Brooklyn Nets: Loss to Jazz provides stark reminder of what’s missing

Brooklyn Nets D'Angelo Russell. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
Brooklyn Nets D'Angelo Russell. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Brooklyn Nets let yet another 4th quarter lead slip away Wednesday night, providing another reminder of what the Nets are desperately lacking.

One thing has been apparent in the Brooklyn Nets‘ last two losses: The team does not have a closer.

This was evident last season as Brooklyn was just 15-21 in games decided by six points or less.

Brooklyn led 78-70 heading into the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s loss, but once again could not produce offensively down the stretch. Kenny Atkinson’s squad shot 2-for-17 from the field in the final frame.

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Caris LeVert was beginning to look like the closer for Brooklyn prior to his injury. The 24-year-old scored game-winning baskets with one second remining in wins over the Knicks and Nuggets earlier in the season.

LeVert will be a foundational piece for years to come, but is still not a No. 1 option on a playoff team.

While Brooklyn’s lack of a closer has been a constant theme, the last two games have served as stark reminders.

Jimmy Butler drained a go-ahead three with 0.4 seconds remaining in Sunday’s loss to cap a 20-point comeback by the Philadelphia 76ers and Donovan Mitchell poured in 14 points in the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s loss to the Utah Jazz.

Mitchell was calm, cool and collected down the stretch as he supplied Utah with consistent offense in the final minutes.

D’Angelo Russell shot a putrid 6-for-25 from the floor in the loss. Russell scored 38 points in the loss to Philadelphia, but fell back into the pattern Brooklyn fans know all too well. Every scorer has rough shooting nights, but they have been an every-other-night occurrence with Russell.

Russell’s consistency struggles stem from a lack of explosive athletic ability. This lack of explosiveness forces him to heavily rely on his jump shot for offense.

The young guard simply isn’t a consistent enough shooter to rely on his outside game and lacks the quickness and leaping ability to blow by defenders and finish at the rim.

Russell has the rest of the season to earn his place in general manager Sean Marks‘ long-term plans. He must find a way to produce offensively when he’s struggling with his outside shot.

The 22-year-old often shows flashes of the raw ability that led to him being selected second overall in 2015, but the clock is ticking on Russell’s time in Brooklyn.

With restricted free agency impending, the time is now for Russell to prove that he deserves a chunk of Brooklyn’s cap space, and thus far he hasn’t.

If Marks decides to go in a different direction at point guard, Spencer Dinwiddie is a likely candidate for an extension. While Dinwiddie has not cemented himself as a closer, he has produced in big spots this season.

The third-year Net drained several clutch shots in an Oct. 31 victory over the Detroit Pistons and hit a go-ahead jumper with 26 seconds left in Sunday’s loss.

While Dinwiddie lacks the court vision and passing ability of Russell, he possesses the quickness and finishing ability that Russell does not.

This explosive first step and ability to finish at the rim opens up Dinwiddie’s entire game. It gives him something to rely on when his jump shot is off. When his jump shot is falling, it puts defenders in a bind.

Dinwiddie is a solid player, but he will likely never be the star-caliber closer that Butler and Mitchell are.

The 2019 free agent class is star-studded and Brooklyn will have nearly $70 million in cap space. Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, Kemba Walker and Tobias Harris are some of the big names that could be on the market.

All of these players have one thing in common: confidence in big spots. That’s what makes them stars.

Brooklyn doesn’t have a star on the roster and until they acquire one, they will continue to falter in the fourth quarter of close games.

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The reality of the situation is that the Nets are not a very good team. As the season continues, Atkinson and veterans like DeMarre Carroll need to carefully manage the locker room to ensure that Brooklyn’s young players do not accept losing as the rebuild moves forward.