Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Game 31 - A character win

I thought I might avoid the negatives today, even as the game was progressing and it looked like the 13 point lead built in by the Magic in the first quarter (yet another end of quarter debacle - oops! Negative!) would never be eliminated. I turned on the game. It was 15-15. Soon it was Orlando by 5. Frank calls time out. Fine. Good. Right thing to do. Nonetheless, it was 31-18 at the end of the quarter, and came very close to being 34-18 as a 3 pointer bounded just off the back of the rim of Orlando.

In the 3rd the Nets were shooting 60%, but the lead did not shrink that much, because the Magic were shooting 64%.

Even 4 minutes into the 4th it still looked like the Magic had a lock on this game. Then came the defense, and the play of Darryl Armstrong and, of course J Kidd. But also, great selfless hustle by Vince Carter, and tough defense all around.

By mid 4th I was saying to myself, even if this results in a loss, for the Nets to come back and get it close, especially on the road, is quite an achievement.

As it turned out, Kidd, Armstrong and Carter, as well as Malik Allen and even Twin, played smart, aggressive basketball and took the game.

Frank used his whole bench, including Magloire, believe it or not. He called relevant well timed timeouts. He minimized his slavish adherence to a substitution pattern.

It was yet another gut check game, and as in the others of late, the Nets prevailed.

They are now 1 game under .500. They just beat a quality team, on their home court. They've won 5 out of 6, with a home game they should win on the horizon, where they could get even. Game 32, yeah, I know, but even is even. They're now 8-5 on the road. Perhaps that could be the foundation from which they get to 10 over or even 20 over.

That's how a fan thinks.

Okay, so now for reality...

True, the Nets have won 5 out of 6. But they won the last 3 by a total of 6 points (an average margin of victory of 2 points) and the 5 by a total of 15, an average of just 3 points a game. By contrast, the one game they lost during that stretch was by 18, so even in winning 5 of 6 they have been out scored.

How long this season can the Nets continue eking out wins?

They are now 15-16. Last year, after game 31, they were 13-18. Year before: 19-12. Year before: 11-20 with no JKidd.

In 2003-04 they were 17-14, less than 10 games away from having that record get Byron Scott fired.

Last year they got to .500 at Game 40, only to go on a West Coast swing where they lost 3 games in the last possession by 3 points. They finished the year at exactly .500. Won the first round over an overrated Toronto team. Nearly put out an equally overrated Cleveland team, which somehow made it to the finals only to be embarrassed.

This is the contemporary NBA. I'm a little surprised San Antonio doesn't win it every year. With all the hoopla about Boston they are not even remotely in the same league as the teams which had great seasons before. I expect the Celtics not to win the championship this year, and would lay even money that they don't win the East.

Nothing But Ability - That's the NBA today. No discipline, no smart play, no tenacious defense, no coaching. Except for San Antonio, and that's largely because the star allows himself to be coached, and, insodoing, sets the tone for the team.

A talented person is by nature somewhat schizophrenic - you can't rely on spleen night in, night out. Some nights you're gonna go 3-18. What makes up for this is coaching, and the willingness to be coached.

Frank aside, what you have in the league nowadays is just the erraticness of talent without discipline. The Nets are probably the best example of this. But look at Boston - are you telling me that after a decade of mediocre results at best, Doc Rivers has become a genius?

KG, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce together have won nothing. Not even a conference championship. They should be easily defeatable. But in a talent only league, with almost all players having no mental toughness or discipline, opponents get weak in the knees just reading the roster. They are defeated before they step out on the court.

Detroit and San Antonio are not thus intimidated. I would expect either one to prevail.

As for our team, the Nets have the ability, but the coach lacks the experience and humility to do what it takes to actually coach a team. He cannot help them when their talent fails them. He seems to be doing better now, but one, two and three point victories which are well in doubt into the final minute are not indications of a team that is clicking.

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