Following the loss to the Heat, the Nets really scare me. Why? The Heat were NBA champs 19 months ago, but were 4-15 entering the game against the Clippers. Still, Dwyane Wade is a top tier talent, and everyone knows that the Heat will start playing well at some point. Sure enough, after beating the Clippers, they went into Phoenix the next night and beat the Suns, with Wade scoring 30+ both times and looking like he's finally in top form. The Nets likewise have started slowly this season, but they have three superstars in Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson, and the expectation is that they'll snap out of their funk at some point and make the playoffs, as they have every year since Kidd's arrival. Meanwhile, the Clippers haven't been able to beat actual bad teams during their 1-8 slide - it gets even tougher against good teams masquerading as bad teams.
Richard Jefferson is fourth in the NBA in scoring at over 25 per game. Jason Kidd is second in assists, and is 1.3 rebounds per game away from AVERAGING a triple double (he's at 11.4 ppg, 10.4 apg, 8.7 rpg and he has 5 triple doubles). Perennial all-star Vince Carter is averaging over 20 per game and shooting a career high 47.5% from the field. And the Nets are 9-12. Sure, they don't have a lot past those three guys with Nenad Krstic back out of action following ACL surgery, and backup point guard Marcus Williams out with a broken bone in his hand. But 9-12 would be disappointing if they surrounded those three guys with the Seton Hall Pirates. Like the Clippers, the Nets started the season strong at 4-1. Since then, they are 5-11, and have lost 3 straight. They have no discernible home court advantage, having lost 7 of their last 8 in the Meadowlands, with the one victory coming in overtime against the woeful Sixers.
- Matchup hell in LA. With Sam Cassell out, the Clippers have 5'10" Brevin Knight and 6'0" waif Dan Dickau to defend 6'4" Jason Kidd. And you can't switch Ross or Mobley onto Kidd, because that would leave the little guys on Jefferson or Carter, or maybe a power forward. Meanwhile, the offense pretty much needs Maggette on the floor, but that means he has to defend Jefferson or Carter. Given the Nets' lack of quality bigs, this would seem to be a great game to reduce Tim Thomas' minutes and give Maggette a bunch of minutes at the four.
- Big man hell in Jersey. The Nets really miss Mikki Moore (who'd have thought I'd ever write that sentence?) Nenad Krstic was looking like he'd make the Nets' big three into a big four a couple seasons ago. Then he tore his ACL last December. After surgery, he began this season playing limited minutes, but 12 games into the season the Nets shut him down to continue rehabbing the knee. Free agent addition Jamaal Magloire (a former all-star) has seen limited action and first round pick Sean Williams is talented but raw. The Nets are currently starting journeyman Malik Allen and veteran Jason Collins in the front court. Collins is a solid low post defender, and I'm sure Allen is a nice enough guy, but these two are offensively limited to put it nicely. Allen is averaging under 5 points per game, while Collins' 1.2 point per game has GOT to be the lowest average in the NBA for anyone who has started 90% of his team's games. (I didn't look it up, but I feel like I'm on pretty solid footing here.) Collins makes Quinton Ross look like an offensive juggernaut. Of course, if Collins just provides solid low post defense on Chris Kaman, he will have done his job.
- Speaking of Kaman. The Nets will play defense by committee on the Clippers' vaunted superstar (funny). Collins, Williams, Magloire and Josh Boone all average between 10 and 20 minutes per game and they could all see time on Kaman. Williams is the NBA's leading shot blocker on a per minute basis, but I would expect Kaman to go right at him and overpower him. Collins and Magloire probably have the best chances to stop the big lug. You can also look for Kidd to leave Knight to double team the post early and often. Chris' ability to get to the line will be a key. With so many mediocre post players, the Nets' bigs are not hesitant to use their fouls - after getting no love from the officials versus Shaq and Zo on Sunday, the Clippers' fortunes may hang on 10 or more FTA's for the center tonight.
- Speaking of the free throw line. After watching Maggette and Wade Sunday, we get to see the reigning king of free throws tonight. Richard Jefferson is the unlikely leader in free throws made per game at this point (Dwight Howard and LeBron both shoot more each game, but Jefferson makes more). Put some extra time on the TiVo, because with Jefferson and Maggette (and hopefully Kaman) parading to the line, the game will likely run long.
- Kidd on the block? Jason Kidd isn't happy, and it's giving him such a headache. It's unclear whether the Nets can do anything about it. Of course, unhappy superstars don't seem to be hurting the Lakers, Suns, Jazz or Pacers this season. Maybe it's the year of the 'just kidding, everything's fine' superstar. Or (less likely) the superstar who goes out and does the job he's paid 7 figures to do despite not getting exactly everything he wants.
- Cassell still a long way off. Sam Cassell, who at first thought he'd miss a single game with his strained calf, has now missed 6 and is not expected to play during this road trip. Given the Clippers' difficulty scoring points, this is not good news. Cassell's absence in this game deprives him of a chance to play against a guy who is actually OLDER than he is. The Nets backup point guard Darrell Armstrong is the NBA's second oldest player at 39.
- What's in a name? The Izod Center? Really? Is that where the Florida Gators play? Will the Nets put collars on their uniforms (and wear the collars up)? I hope they didn't pay a lot for the naming rights, given that the Nets will be in Brooklyn by 2009, and the Devils are leaving as well.