. 23, ESPNNewYork.com will run a series called "Christmas Countdown," examining a hot topic each day that surrounds the New Jersey Nets.

Today's Hot Topic: The team's worst-case scenario

As it stands right now, the Nets' starting five looks like this: Deron Williams, Anthony Morrow, a small forward to be named later, Shelden Williams and Brook Lopez.

Go ahead, hit the panic button if you must. This really is as bad as it gets.


Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty ImagesSigning Shelden Williams doesn't exactly signify a reversal of fortune for the Nets.


The Nets came into this offseason with obvious needs at small forward and power forward. Two days before their first exhibition game, they still haven't fully addressed them.

Ugh.

The Nets still have $22 million in cap space, so they're going to sign someone. As I post this blog, small forward Shawne Williams reportedly has picked the Nets over the Knicks, and Andrei Kirilenko has been mentioned in reports.

But the Nets won't be getting Tyson Chandler or Nene. Both ended up elsewhere. They threw the kitchen sink at the Magic in order to land Dwight Howard, but couldn't meet Orlando's steep demands.

Nets fans are understandably upset. They're already beginning to fear the worst: Their mediocre roster causes Deron Williams to become upset, and the Nets are forced to trade him for a package of young players and draft picks so they don't lose him for nothing.

Fans paying outrageous prices to see a superstar-less team in Brooklyn next season? You can fuhgeddaboudit!

Here's an interesting fact: Nineteen teams won more games last season than the Nets have in the last two combined (36).

They may be two seasons removed from 0-18 and 12-70, but it feels like it just happened, doesn't it?

Travis Outlaw and his four-year, $28 million albatross are still on the books. And Nets fans may start an occupy Prudential Center movement if the team doesn't waive him via the amnesty clause.

The thought of Stephen Graham playing offense and Johan Petro jacking up 15- to 17-foot jumpers?

Yuck.

Chances are, Outlaw and Graham won't be on the roster when the season begins. But you never know.

After all, who would've thought that two days before their first preseason game, the Nets' prized offseason acquisitions would be Shelden and Shawne Williams?

Another offseason full of failure, wouldn't be a shock, though.

No championships. Lots of bark but no bite. Same Old Nyets. For now.

Christmas Countdown: Best-case scenario

December, 14, 2011
12/14/11
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Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty ImagesThe hot item this Christmas: Dwight Howard action figure. Life-size, even.
Continuing through Dec. 23, ESPNNewYork.com will run a series called "Christmas Countdown," examining a hot topic each day that surrounds the New Jersey Nets.

Today's Hot Topic: The team's best-case scenario

What would be better than landing Orlando center Dwight Howard?

Nothing.

Therefore, it's easy to deduce that the best-case scenario for the Nets this offseason would be pairing D-12 with Deron Williams to form the most dominant duo in franchise history.

No offense, Dr. J and John Williamson.

While it feels like the "Dwightmare Before Christmas" right now, D-12 is the must-have present this holiday season. Every team would love to net the NBA's most dominant big man, but there's only one of him in stock, and right now the Nets' offer -- which starts with 23-year-old center Brook Lopez and two future first-round picks -- may end up trumping all the rest.

Imagine Williams throwing alley-oops to Howard. Howard commanding double-teams and kicking it out to two of the most prolific 3-point shooters in NBA history -- Anthony Morrow and Hedo Turkoglu. Wing players blowing by Morrow and Turkoglu only to be rejected inside by Howard.

The possibilities seem endless. That elusive NBA championship suddenly becomes a realistic goal for the franchise.

Last season, Howard averaged 22.9 points, 14.1 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game. He had an NBA-high 227 dunks. Opponents shot an league-worst 37.3 percent when Howard was the on-ball defender.

Essentially, the Nets are going to do everything to make sure Howard ends up under the Christmas tree. His acquisition would most definitely persuade D-Will to stay when the team moves to Brooklyn in 2012-13. The superstar point guard even said so himself.

Howard and Williams would then be tasked with recruiting players to join them. Sounds easy. After all, who wouldn’t want to play with those two?

If they don't end up landing D-12, the Nets still would do well to end up with upgrades at power forward and small forward. While Kris Humphries andJosh Howard wouldn't be Dwight Howard, the pair would certainly be the next-best thing.

The Nets would be able to compete for a playoff spot. No small feat for a team that's won just 36 games the last two seasons.

The Nets have plenty of salary cap space and assets to move via trade. They have a contingency plan, but D-12 represents perfection.

Christmas Countdown: It's a sprint, not a marathon

December, 13, 2011
12/13/11
11:30
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Continuing through Dec. 23, ESPNNewYork.com will run a series called "Christmas Countdown," examining a hot topic each day that surrounds the New Jersey Nets.

