Nets Get the Run-Around in Houston
As the Brooklyn Nets headed into Saturday's game against the Houston Rockets, James Harden and Jeremy Lin were the obvious offensive threats. Harden has exploded in Year One as Option One, averaging 26.0 points, 4.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists; Lin twice submitted memorable performances against Deron Williams as a member of the Knicks last season.
And yet perhaps the most damage was done by center Omer Asik, who posted 20 points and 16 rebounds (6 offensive) in 32 minutes, helping boost the Rockets to a 60-24 advantage on points in the paint during a 119-106 Nets loss. Saturday, Asik shot 9-of-12, each shot coming within the restricted area. While Asik typically takes nearly all of his shots in that location – 95.6% of 339 attempts, per NBA.com – he has converted just .542 on the season.
"We’ve done a horrible job defending the other team’s center," said Nets interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo. "It’s simple as that. We can say we’re tired: fourth game in six nights, out on the road and all that; but this an excellent offensive team – it’s not like these guys don’t have big guys who can play. But we’re just getting annhiliated on points in the paint.
"We need to get some better individual defense and we certainly need better team defense. We had some guys who felt weren’t defeniding as well as we’d like to defend, but then we took them out and other guys went in and gave us defense, but couldn’t give us any offense. It took us a long time to finally get a good group that was giving us both."
That group was Deron Williams, Keith Bogans, Joe Johnson, Mirza Teletovic and Brook Lopez, which cut the lead from a third-quarter high of 20 to a fourth-quarter low of eight with 8:04 to play. Bogans picked up Harden defensively, but couldn't prevent a crushing pair of buckets following a missed three that stretched the advantage from 10 to 15.
Carlesimo went back to Wallace at that point, again trying a more conventional lineup, but the Nets could draw no closer. Lopez, who had struggled all game before an 11-point fourth, finally found a way to force the offensive action, scoring on all three attempts at the rim while earning six free throws (sinking five).
"We really wanted to establish ourselves early tonight, 1 through 5," Lopez said. "We thought we had a bigger team than them, but we didn’t really get around to that. We played at their tempo. They’re very good when they’re playing at that speed."
Speed and pace were recurring themes in many of the postgame comments, significant because the Nets play at a league-low 90.61 possessions per 48 minutes; the Rockets, a league-high 98.78. Houston crashed the boards on both ends of the floor, pulling down 14 offensive rebounds and 50 total, dominant differentials of +7 and +19, respectively. Off Net misses, Houston raced upcourt for 27 fast-break points (9-11 FGs). Off their own errant shots, they tallied 18 second-chance points, only undermined by mediocre shooting on the follow attempts (6-13 FGs).
This comes on the heels of a game against the Memphis Grizzlies in which the Nets trailed in all those same categories: 62-40 on points in the paint, 45-37 rebounding (15-9 offensive), 27-10 on second-chance points and 12-6 on the break. The Nets need to play under control, and that begins with smart offensive shot selection so the transition defense can set up ahead of the opponent. But the next step is defensive execution, and that has been lacking.
"We’ve had breakdowns, man," Johnson said. "Once you have one or two breakdowns, guys stop trusting one another. Then everybody kind of just locked in on their own man and that’s when you get out of sync. These last two nights, I think that’s been the issue for us and somehow, some way we’ve got to get back to trusting each other and playing good defense."
Visit the Nets vs. Rockets Game Center for a full recap of Saturday's 119-106 loss.