Nets at Full Strength; Lopez and Williams Remain On Bench


Hopefully the title doesn’t jinx Brooklyn’s overall health but last night was extremely enjoyable to watch for any Nets fan. After weeks of battling nagging injuries and various ailments, the Brooklyn Nets finally boast a clean bill of health. Most importantly, from their four highest paid players (Garnett, Lopez, Williams & Johnson). Although these four are featured primarily in the starting together the past year and a half, recent struggles have forced coach Lionel Hollins’ hand, altering the starting rotation.

Lopez and Williams, two of the highest annually paid players in the NBA have been anchored to the bench for the past two weeks and in turn, the Nets have won four of the last five. Their most recent being yesterday’s win against an upstart Sacramento Kings squad. For the fifth straight night, Hollins remained steadfast with his starting lineup, trotting out Mason Plumlee and Sergey Karasev together for the 10th time in 2014.

Although Karasev struggled from the field after a career high in scoring last game, his teammates picked him up tallying 107 points as Plumlee led the way with 22 points. Squaring off against Demarcus “Boogie” Cousins, Plumlee battled all night long in the paint, racking up 16 free throws in the process. He was 6-7 from the field in yet another efficient performance but his success at the line and his ability to get there was the real surprise.

Normally a poor free throw shooter, Plumlee hit 10 of 16 and kept attacking the rim effortlessly. The massive contributions from Plumlee of late make it impossible to keep him out of the lineup as he develops into the low post scoring threat the Nets were hoping for when they drafted him. The starting five is tailored to space the floor effectively, allowing Plumlee ample room to operate down low.

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This lineup combination has spelled success for Brooklyn in December, as the Plumlee/Karasev starting tandem has resulted in a 6-4 record with the additional athleticism of each lengthy forward. Although this lineup may lack rim protection with the absence of Brook Lopez, this unit has logged the third most minutes together out of any Brooklyn lineup combination. They’ve been able to limit turnovers and get the charity  stripe more frequently, while creating higher percentage shots than their opponents.

Kevin Garnett still remains the anchor in the center for Brooklyn and at 37 years old, he’s showed his critics all season that he is still able to produce in a starting role. KG played well yet again, limiting production in the paint while forcing turnovers and grabbing a team-high eight rebounds. The Nets are much more efficient on both sides of the ball when he’s on the court and Hollins intends on riding the veteran Center essentially until the wheels fall off.

Karasev connected with Garnett on an alley-oop midway through the game after KG poked away the ball for one of his four steals. After the game, he had news for his critics, stating “I ain’t dead yet.” and that people shouldn’t be amazed that he could still dunk. His ferocious style of play remains a constant each night and without Lopez as his counterpart in the frontcourt, he’s anchoring a defense that’s becoming tougher in the final stages of the game.

It is unclear how long the relegation of Lopez and Williams to reserve roles shall last but the ‘max players’ are buying into the concept as long as it produces results. In addition, who knows what the future holds for Lopez, Williams and even Johnson. As Deron and Brook’s roles have diminished, trade rumors have begun to swirl yet again, especially with the Kings in town as potential suitors for Deron Williams.

Unwavered, the Nets (Lopez and Williams included) played superb throughout the entire 48 minutes, building another early lead while slowly building and maintaining it in the second half. Last night was one of the most complete performances we’ve seen from the Nets this season and with a tough stretch approaching once 2015 hits, consistency will be their toughest task.

“If they’re playing great and my role is smaller than what I’m accustomed to, that’s fine with me.” – Deron Williams

Speaking of consistency, the point guard position has been nothing of the sort so far this season. Deron Williams got off to a strong start to the 2014 campaign but started to regress as the weeks went by, in addition to nagging injuries. That’s where Jarrett Jack comes in. It’s been two weeks since his ill-fated botched layup in the Heat game and since that point, Jack has relished the opportunity when presented with extended minutes. Like Plumlee and Karasev, Jack also started his fifth straight game last night and continued his hot streak, scoring 16 points while getting to the free throw line and keeping the Nets tempo on pace with Sacramento.

As noted in the tweet above, Jack has made the most of his string of starts in the past two weeks and Lionel Hollins can’t argue with the results. He’s been the additional scoring option that the Nets desperately lacked coming into the season when Marcus Thornton and Andray Blatche didn’t return.

For now, Lionel Hollins is deadset on keeping things the same until his hand is forced or the injury bug silently creeps into the Nets locker room. Coach Hollins, when asked about the rotating lineup combos stated “I don’t need numbers to show me they’re not playing well together,”…“I can see it by the scoreboard. The other night, we tried (Lopez and Plumlee together) a little bit early, and it was a bad move. We lost our lead (and) lost our momentum.” If you couldn’t tell already, Hollins is an old-school coach that doesn’t rely on advanced statistics to make his lineup decisions. In addition, he could care less about “star players” sitting the bench and playing reserve minutes. He wants to win.

Hollins’ experiences around the game have sharpened his instincts and it is showing within this recent stretch. The lineups seem unconventional from an outside standpoint but can you question positive results? He now has the luxury of a full roster that is – for the time being – relatively healthy and plans on continuing to throw opposing teams curveballs with his array of lineup combinations. The team certainly has his full support and if they believe it is beneficial for the team’s success, so be it.

Tonight, the Nets have a quick turnaround as they travel to the midwest to take on Chicago. Brooklyn will be fortunate to play them for the final time this season as the Bulls have punished the Nets in each of their first three meetings. Kevin Garnett is expected to rest after another strong performance last night, which could mean a return to the starting lineup for Brook Lopez.

Go Nets.