Saturday, April 29, 2006

Nets 97, Pacers 88

Now was that so difficult?

Actually and seriously, if the Nets do go on a long post-season run – and by that we mean to the conference finals – this will probably be looked at the game as the springboard.

Give credit to Carter. He had three huge baskets down the stretch as the Pacers closed the gap. But you knew he had it in him. Krstic’s growth is just fun to watch. He went 10-for-16. Of course, many of them are wide-open looks. But Richard Jefferson said you can’t underscore him for that. When he’s on, the Nets have two go-to guys down the stretch and two others you can’t forget about (RJ and Kidd).

“Outside of Dirk, I think he’s best shooting big man in this league,” Jefferson said of Krstic. “I don’t think there’s any big that shoots the ball as well as him consistently every single night. He’s really making his mark.”

High praise, indeed.

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The Pacers, like most teams, are really hamstrung to defend the Nets’ pick and roll when Krstic is going. It all starts with Carter and the double teams he demands when he drives. Then you have RJ and Kidd to consider. Krstic is seemingly all alone on an island.

“I’m always surprised anytime he gets an open shots,” Jefferson said. “But sometimes you’ve got to pick your poison. We had Vince rolling or Vince driving the ball. It’s tough to guard him one-on-one, let alone on a pick-and-roll.”
“Vince puts so much pressure on you and Indiana collapses,” Kidd added. “They want you to beat them from the outside and Curly is shooting the ball so well, with confidence. But Vince is making all the right plays too. It shows in his assists. He draws so much attention, but he understands how to play the game. He makes the game easy.”

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From the you-can’t-make-this-up-department: A female Pacers fan (probably in her 30’s) refused to sit down early in the fourth quarter. The fan sitting behind her complained to security. Security came (in the form of someone who looked a lot like Gheorghe Muresan). She still refused to sit down. More security came. She caved and finally sat down.

But she wept for the entire fourth quarter, like her teddy bear had been stolen.

Not very Hoosier like.

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Game 5, by the way, is at 7 p.m. on Tuesday. NBA-TV has it nationally. MY-9, locally. WBBR 1130 AM, with the esteemed Chris Carrino and Tim Capstraw, kickin' it on the mike, yo.

Friday, April 28, 2006

From O'Neal to 'Oh, no!'

The Nets have their problems, quite obviously. Down 2-1 in a best-of-7 doesn’t look so good when you’re the No. 3 seed and you’re up against a No. 6 team that was talking about shopping Jermaine O’Neal once the season was done.

Couple of quick thoughts on O’Neal. His 37 points on 12 of 15, 15 rebounds and four blocks were all parts motivation and preparation – the byproduct the Nets feared after his foul-plagued efforts in Game 1 and 2, coming back home and paying a $15,000 fine for his measured complaints against the officials.

Richard Jefferson described O’Neal’s game as a “damn near historic performance.” We’ll go out on a limb and say history like that will be difficult to repeat in Game 4 tomorrow. In addition to the Nets being the more desperate team, O’Neal doesn’t usually put together big games consecutively. In fact, he had four 30-plus scoring games this season and averaged only 16.5 points in the four following games.

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That said, the Pacers dismantled the Nets on both ends in their 107-95 win. O’Neal stopped trying to back in every shot, kept it moving, turned toward the basket and knocked them down – even from outside his preferred range.

Anthony Johnson, of course, is still flooring everyone here. The Net cast-off had 25 points and eight assists and no turnovers….Sensing the criticism Jason Kidd is getting for his defense, Lawrence Frank was quick to defend the Nets’ captain today.

“I can break down every one of AJ’s scores last night, and maybe eight points were with Jason guarding him,” Frank said. “It’s not apples-to-apples.”

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If the Nets can get stop pulling the ball out of the basket, Kidd is on the record for wanting to run more. Both after the game last night and today, he reiterated the topic today as “something we have to look at."

The Nets were a much-improved halfcourt team this year, but this could be Kidd’s current preference on the road given the desperation going into Game 4. It’s harder for jump shooters to be consistent on the road (see VC: 8-for-11 in the first half, 0-for-10 in the second). And Krstic did not have a good game last night (nine points, 3-for-9, fouled out in 28 minutes) and let his frustrations get the best of him.