Today's Hot Topic: Breaking down the team's schedule

Six games in eight nights to open the season. Ten of their first 14 games on the road. Two back-to-back-to-back stretches.

Nets point guard Deron Williams needed only one word to describe his team's lockout-shortened 66-game schedule: "Ugly."


AP Photo/Bill KostrounNets rookie MarShon Brooks has fresh legs; he's only 22. But he never played more than 32 games a season at Providence. Now he faces 66 in quick succession.


Normally, NBA teams play an average of 3.5 games per week. But during this lockout-shortened season, teams will play 3.9 games per week. Days off will be limited, and rest will be hard to come by. Just don't think the Nets are willing to use any of that as an excuse. Their coach won't let them.

"I told the team when I first met with them, this is an unusual year with unusual challenges and circumstances," Avery Johnson said last week. "But we're not gonna be a team to complain or make excuses.

"It is what it is. Six games in eight nights. Three in a row. I don't think there was any favoritism with the way the schedules were made."

Johnson has had plenty of experience dealing with a lockout. In 1998-99, he served as the point guard of the NBA champion Spurs. What many people forget is that San Antonio lost eight of its first 14 games. But the veteran-laden squad turned it around, winning 31 of its last 36 contests to close the regular season 37-13. A 15-2 playoff run and a championship parade followed.

Right now, the Nets' oldest player is reserve forward Stephen Graham, 29, who isn’t guaranteed to make the roster. Chances are, they’re going to add more experience before the beginning of the season, but the point is, they're young ... and inexperienced.
  • Trivia question: Which Nets player has participated in the most games in his career?
  • Answer: Travis Outlaw, 27, who may get amnestied by the team, with 482 games over eight seasons.

The Nets play 14 of their first 22 games away from the Prudential Center, but if they can somehow overcome that daunting stretch and remain in the race, it gets a lot easier from there. Overall, New Jersey actually plays the fourth-easiest schedule in the league in terms of 2010-11 winning percentage.

Just don't tell the Nets that. They probably wouldn’t believe you.

Williams dreads looking at any calendar layout of the schedule, because he notices just how few breaks there really are. Asked what advice he'd give the younger players on the team, Williams replied, "Get ready to hit a wall."

Christmas Countdown: Dominant storyline

December, 12, 2011
12/12/11
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Starting today and continuing through Dec. 23, ESPNNewYork.com will run a series called "Christmas Countdown," examining a hot topic each day that surrounds the New Jersey Nets.

Today's Hot Topic: The team's dominant storyline

If there's anyone who can pull off a blockbuster trade for Orlando center Dwight Howard, it's Nets GM Billy King.

During his 12-year career as an executive, King has made 40 trades. He's dealt for Deron Williams. He's dealt away Allen Iverson. He's orchestrated four three-team trades and two four-team trades.


AP Photo/Bill KostrounVisions of a Dwight Howard trade are dancing in Billy King's head.


King has been there and done it all. He's not afraid to make a bold move, and he's certainly not afraid of failure.

Not all his moves have panned out. After all, despite having a franchise player in Iverson, King never was able to win an NBA championship. He tried and tried to piece together a perfect supporting cast around his superstar guard. It just never worked out. After King acquired Dikembe Mutombo in a blockbuster trade with Atlanta, the Sixers advanced to the Finals in 2001, but they ran into the Shaq and Kobe dynasty and were eliminated in five games.

That was as close as King has ever gotten to winning it all.

King has been quiet of late, trying to figure out how to land Howard in order to give his team arguably the most dominant center-point guard tandem in the entire league.

Last season, King struck out on Carmelo Anthony, then hit a home run by getting Williams. He’s trying to hit a grand slam in 2011-12 by landing Howard.

In February, King said the Williams deal was "definitely the biggest trade I ever made."

His reasoning was simple. In Philadelphia, he already had Iverson. In New Jersey, he had no superstars. And now, not even two seasons into his tenure, he already has a chance to land two.

And with the Nets set to move to Brooklyn and the $1 billion Barclays Center in 2012-13, having two marquee attractions would go a long way toward drastically increasing the organization's chances of winning both on and off the court.

The Nets will have to sacrifice the likes of 23-year-old center Brook Lopez and a pair of future first-round draft picks to get Howard, but it's a sacrifice King is more than willing to make.

Two seasons ago, the Nets got off to an 0-18 start and became just the fifth team in NBA history to lose 70 or more games. Now, they're just a superstar away from becoming Eastern Conference playoff contenders with title aspirations.

If King's able to produce Howard, the new slogan in Brooklyn won't be "fuhgeddaboudit" anymore.

It'll be, "It's good to be king." Billy King.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Brook Lopez
PTS AST STL MIN
20.7 0.9 0.5 31.4
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsK. Garnett 6.6
AssistsD. Williams 6.1
StealsD. Williams 1.5
BlocksB. Lopez 1.8