In a matchup between two struggling Atlantic Division teams looking to get back on the right track, the Brooklyn Nets and the Philadelphia 76ers squared off at the Barclays Center Sunday night. Both teams have now won only three of their last ten outings and find themselves falling behind in the playoff race. Brooklyn had lost their last three games, but managed to get a win Sunday night 95-92 over the 76ers.
After going 11-4 in the month of November, the Brooklyn Nets have had a brutal December with only three victories and eight losses. This month included a five game losing streak and opened up a lot of doubts surrounding this ball club. Avery Johnson has been tinkering with his lineup by moving Kris Humphries to the bench and starting various other players. After Sunday night, it seems pretty clear that going forward, Avery Johnson will go with a smaller lineup.
Gerald Wallace will now shift to the power forward spot and Keith Bogans will begin to be the regular starter at the small forward position. There is general shift around the league to play smaller players at the four position, as teams are looking to play quicker and stretch the floor with as many shooters as possible. The Brooklyn Nets will now go away from their old-school lineup with a conventional four (Humphries) and really look to get out and run with “Crash” (Wallace) now playing inside.
Playing big is nothing new to Gerald, however. Wallace has always been used interchangeably at the forward positions. He is very quick, very strong, and his toughness has earned him the nickname “Crash” around the league. Just as the Miami Heat has done with LeBron and the Knicks have done with Carmelo, the Nets will be playing a smaller lineup with an additional shooter on the floor. As I mentioned, this will open up opportunities to get out in transition and pickup easy buckets at the rim. The Nets have been among the worst in the league in fast-break points and this move should definitely help in that category.
Gerald Wallace is also a very good and willing passer. He has very good court awareness, throws a very good outlet pass, and is always ready to kick the ball out to shooters when he penetrates the lane. Now that he will be playing more inside, he may find his assists numbers increase a little bit. He is averaging just fewer than three assists on the season, but dished out six Sunday night as he started at power forward.
In addition to a more up-tempo style of play, the new lineup for the Nets should also open up the center of the floor for Brook Lopez. Without another post player that is limited to staying inside, Lopez should find he has more time to make his moves inside. If not, he has four players that are ready to pull the trigger from downtown. Teams will have to respect the Brooklyn shooters and Brook Lopez may end up being the biggest beneficiary of the new change in the lineup.
But will this simply put an end to the Brooklyn struggles? Maybe. Maybe not. But I should note that the Nets’ December schedule has not been easy. They started off with Miami and Oklahoma City; they played New York twice; they faced some hot teams in the Bucks and Warriors; and they played two very sound and disciplined teams in the Utah Jazz and Chicago Bulls. They probably should not have lost every one of those games, but they are still working to find their identity.
The Nets are now 14-12 and seventh in the Eastern Conference. We are a long ways away from the season’s end, but if the playoffs started today we would see New York and Brooklyn face off in the first round. It will likely not stay that way, but what a great early playoff matchup that would be. And how brutal would it be for the Knicks when they would be facing an “unacceptable” outcome, as stated by Carmelo Anthony, if they fail to reach the eastern finals. I’m just saying.
As for the Nets, they will have a chance to build momentum with their new lineup on Christmas Day when they host the also struggling Boston Celtics. The Celtics have won four of their last ten games and could also use a big victory on Christmas. Boston has also been searching for an answer at the power forward spot as they have tried Brandon Bass, Jason Collins, Jared Sullinger, and Jeff Green as starters. It will be interesting to see who Doc Rivers chooses to play against Wallace on Christmas. Jeff Green plays most similar to Wallace, but he may choose to go back to Bass, who has seen the most starts this season.
After their Christmas game, the Nets will have a chance to get revenge against the Bucks when they square off on Wednesday in Milwaukee.