Said Nenad: “When I get it in the post, they shrink the floor. I was thinking I could go into the paint, but there’s a lot of people in the paint. And on pick and pops, sometimes they go under. . . ...I have to watch the tape. But they’re doing a lot of things to confuse me.”


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The Nets will be able to see what they’re made of in Game 4…In past years, the Nets were always as good as their desperation in the playoffs (excluding last year’s first-round matchup against Miami or whenever they were overmatched in the Finals)…. A win today, and the Nets are smelling like a rose with two of the last three at home. A loss and they’re on the brink of having to answer lot of questions they don’t want to hear.

The Pacers’ motivation came ever so eloquently from the ever-philosophical Mr. Stephen Jackson:

“We have a chance to put a foot on their throat and we have to take advantage of it.”

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Peja’s questionable again for Game 4…Tinsley out again. . . We’ll blog after tomorrow’s game is finished and the game story is sent, if you can’t wait for the Sunday papers for your Nets fix.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

From chirpy to chippy?

Predictably, you can start to feel a touch more hostility as the series goes to Game 3 tonight.

Jermaine O’Neal isn’t happy with the officiating (and was docked $15,000 by the league today). . . .Nets defend their defense against him. . . . Anthony Johnson draws the ‘Vince is soft’ card on Wednesday. . . . Nets defend their teammate today at the morning shootaround.

These, of course, are the games within the games, part and parcel of most playoff series once both teams get their feet wet. How it lends itself to this series now that the Pacers are back home is extremely interesting.

For one, Indiana is banking on O’Neal getting out of foul trouble on its home floor.

“He’s only averaging 30 minutes a game in the two games,” Rick Carlisle told us this morning. “That’s a problem we’ve got to resolve.”

The Nets are determined to play him the same way, obviously, which is to get in his kitchen down low and push him back off the block. For seven of the eight quarters, Jason Collins and Cliff Robinson have done the job. But they were all in New Jersey.

“I think he (O’Neal) is expecting to get some homecourt calls,” Richard Jefferson said.
“Every game is going to have its own story, its own subtitle. You can’t worry about the officials. One game they are going to call it tight. The first game we thought we had some questionable calls that went down. Second game, they thought they had some. If you get caught up in the officials, that is another thing that you worry about.”
The Pacers, again, will be O’Neal reliant. Peja Stojakovic is still a game-time decision, but will likely play with a sore right knee…Peja says he won’t be moving so quickly, not that we recall him being especially fleet of foot to begin with.

Stephen Jackson (sore right thumb) will play. Jamaal Tinsley (sore Achilles, tummy ache) will not.

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AJ had quite a crowd around him today after saying of Carter in Game 2: “He was out there trying to play tough, which we all know he's not.”

AJ, who is a nice guy, backed off a touch today… But it was just interesting to see Johnson continue to be a focal point in this series, when he was one of the best backups to Jason Kidd they ever had – and let him get away.

So far, he’s the Pacers leading scorer (14.5 ppg) in the series.

“I’m trying to prove myself,” Johnson confessed. “A lot of people are always going to doubt me, especially playoff time. A lot of the experts talk about how we didn’t have a chance because of the Anthony Johnson-Jason Kidd matchup. And I don’t want to be a weak link. I definitely want to step up to the plate and answer the challenge of going against J-Kidd.”

Don’t look for this rankle Kidd. He loves AJ and speaks fondly of the “chip on his shoulder.”

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Best answer to a good question game from Jacque Vaughn, who played great defense in Game 2, especially with some nasty full-court press on Tinsley and Johnson.

Why don’t the Nets ball pressure all the time?

“It’s a long season,” Vaughn said.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Off to Indy

It’s on to the Hoosier State for the series.

The Nets were good as they’ve ever been on the road this season, finishing at 20-21. Indiana is one of the tougher places for a visiting team to play. Not as difficult as Detroit or Sacramento or San Antonio, but more intimidating than Dallas or Miami.

Although it was four years ago, the Nets can draw upon Game 3 of their first-round series against Indiana - which was an 85-84 win for the Nets at Conseco that often gets overshadowed because of the unforgettable theater that was Game 5.

