(Shane Larkin puts one up – @BrooklynNets)
There were no rabbits to be pulled out of a top hat Friday night in Brooklyn. The Nets welcomed a younger, more athletic Orlando Magic team to the Barclays Center, and the home team hung around for just long enough to make a win seem possible, only to stumble down the stretch.
The Magic held on for an 83-77 win, running its record to 3-0 against the Nets this season. Victor Oladipo and Nikola Vucevic each scored a game-high 20 points, while center Brook Lopez led the Nets with 17. Neither team cracked 40 percent shooting, and the three-point line–as it has been most of the season–proved to be the difference. Orlando converted on 13-of-27 from behind the arc, good for 48.1 percent, while the Nets went 7-for-22, including several misses in the final three minutes that could have closed the gap.
Brooklyn has now lost nine straight home games, although both the players and head coach acknowledged the team’s issues transcend the game’s location. General manager Billy King did not construct a Murderer’s Row lineup for the 2015-16 season in what was said to be a “bridge” year, and key injuries in the starting back court have only exacerbated those issues.
“I’m starting to sound like a broken record here at home,” head coach Lionel Hollins said. “Nine straight losses, most of them similar. … In that last quarter, we just couldn’t make a play, couldn’t make a shot, and again we come away with a loss.”
Both teams missed their starting point guard, but the Magic will eventually see Elfrid Payton return from a bum ankle. The Nets, on the other hand, must learn to live without Jarrett Jack, who will miss the remainder of the season with a torn right ACL. At the moment, that seems like an arduous task for Nets fans. In the three games without Jack, the Nets have averaged 81.7 PPG, and Brooklyn has failed to crack 80 in the last two.
“I think it’s bigger (than playing at home),” Lopez said. It’s essentially the same thing. There are little differences in what happens out there. I think of it is just mental errors, mistakes of that nature. … It’s obviously something we need to come together and figure out.”
Joe Johnson agreed, acknowledging that the mistakes “are pretty much the same thing.”
The Nets have gone cold in crunch time of late, with a number of factors contributing: wide open misses, the opponent’s defense, poor luck, and so on. The Nets have actually buckled down at the defensive end, which has alleviated some of their offense woes. At the very least, the defense has kept Brooklyn competitive. The Nets have held three of their last four opponents under 100 points after holding just one of their previous 14 opponents to less than 100. In the process, Brooklyn limited Orlando to opponent season-lows for points in a game (83), points in a half (37 in the first half), and points in a quarter (11 in the second).
“I think we know what we have to do as a team,” Johnson added. “All the guys have to step up. It just is what it is.”
“It wasn’t just a lack of execution, we had wide open shots,” Hollins said. “I think we missed three straight threes. Finishing is as important as executing–finishing on defense with a rebound, finishing on defense with a loose ball. We didn’t get loose balls, we didn’t get rebounds, and we didn’t make shots when we got wide open shots. It’s a combination of things.”
Making matters worse, the players intended to make up the team’s future–Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris McCullough–are both out with injuries. Hollis-Jefferson, who had been starting until he broke his foot in practice, is not expected to return until February, while McCullough has yet to play while working his way back from a knee injury suffered in college.
As has been noted ad nauseam, the Nets will not retain control over a first round pick until 2019, making Brooklyn’s situation all the more dire. With the loss, the Nets fell to 10-26 on the season, and they must turn around and play a road contest in Detroit on Saturday night.
Relief will not appear in the next two home games, either, as the San Antonio Spurs and New York Knicks will come to Barclays Center on Monday and Wednesday, respectively. The Nets have already lost to both teams by a combined 44 points.