BROOKLYN, N.Y. — The Nets are fully healthy for the first time all year. It was the biggest game of the year up until this point. The crowd was packed and ready to explode.
But they laid an egg.
The match up was the Charlotte Hornets, a team that trailed the Nets by only three games entering Friday night. They out-rebounded, out-hustled and simply out-played the Nets in all facets and took them down, 123-112, Friday night at Barclays Center.
The Nets will remain the six seed, but something seems off. Their effort is rarely questioned — but the past two games has changed that. And now, they’ll head to Miami tomorrow and look to erase this from their minds.
What makes it particularly troubling is that Friday night looked like a continuation of the Wizards game two days ago. Both opponents came in to Barclays on losing streaks and left with easy wins. Not good.
Then, following two games at home next week, they’ll head out for a brutal seven-game stretch. These are as close to must-win games as it gets for the 32-32 Nets.
“I look at this way, the other teams are very urgent. We should look at every game the same,” said Kenny Atkinson. “This is the NBA, and this time of year teams really start to make a push. Every team has risen their level, but our level has stayed the same or even been below what it was. That’s not going to get it done.”
Losers of three straight, Charlotte came out with more energy and looked like they wanted it more. They went on a 15-2 run, 23-6 extended run in the second quarter and led by 18 entering halftime. Kemba Walker scored 16 points during the run, while the Nets coughed the ball up nine times, many on sloppy hand-offs and basic passes.
It was ultimately a 37-18 second quarter advantage that dug Brooklyn’s grave.
The Nets, behind a boost from DeMarre Carroll, Spencer Dinwiddie and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, trimmed a 21-point deficit down to 12 entering the fourth. The teams exchanged buckets, but D’Angelo Russell answered with a 7-0 run and brought it within nine.
But Charlotte never looked back.
They contained Russell, despite a line of 22 points and nine assists. He shot just 9-of-24 from the field, 1-of-7 from three and committed four turnovers. Nicolas Batum face-guarded him the whole way and it impacted the way he played.
“We tried to slow down D’Angelo (Russell). He had a big game against us a couple games ago. He was 9-of-24 tonight, so that was a big key for us to slow them down,” Batum said after the game.
Charlotte, meanwhile, shot 53 percent from the field, 43 percent from three and grabbed 10 offensive boards. Walker led the way with 25 points and seven assists.
These are games the Nets can’t afford to lose. These are games they shouldn’t be losing due to “lack of effort.” Whatever it is that they’re lacking, they ought to get it back because things are only going to get tougher.
It’ll have to start on the defensive end. They’ve held one opponent to few than 100 points since January 25, allowing an average of 113 points scored against them in the month of February.
Ask Kenny Atkinson.
“We have given up 68 points in the first half two games in a row,” said Atkinson It starts on the defensive end. It’s not about the lineups or working guys back in from injury. It’s about defense and we have to do a better job on that end. Right now, we just aren’t getting it done.”
Like the old adage says: Offense puts butts in the seats, but defense wins basketball games.
“We have to find some solution because we are out of sync right now.”
The Nets entered Friday night with a small cushion. Very small. Only three games separated them and the nine-seed Hornets, while the streaking seven-seed Pistons trailed the Nets by a game. After the Nets loss, they remained at six where they have sat for more than a month. The Hornets moved into eight place, replacing the Magic who are now in ninth, two and a half —plus the tiebreaker— behind the Nets.
WELCOME BACK, SPENCER
After missing the last 14 games, Spencer Dinwiddie returned to the lineup on Friday against the Hornets. Dinwiddie, who missed time due to torn ligaments in his right thumb, entered Friday averaging 17 points and five assists per game. A leading candidate for Sixth-Man of the Year, Dinwiddie has scored 25+ points in 10 games this year, which matches a franchise record. He also hit six “clutch” shots to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the game.
The Nets were 6-8 without him.
Needless to say, the Nets missed him. He was the steady, consistent force off the bench who could always be relied upon. His downhill style of ball opened things up not only for him, but for bigs and perimeter players. And perhaps most importantly, his return enables Kenny Atkinson to keep he or D’Angelo Russell on the floor at all times.
The last time the Nets were fully healthy? October 18, 2017. That night, Jeremy Lin blew out his patella tendon and was declared out for the season.
Welcome back, Spencer.
NO KAMINSKY BUYOUT, BUT…
Midnight passed and other than Pau Gasol, no big or small player was waived. Friday was the deadline for agents to get their players waived so they can sign with a playoff contender. There had been a lot of speculation that 1) the Hornets would waive and buyout Kaminsky and 2) the Nets would be an ideal landing spot for the 6’11” stretch-4 if he was waived.
Instead, Kaminsky was on the floor at Barclays Friday night, reaping damage on the Nets. Kaminsky finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and a block in 24 minutes, repeatedly thwarting Brooklyn comebacks. It was the most he’s played since the end of December. In fact, Kaminsky has been DNP’d by James Borrego, the Hornets head coach, 24 times in that stretch.
The Athletic’s Rod Boone, the former Newsday beat writer, asked Kaminsky post game about the game, the season and the city of Charlotte.
Kaminsky also professed his love for Charlotte. “I’ve never wanted to go anywhere else … and I want to make the most of my opportunity here.” pic.twitter.com/2h7Pgdy9n2
— Rod Boone (@rodboone) March 2, 2019
Borrego told reporters post-game that Charlotte couldn’t have won the game without Kaminsky’s contributions.
As for the Nets 15th roster spot, the Nets will continue to audition G Leaguers (and others?) on 10-day deals.
SEAN MARKS X NEW YORK YANKEES
Brooklyn Nets GM Sean Marks was down in Florida supporting the New York Yankees during Spring Training play. As a matter of fact, he was decked out in a full uniform and sat with Aaron Boone on the Yankees bench!
Remember, Marks and Yankees GM Brian Cashman are very close. He spent some time picking Cashman’s brain when he was first hired.
All these hires are going to take time, because we’re going to grow. We’re going to get a feel for what people like and where their specialties are. In the case of Natalie, I stole the idea. I didn’t come up with it on my own. But I had spent some time with Brian Cashman over at the Yankees and I’d seen how he had done some things. And he has a very similar setup there. I thought why not get a fresh set of eyes on the CBA? Somebody who can really just dive into it head first and come up with some new ideas.
For a different perspective, head on over to At the Hive, our Hornets sister site on SB Nation
The Nets will head to Miami for a back-to-back on Saturday, 7:30 p.m. After that, it’s back home Monday for Luka Doncic’s first game and Dirk Nowitzki’s last game at Barclays Center.