As a memory refresher, the Nets went into hostile territory needing to steal a game in the best-of-5 series. Reggie Miller’s 3-pointer with 34 seconds left put the grips on New Jersey. But Keith Van Horn grabbed a big offensive rebound and it got to Kerry Kittles, who hit perhaps the biggest trey of his career with 22.5 seconds left for the deciding basket.

Miller then came off a downscreen and missed a wide-open three, as hearts skipped a beat on the Nets bench.

“That’s the only thing I can remember, because I was the one who got screened,” Jason Kidd recalled.

Regardless, That win got the Nets started in terms of believing they could win on the road. They would do so in Charlotte and Boston later that postseason; in Milwaukee, Boston, Detroit and San Antonio in 2003.

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Nets went long today at practice before flying out. . . Jermaine O’Neal, and his lack or production, has been a popular topic.

O’Neal has been in grave foul trouble in both games, averaging just 13.5 points on .364 shooting for the series thus far.

O’Neal didn’t mean to take credit away from New Jersey in Game 2, but he kind of did, saying how the Nets flop so much defensively.

The Nets, predictably, were not sympathetic.

“If that’s how he feels, he’s entitled to his opinion,” Cliff Robinson said. “But that doesn’t change how we’re going to play him. We’re going to play him hard and fight him for position. He’ll just have to make adjustments himself.”

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No definitive word out of Indiana yet, regarding Peja Stojakovic status in Game 3. But Rick Carlisle said Peja’s sore right knee was not a big deal. The Nets are counting on him playing, even if he didn’t practice today and Indiana is calling him questionable for tomorrow.

Stephen Jackson is an added story. He has a sore right thumb and did not practice today. But Carlisle expects him to play.

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Stats to note after the first two games: The Nets are shooting 3-for-30 from 3-point range. That’s 10 percent, if you’re scoring at home. Kidd and Robinson are both 0-for-5 from long range. The Nets will hope for the law of averages to get back in their favor, but they’re not relying on it.

“Regardless of how bad we’re shooting from the 3-point line, we’re still in games,” Vince Carter said. “It will make us a tougher team once we do hit 3-pointers. It’s the little things like that we can’t worry about. Our effort and us playing hard are what matters right now.”

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An FYI, Kidd, Carter and Jefferson are featured on the cover of ESPN The Magazine this week. Chris Broussard wrote it and did a great job. Give it a look.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Looking ahead to Game 2

Sorry for the late installment today…But we’re here at the arena early…

The first guy out shooting for either team – Richard Jefferson. And he isn’t missing much.

All here on the scene, Ian Eagle and Bill Raftery – preparing for a Nets broadcast for the first time in too long. It’s on NBA TV…not sure if it’s blacked out locally or not.

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The vibe heading into today’s game is interesting. There’s no panic, but there’s still the underlying feeling the Pacers can play a much better game than in Game 1 – just like the Nets are supposed to. Jermaine O’Neal wasn’t a factor until the fourth quarter and Peja was barely a factor.

“I don't think either team played their best game,” Lawrence Frank said. “Jermaine O'Neal only played 29 minutes, so we know he's going to be more of a force. Peja we know can play a whole lot better. So I don't think we can just rationalize it and say, 'Well we didn't play our best and they won.' Look, we got to play a whole lot better and we believe we can and we will.”

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Couldn’t help but laugh about Stephen Jackson’s revisionist history today. He’s a nice guy and a good quote, but the reason the Nets let him go after 2000-01 was not because they were got rid of Stephon Marbury and they were buds. It was because he didn’t play any defense and didn’t have good listening skills.

All you have to do is ask J.R. Smith what it’s like to not to be a young player in the league and not listen to Byron Scott.


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Coach of the year voting came out today. L-Frank only received two second place and two third-place votes. Scott Skiles got the same. We expected better results for both.

I’m one of the few that doesn’t understand all of the votes for Mike D’Antoni (27 1sts, 31 2nds and 19 3rds). He won the award last season, obviously, and no one has ever won it two years in a row. The argument, presumably, is that the Suns were able to win without Amare Stoudemire. Then I guess last year’s job wasn’t as impressive, then?

Monday, April 24, 2006

Game 1 post-mortem

First and foremost, Vince’s right wrist and right side…they’re sore. But he’s playing tomorrow in Game 2.

We expected a lot of defense of Carter today, especially after the grilling he took in the papers following a 12-for-33 performance. And we got it.

