When the Nets pulled the trigger on a blockbuster deal that netted them former National Basketball Association Most Valuable Player James Harden, not a few quarters saw fit to underscore their offensive potential. Already blessed with prolific producers Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, the addition of the most efficient scorer in the modern era figured to make them a collective juggernaut. And, if nothing else, the numbers they’ve managed to put up in the last two and a half weeks show that the assessment is on the mark. Even counting the 98 they canned in the outlier of a win against the elephant-walking Heat, they’ve normed a whopping 127 points per outing since forming their version of the Big Three.
To be sure, the Nets’ rosy outlook has been tempered by their inability to stay just as strong on the other end of the court. In fact, they’re downright atrocious on defense. Again save for the Heat, they’ve allowed opponents to string together baskets otherwise reserved for certified world beaters. The Cavaliers, for example, were league doormats in points produced before meeting them twice last month. They wound up losing in back-to-back sets after giving up 147 and 125. Just the other day, they didn’t just suffer a setback against the Wizards, holders of the worst record in the league. They let the competition, hitherto armed with a four-match losing streak, post 149 points on the board.
Significantly, Irving was profuse in his mea culpas after the defeat brought the Nets’ slate down to 13 and nine. “I couldn’t guard a stick today,” he argued, and it bears noting that he won’t be wrong to say the same in just about all of his games so far in the current season. Then again, the problem isn’t his alone. Those who have diligently watched them can easily see the numerous breakdowns in coverages from opening tip to final buzzer. They’re exciting to watch as master scorers, sure, but they’re also frustrating to behold as human pylons. Supposedly deficient players are finding no trouble getting leather and nylon to meet against them.
Perhaps the Nets’ mindset is reflective of head coach Steve Nash’s predilections dating back to his days as the chief orchestrator of the seven-seconds-or-less system pushed by assistant Mike D’Antoni. It’s also certainly an offshoot of their uneven roster, which they had to sacrifice in order to pry Harden from the Rockets. Nonetheless, there can be no discounting the fact that they need to improve, and fast. After all, they’re not just angling to entertain. They’re also out to win. And unless and until they’re able to prevent scoring with some semblance of consistency, the seeming impunity with which they themselves have scored will count for little or nothing in the final analysis.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.