Thursday, February 27, 2014

Nets Fall Apart in Portland, Lose by 44 to the Trail Blazers 124-80

This was an opportunity for a  statement game for the Brooklyn Nets, as they came into Portland to face the LaMarcus Aldridge-less Trail Blazers. Entering this game as the Western Conference's fifth seed, the Blazers posed a true test for the Nets, who have been up and down after a scorching hot start to 2014 and are in the midst of a seven-game road trip along the west coast.

The Nets caught Portland at perhaps its weakest moment of the season: the Blazers were 39-18 coming into the game, but just 6-7 in their past 13 contests. Portland also played without Aldridge, their All-Star who averages 24 points and 11 rebounds per game, and talented sophomore big man Thomas Robinson. The Blazers were so depleted at power forward, in fact, that the 205-pound Dorell Wright started at the four spot. This came as a big relief for the Nets, who had been outrebounded by opposing teams nine times in their previous 12 games, including a game where Brooklyn set an NBA record for fewest rebounds in a game with a putrid 17.

This game also provided a chance for the Nets to get even with the Trail Blazers, as Portland took the first game of the season series with a 108-98 victory at Barclays Center back in November. In that game, Brooklyn started off hot, scoring 40 points in the first frame alone – but the Nets allowed Portland to hang around and eventually take a lead, only scoring 15 points in the third quarter.

Making his debut for the Nets was Marcus Thornton, the shooting guard who was acquired the day before the trade deadline. Thornton had missed his previous games for Brooklyn with a bad case of food poisoning after eating an exotic sounding dish that this writer would not recommend even without the knowledge that it can give you food poisoning:
...But seemed eager the night before gametime to get back into action:
Sounds like a pretty good night to me, but a game at the Rose Garden is always better.

The Nets returned to their starting lineup that they've featured for most of 2014, with Shaun Livingston (who missed the last game due to an injury to his tailbone) and Kevin Garnett (who missed the last game due to rest). The starters looked a step slow out of the gate, picking up four very quick fouls and starting off making just three of their first 10 shots. It didn't take long for the Blazers to sniff out Brooklyn's weak inside defense as Portland built a 13-6 lead less than halfway through the first.

Brooklyn would eventually take a one-point lead, but the team's defense collapsed when Mo Williams entered the game. The backup point man scored six points in his first six minutes. The Blazers, the league's fourth-best three-point shooting team, made three of six treys against Brooklyn in the first quarter, the NBA's second-worst perimeter defense.

Though the Blazers are primarily a jumpshooting team, their speedy guards got into the lane and to the rim with ease as Brooklyn's interior defense looked as weak as its outside defense. Kevin Garnett and Jason Collins, the Nets' only seven-footers, played five and zero minutes, respectively. Portland ended the first quarter with a 29-20 advantage.

Brooklyn looked even slower to begin the second period, amassing turnover after turnover. Their play was sluggish and disjointed, resulting in countless errant passes and missed assignments. Through two quarters, the Nets coughed up the ball eight times and committed 11 personal fouls, allowing plenty of easy points for the Blazers. Furthermore, the Nets' rebounding woes continued even with Aldridge and Robinson missing the game for Portland: the Blazers outboarded Brooklyn 27-13. Mason Plumlee and Collins did not play. Andray Blatche, however, logged 14 minutes, made one of six shots, and watched Blazers of all sizes whizz past him on defense.

Deron Williams, coming off a great game in Los Angeles, did his best to keep the Nets alive, scoring 10 points and adding three assists and two steals. Portland's strong offense, though, was simply too much for the sloppy-looking Nets to handle. The game began to border on blowout territory and Brooklyn trailed 58-34 at half. Those 34 points represented the fewest in any half by the Nets this season, and at times it truly did look like the worst basketball this team has played.

Things did not much improve through the rest of the game. The Blazers' offense just tore the Nets' defense apart seemingly the whole way through. The starters were pulled early in the third quarter – as the team was down by 29 points – and would not return. The bottom of Brooklyn's bench actually had some nice moments together, including several Plumlee alley-oop slams, but it ultimately did not matter. The Nets actually outscored Portland by one in the third quarter, but still trailed by 23 points.

This photo, taken with about seven minutes left in the game, pretty much sums it up:
Brooklyn could not come back from an atrocious first half and could not even make a close game of it in garbage time. Head coach Jason Kidd decided to call this one early and the Nets only continued to trail further and further. Portland claims the season series 2-0 as the Nets lose by a score of 124-80, a 44-point blowout, and move to 26-29 on the season.

The Nets will travel a thousand miles to take on the 25-31 Denver Nuggets tomorrow night. Denver defeated the Nets 111-87 in December. The Nuggets are absolutely reeling now, though, losing eight of their last nine games and falling out of the playoff picture. Brooklyn will look to continue its slow climb upward in the Eastern Conference standings tomorrow night in the Pepsi Center.

Final Score: 124-80, Trail Blazers.
Most Disappointing Stat: Hard to pick one, but getting massively outrebounded again by an Aldridge-less, Robinson-less team 53-29 was especially terrible and points to a real problem for this team.
Promising Stat: None. The Nets were outplayed in every conceivable way for 48. Garbage minutes and moral victories – even for Plumlee and Collins – do not count this late in the season.
Scariest Moment: Not for the Nets, but watching Wesley Matthews hurt his knee early in the game.
Best Moment: Nope.

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