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January 3rd, 2011

What to Watch This Week

Editor's Note: This is our series of Monday morning looks at the week ahead for the Nets. We'll quickly review the weekend, give you three things to focus on and offer a couple quick hits to keep in your pocket while watching the games. Enjoy!

What Happened This Weekend
The Nets struggled in a pair of road losses, first falling to the Bulls, 90-81, on New Year's Eve before a 103-88 loss to the Timberwolves in the second game of the back-to-back. Devin Harris and Brook Lopez couldn't find any offensive consistency, with the point guard putting up 26 points (8-26 FGs) and committing 7 turnovers, though he dished out 17 assists, and the center adding only 25 points (7-18 FGs) and 12 rebounds while committing 10 turnovers. Travis Outlaw averaged 16.5 PPG, but connected on just 12 of 31 shot attempts. Sasha Vujacic tied a career-high with 22 points against the Timberwolves.

Three Things to Focus On
The Nets play three games this week, two of them at home. They'll first challenge the Bulls on Wednesday at Prudential Center (7 p.m., YES, WFAN 660 AM, Buy Tickets) before traveling to Washington for a game against the Wizards on Friday (7 p.m., YES, WFAN 660 AM, TV Companion). They'll complete the week by returning home Saturday to take on the Bucks (7 p.m., YES, WLIB 1190 AM, Buy Tickets). Here's three things to focus on for the week:

  1. Can the defense get back on track?

    After a six-game stretch in which the Nets held each opponent under 100 points winning three the team has done so only once in the last five games, all losses. They've been burned by second and third options like Luol Deng (19 points) and Darko Milicic (16 points), and haven't been able to keep within striking distance of the opposition, losing by an average of 17 points. That's in stark contrast to the early goings, when most games were competitive through the final minutes. Even now, the Nets remain middle-of-the-pack in PPG allowed (98.2., 16th), defensive efficiency (104.8, 18th), opponent FG% (.456, 16th) and opponent 3P% (.362, 18th).

    There's a chicken-and-the-egg conundrum developing between the offense's lack of production and the steadily declining defense. But if the defense can't keep things close, the current five-game slide will continue to snowball.

  2. Can Devin and Brook get their groove back?

    The Nets have relied heavily on Devin Harris and Brook Lopez for offense, and it seems the burden is beginning to drag down the team's top two players. Harris' poor shooting (8-26 FGs) and depressed point totals (10, 16) played a major factor in the subdued showings against Chicago and Minnesota, and Lopez's quiet nights on both ends of the floor only exacerbated the situation. Without those two having solid-to-good games, it's tough for the Nets to challenge opponents of any caliber.

  3. Who will provide the remaining scoring punch?

    Ever since Anthony Morrow went down with a hamstring injury against the 76ers on December 14, the Nets have been searching for a consistent third option, as well as a shooter to help relieve the packed paint and double (or triple!) teams that prevent Devin Harris and Brook Lopez from reaching peak effectiveness. Sasha Vujacic has provided energy since arriving from the Lakers, but has had some yo-yoing point totals in his eight games off the bench (high: 22; low: 5; avg: 11.3). Jordan Farmar's likely return after missing two games with a bone bruise in right knee should help

--Posted by Ben Couch at 1:43 p.m.

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