Iâ€™m out of town for the weekend, going out to Palm Desert and hoisting a pint or two in honor of the passing of George Best (yes, thatâ€™s a bit ironic, but donâ€™t you think itâ€™s what he would want?). Iâ€™ll be back Monday.
This years version of the Nets reminds me of last seasonâ€™s version of the Lakers: They score a lot of points but canâ€™t stop anyone from scoring on them.
The Nets come into Staples Center Sunday night with the fifth best offense in the league with a rating of 110 (points per 100 possessions), but with a defensive rating of 109.5, fifth worst in the league. That gives them a â€œrating differentialâ€ of +0.5, which is pretty average and the reason they are hanging around .500. (In case youâ€™re wondering, the Lakers rating differential is -0.1, also pretty average.)
The Lakers just came off a win against another bad defensive team, Seattle. That was an interesting game offensively, as Kobe set up teammates early then had to sit due to fouls (from chasing Ray Allen around screens), forcing Lamar Odom into the role as primary scorer and he responded with 23 points. Brian Cook and Smush also had nice offensive games, and Mihm took advantage of the weak centers for the Sonics early (until Reggie Evans entered the game, anyway).
That was the good news, the bad news remains that without Kobe taking charge the Lakers are weak offensively and they were down eight points at the half. In the second half Kobe took charge, Odom stood around again and watched him, and the Lakers won handily. The Laker offense is in a Catch-22 right now.
The Nets enter Staples Center with an impressive line up of names: Jason Kidd at the point, Vince Carter at the two and Richard Jefferson at the three. Jefferson and Carter handle most of the scoring (24.3 and 20.1 points per 40 minutes played, respectively). While Carter is now and always has been a scoring machine (and is using the most possessions on the team by a wide margin), Jefferson has a well-rounded game â€” he is pulling down 9.2 rebounds (13.6% of the available boards) and is dishing out 4.2 assists per 40 minutes while shooting 50.5% (efG%). Kidd is still Kidd, getting 7.5 assists per 40 minutes with just 1.5 turnovers.
One thing to look for â€” the Nets get to the free throw line a lot. Carter is averaging 6.1 free throws attempted per 40 minutes and Jefferson is at 8.8. The Lakers, with their injury-depleted bench, need to be sure not to get into foul trouble against New Jersey.
By the way, donâ€™t laugh because the Nets are starting someone named Nenad Krstic at center (well, okay you can laugh at the name Nenad). The guy as a PER of 18 so far this season and has been solid on the defensive end.
Where New Jersey is weak defensively has been on the perimeter, where Kidd is not that fast anymore and Carter hasnâ€™t cared about defense since the sixth grade (but he can play it well when he wants to). Jefferson has been a good defender for his career but the three is where the Nets have been weakest statistically this season.
The Nets let teams shoot well (48.9% eFG%), donâ€™t create a lot of turnovers (16% of opponent possessions, 24th in the league) and they foul a lot (26th in the league in opponent free throws made per 100 possessions). All of which leads to other teams scoring a lot of points.
Which is what the Lakers are going to have to do to win â€” the question is will it be all Kobe or are other players going to pitch in enough to get the victory (like against Seattle)? The Nets may have been preseason favorites in the Atlantic, they may have some big names, but this is a winnable game for the Lakers. At home, this is the kind of games teams going to the playoffs do win.