Brook Lopez did what any leader would do following what the Nets termed an “embarrassing” loss to the Orlando Magic–he assumed responsibility. The mounting losses are not Lopez’s burden to bear alone, though.
Not many players across the NBA have the same kind of pressure as the Brooklyn center. If he struggles–like he did in a 105-82 loss to Orlando–the Nets are most likely going to lose. Lopez went 4-for-15 from the field and struggled defending Nikola Vucevic at the other end (18 points on 8-for-13 shooting), giving the Nets little chance to win.
As Lopez has grown on the floor, his leadership in the locker room has, as well. At 7-17, the Nets need voices wherever they can find them.
“I definitely take responsibility for this one,” Lopez said. “I felt like I was a complete negative for our team. I kind of let us down, pulled us back. I definitely need to be better and know I can be.”
The big man needs his teammates to come through for him in order for Brooklyn to have a chance. He’s trying to alleviate the pressure from them, which is admirable. But the team goes as he does. Lopez’s presence creates opportunities for Thaddeus Young to back down his defender, or Jarrett Jack to pull up for his patented mid-range jumper.
Head coach Lionel Hollins defended his center, and even pointed to guard Bojan Bogdanovic’s recent resurgence as a reason not to overreact to Lopez’s string of off games. “Some of it is letting the game come to you, getting the ball out and letting it come back to you,” Hollins said of Lopez. “Some of it is the other team and what they are doing to you as well. Everybody goes through it and you just have to work your way through it. We were just talking about Bogey. Bogey is shooting the ball better. (It’s) like a pitcher goes out there without his best stuff, he still has to go out there and try to win the game whether he is throwing bb’s or beach balls.”
Lopez clearly lacked his A-stuff, to frame the analogy in Hollins’s terms. But starting pitchers have bullpens, offenses, and defenses.
Against the league’s elite, the Nets have actually fared far better than many would have anticipated. With far less talent, the team has taken several teams to the brink–including the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers. Wins have come against the Houston Rockets (twice) and the Atlanta Hawks, both finalists in last season’s Conference Finals.
In order to remain competitive, the Nets need everyone. It sounds cliche, but Brooklyn needs to adopt the style of last year’s Hawks or this season’s Boston Celtics. The ball has to move, and most importantly, the effort has to be there.
“They just played harder than us,” Young said. “They played harder than us, and they got to all the loose balls. They got to everything they wanted to within their sets and they took away a lot of stuff that we wanted to do. I might say we played a quarter and a half with a lot of energy.”
Interested onlookers can blame coaching. Lopez can blame himself. Someone out there can blame sight lines. But the fact is, the Nets can’t cower and go into a shell when Lopez misses a few shots. His teammates need to pick him up, not contently slouch down because he’s having an off night.
“No, this (loss) was us,” Jack said. “This was us looking at each other in the eyes and making sure each one of us is ready to bring forth the necessary effort to win the game, starting with your individual matchup and then collectively trying to help each other if we have breakdowns on certain scenarios and being able to cover one another.”
Jack alluded to the Nets lapsing on defense because of their struggles on the offensive end. More or less, the Nets mailed this one in when the ball didn’t bounce their way. Up until this point, that sort of effort has been uncharacteristic of this scrappy bunch.
The Nets will look to put forth a better effort Wednesday night at Barclays Center, as the homestead continues against the Miami Heat.