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January 18th, 2011

What to Watch This Week

Editor's Note: This is our series of Monday Tuesday 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 dropped the final three games of their West Coast trip, falling to the Lakers on Friday (100-88), the Trail Blazers on Saturday (96-89) and the Warriors on Monday (109-100). Brook Lopez averaged 29.0 PPG while leading the team in scoring each time, supported notably by Sasha Vujacic, who added 15.3 PPG. Devin Harris struggled with his shot, connecting on just 10 of 32 attempts (11.0 PPG), but dished out 22 assists (7.3 APG).

Three Things to Think About
The Nets play three games this week, all at Prudential Center, as they kick off a five-game homestand. They'll first challenge the Jazz on Wednesday for 'An Evening of Russian Culture' (7 p.m., YES, WFAN 660 AM, Buy Tickets) and then open a back-to-back set against the Pistons on Friday (7 p.m., YES, WFAN 660 AM, Buy Tickets). They'll complete the week on Saturday, when they take on former Net Jason Kidd and the Mavericks (7 p.m., YES, WFAN 660 AM, Buy Tickets). Here's three things to focus on for the week:

  1. Can the team concentrate among the pitched tenor of trade talks?

    With trade rumors flying from all angles and outlets, the Nets have slumped to 10-31 at the season's halfway point, losing six in a row and 11 of 12. After a pair of blowouts against the Wizards and Bucks in which the Nets looked distracted, they rebounded with a strong performance in Phoenix ... only to let a 15-point, fourth-quarter lead evaporate and lead to an overtime loss. They remained competitive in the other three games of the road trip, but couldn't pull out a much-needed win.

    The schedule offers a five-game homestand to help the team turn things around, but with the Jazz (27-14) and Mavericks (26-14) lined up in two of the first three games (the 15-26 Pistons man the middle), it will prove tough to build momentum without a focused approach.

  2. Can Brook build on strong scoring showings to add boards to the total?

    Brook Lopez has been beasting opposing centers for three straight games, scoring at least 20 points in each and twice topping 30. He's done so efficiently, converting 34-of 53 shots (.642) and 19-of-22 free throws (.864) against seven turnovers.

    But he averaged only 5.3 rebounds (16 total), continuing a season-long mystery dropoff that has left him with only two double-digit performances and a lone double-double. A season ago, Lopez had logged 22 double-doubles through 41 games. That's a significant and troubling season-long slump. Perhaps the boost in confidence that comes from scoring success can spill over into rebounding as a, uh ... rebounder.

  3. How will Anthony Morrow's expected return impact the offense?

    While Sasha Vujacic has done a commendable job coming off the bench after arriving from the Lakers (12.1 PPG, .355 3P%), the Nets have undoubtedly missed shooting guard Anthony Morrow, whose deadeye accuracy from three-point range (.411 this season; .451 career) forces opponents to account for him as they attempt to pack the paint and prevent Brook Lopez or Devin Harris from finding their most efficient options.

    Morrow had emerged as the third option offensively (12.8 PPG), due to an improved midrange game, one that helped his three-point percentage increase to its normally astronomical levels after teams began playing him close. According to the Web site, Morrow is shooting career-bests from both 10-15 feet (.536) and 16-23 feet (.510) on the same number of per-game attempts he's averaged in each of two prior seasons.

    His return should ease the scoring burden Harris and Lopez have been carrying for so long, as well as allowing Avery Johnson to deploy Stephen Graham in a more focused role as defensive stopper, rather than jamming him into the starting five and hoping Graham slows down the opposing star enough to offset his offensive limitations. Morrow's offensive prowess could actually have a noticeable effect on the team defense, because the more times the ball goes in the bucket during a series of stops, the more confident the team becomes in its D.

Quick Hits
Courtesy of PR PR (Patrick Rees) and the boys over in the corner offices:

  • Over the last eight games, Sasha Vujacic is the Nets' second-leading scorer at 14.3 PPG while also averaging 2.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists. In those games, he is shooting .425 (45-106) from the field, .327 (16-49) from downtown and .889 (8-9) from the line.

  • Heading into the last game he played, December 14 against the Sixers, Anthony Morrow had made a three-pointer in each of his previous 21 games. Only two other Nets have ever had a streak of at least 20 games in which they made a three-point field goal (Jason Kidd, 28 and 24; Kerry Kittles, 20).

--Posted by Ben Couch at 11:30 a.m.

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