Friday, March 21, 2008

Game 68 - Dr Jekyll Doesn't Hide

This is the most schizophrenic professional sports team I have ever followed. I just don't get it.

After the Nets refused to get off the plane in Chicago, squandering a chance to put some distance between themselves and the sub-par teams it is fighting for the chance to be ritually sacrificed to the juggernaut that is Boston, after showing no heart whatsoever, here they come home, a house of horrific play, where they are dead (and I mean dead) even 17-17, and take apart Atlanta, winning the season series against the nearly as schizo Hawks, and looking very good doing it.

I mean, VC exerted his will on the game. RJ gave 100%, at the very least in the 2nd half. And LFrank coached the kind of game you expect from an NBA coach - ie, you wouldn't have to talk about how is lost-ness contributed to the loss-ness.

Tonite and vs Utah they looked like the team they have always looked like on paper - when you have VC and RJ going full bore, this is a hard team to defend, a hard team to beat. A team that's never out of it. When VC and RJ lead, the young guys feed off of it. Sean (Remember Me, Coach?) Williams and Josh (The Big Upside) Boone all elevated their games, caught in the tail wind envelope of the Big Two. Devin Harris is never gonna be JKidd, but that's because Devin Harris is gonna be Devin Harris - a different kind of player, one who can score and altho he cannot yet exert his will on a game like Kidd can (or on an entire season, as Kidd thrice did), he doesn't have to if VC and RJ decide they will. He, too, can be swept up in their jet trails as well, and when he does, you have another Big Three.

Commentators complained that not much defense was played, but I disagree. Sean Williams continues to shine in my estimation, with several key blocks. RJ shut down his man. VC got key rebounds and contributed to several key stops, keeping things from being worse than a 10 point deficit at the half.

Let's not lie - the Meadowlands cum Brendan Byrne cum Continental Airlines cum Izod Arena is barely half full most nights, and that half is not exactly enthusiastic basketball afficionados. Most nights the actual crowd would barely pack the RAC, and half the time most of the fans are there to see the opposition, be it LeBron or KG or even Hedo Turkoglu. It's hard to attribute the play of the Nets last night and vs Utah to the crowd lifting the team. And that's not to mention those ugly, ugly wins the Nets have on either side.

Last night, this Jekyll/Hyde team was solidly Jekyll and a pleasure to watch. So, why doesn't the good doctor show up more often?

I don't think anybody knows. I don't think VC knows why his play has been so bipolar, why it took til Game 68 for him to score near 40. I don't think RJ knows why he has been disappearing in the 4ths of late, only to catch fire the last couple of homestands, only to disappear in between on the road.

And I don't think the estimable Lawrence Frank knows why he steps outside his box to coach like a real coach some games, only to recede to his robotic substitutions and timeout patterns most other games.

I've seen some really, really bad Nets basketball over the years - the Butch Beard Embarrassment, Sam Boo-ie, Yinko Dare, Don Casey's not even walking wounded. Bad, bad basketball. Those teams didn't have games where they put it all together and you said, There - that's what we expected to see all season. No, how they played in those years was what we expected to see - cager crap.

But this team... Vince Carter, Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson, Nenad Krstic... So much talent you could afford to start Jason Collins as your 5th man, to take an occasional charge and to launch an occasional flat footed three. Two years ago this team won 49 games and had to collapse at the end of the year in order not to exceed the franchise record 52. They spit the bit (or the roach, as it were) vs Miami, the eventual NBA Champs, but still, they looked like a team that could contend for years to come.

Instead, for two years now, we've had nothing but underperformance.

Some of that, as I have documented this season, is attributable squarely on the slight shoulders of Frank, whom I hold responsible for at least 10 losses this year. Nets win them and they're 39-29 and 4th seed in the East, exactly where the Celtics players said they should be after their last meeting with the Nets. And that only assumes them winning 50% of games they lost at the end. They could be 49-19 at this point, with a little luck.

But some of those 20 losses are attributable to a lack of heart, or initiative, or what? On the FAN today, Benigno and Roberts were talking about Isiah and what a crappy coach he's been, about which they expressed some surprise, given how great not just a player but a field general and example he was in the Pistons' glory years. How come he can't seem to get that across to his players as a coach? Joe pointed out that it might be because Isiah as a player was a self starter - he needed little coaching, and thus lacks the ability to identify what it is that motivates those who are not by nature self-starters.

JKidd was a self starter. VC, when he first came over from Toto, was a self starter. RJ can be a self starter. Devin Harris can be a self starter. And some nights you can see it. VC took the team on his extravagantly talented shoulders last night, and so did RJ, and so did Harris. And you can't blame it on Atlanta not being that great, because they proved it against Utah a few nights earlier.

But then you have a game like the one vs the Bulls... "Game"?? No one on the Nets showed any game that night. I expected to see Armond Gilliam coming off the bench...

These guys are pros. VC and RJ have been around long enough to know the value of consistent professional play. Especially when you have so much young talent that is looking to you for their cues.

The Nets are showing that they can actually be better with Devin Harris than they were the last couple of years with JKidd.

The problem is, we never know if they're gonna show us they ARE better on any given night... Or just plain good, for that matter.

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