“I liked his intent,” Lawrence Frank said. “It’s a shame they didn’t go in. Vince is all about the team. As teammates and coaches we’re very comfortable with where the ball was at. It didn’t work in our favor, but there was a whole lot more about that game than Vince’s shots.”

But let’s stick to this topic for a moment. . . Yes, Carter took too many shots for the game. But we didn’t have as much of a problem with how the shots were broken down. Nineteen of the 33 came in the first half…with Carter, ice cold from everywhere, trying to establish something. Perhaps he tried too hard.

Carter took only four shots in the third quarter. He did take 10 shots in the fourth quarter and he made five of them, including three straight late layups. That was about par in many of the Nets’ 49 wins this season.

What about the other guys? Well, Nenad Krstic did hit a 20-footer with 1:46 left. Richard Jefferson had a layup with 1:07 left and the last shot of the game.

It’s still hard to argue. 33 shots is a ton. . . But the Nets will have no problem taking the criticism and turning it into motivation for Game 2. The mood today was a mixture between annoyed and anxious. But no one’s panicked at all.

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Although not nearly as popular a topic, the Nets defense left a lot to be desired in Game 1. Indiana had 56 points at halftime. Stephen Jackson had it too easy in the first half. Jermaine O’Neal had 11 of his 18 in the fourth quarter, all down low.

The Pacers had their way on the defensive glass, too, 31-23. That killed the Nets late.

“We gave them some second opportunities, some three-point field goals that they made,” Jason Kidd said. “So if we can rebound, maybe we have a better opportunity to run and maybe that will loosen everybody up”

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Kidd’s 2-for-11 also got lost in the shuffle.

“I missed some bunnies,” Kidd confessed. “I missed a couple of layups and maybe I got down on myself instead of staying focused and continuing to take shots that present themselves.”


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Weird sighting at today’s practice. Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith was there as an interviewer, for NBA TV…Who knew they taught that stuff at Oak Hill Academy?

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Something VERY cool for Game 2 . . . Ian Eagle and Bill Raftery will have the call on NBA TV… We believe this is their first Nets’ pairing since Raf left the team. These guys have great chemistry. Wonder if we can get an audio feed from press row?

Frank may or may not be happy the game’s on NBA TV tonight, rather than TNT. Depends on if things are going the Nets way.

“TV timeouts are like 15 minutes apiece,” Frank said. "Like a game takes four or five hours. Trust me I like it. I run out of things to say, which doesn't happen a whole lot. But during timeouts it's like, 'How much time we got?' Putting us in NBA-TV, maybe the timeouts are going to be like 15 seconds.”

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Greetings from East Rutherford,

Welcome to the first Nets’ blog here at the Courier News, which also happens to be my first blog anywhere. Yes, dreams do come true.

For those who don’t know me, I congratulate you. But you should probably know I have been the long-time Nets beat writer for Bridgewater and all of your fine Gannett newspapers in New Jersey and New York. Please feel free to say hello and give your thoughts on the Nets and their playoff run. I’ll be with the team for all of it, home and away. I’m also here to discuss movies, recipes, affairs of the heart….whatever you’d like.

Anyway, as you now know, the Nets will be facing the Indiana Pacers in the first round, starting on Sunday at 1 p.m….Today was a fairly low-key day here at the practice facility. The players were basically here to watch tape on Indy. We only had access to Lawrence Frank today, but there was much to discuss. Friday, we'll get to hear from everyone else.

In a nutshell, the Nets have a healthy respect for the Pacers. But there aren’t too many people outside of here who feel they can really give the Nets run (except for Sports Illustrated, who actually picked Indiana in seven). My prediction will run in Sunday’s paper, but here’s a clue: It rhymes with Bets Fin Hive.

Although Indiana does have some good offensive options in Jermaine O’Neal and Peja, the Nets have more star power. Krstic is a better player than he was when the Nets lose 2 of 3 to Indy in the regular season. Kidd should prove to be too much for his good buddy Anthony Johnson. And we haven’t even gotten to Vince and RJ yet. Indiana was hot of late, but against bad teams….and weren’t we just hearing about O’Neal being traded after the season like a week ago?

I’m sure there are other opinions out there…Let’s hear ‘em!