Posted: Friday December 1, 2006 12:23AM; Updated: Friday December 1, 2006 3:21PM
Nets have little in their defense
Were the New Jersey Nets really this bad? This was supposed to be a Finals contender with three All-Stars to go with one of the league's best young centers in Nenad Krstic. Yet they had lost home and away to both Portland and Seattle, and extended a losing streak to six Tuesday by collapsing at home to the Bobcats.
"We haven't consistently defended anybody,'' said team president Rod Thorn, frustrated by his team's 5-9 start before Wednesday night's visit to Boston. "It's been too easy to attack us.''
The Nets will have to do without elderly Cliff Robinson, their best post defender, until January as he recovers from recent knee surgery. Their best perimeter defender -- a title that he argues belongs instead to Jason Kidd -- is Richard Jefferson, who is still recovering from the sprained ankle that sidelined him for five games. Jefferson is also their best finisher in transition, but let's not make the problem more complicated than it really is. The Nets haven't been able to run because their defense has been lousy. Everything boils down to their vacuum defensively. Thus they've stunk.
All you need to know about the dreary East is that the evergreen Celtics were leading the once-dominant Atlantic Division with a 5-8 record and threatening to open up a 1˝ -game lead thanks to a 77-62 advantage over New Jersey in the third quarter. Third-year point guard Sebastian Telfair was having a terrific night at the expense of Kidd when the Nets' captain said enough is enough. Kidd is 33 with a reconstructed knee fatigued by a 36-minute expenditure from the night before, yet he summoned five straight makes and two steals to awaken slumbering Vince Carter and his other teammates.
In the end the box score hinted at a routine 106-103 road victory for the division's top team of the last five years. Kidd had his usual near triple double of 19 points, nine assists and eight rebounds, Carter finished with 23 points, Jefferson with 18 and Krstic with 15. But the real story was in the 16 points Carter scored in the fourth (10 from the line), the help defense Krstic managed in lieu of a shot-blocker (the Nets are 28th in the league in blocks at 3.5 per game) and the emergence of 6-4 rookie Hassan Adams, the No. 54 pick in the draft from Arizona, who finished with 16 points while playing the entire fourth quarter and inspiring a Nets bench that had previously gone AWOL.
I picked the Nets to lose in the conference finals to the Heat, and that prediction doesn't look very bright considering the teams were a combined 12-17 through Wednesday. But it's hard to come up with any kind of promising forecast in this wasteland where the conference-leading Magic are too young, the Cavaliers are momentarily stumbling, the Pistons are misaligned and the Heat, Bulls and Wizards have joined the Nets in looking plainly awful.
It's far too early to draw firm conclusions, but so far the disparity between the two conferences is greater than I can ever remember. Based strictly on won-loss records, 12 of the top 14 teams are in the West and Orlando is the only Eastern side among the top six.
"We understand what's at stake,'' Jefferson said after the Boston win. "The difference between 48 and 54 wins could mean home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.''
In other words, they need to stop giving away 2006 games against the Blazers and Bobcats if they hope to play deep into '07.