The best team money can buy is the 4th seed in the East and has won 11 of their last 13 games since replacing tuned-out head coach Avery Johnson with PJ Carlesimo. Two of those 11 were convincing road wins in Oklahoma City (110-93) and, um… ok, they beat the Knicks 88-85 in Madison Square Garden.
Honestly, there probably wasn’t a better time to replace a head coach. Past the Thunder, Knicks, San Antonio and Indiana there wasn’t a whole lot to be afraid of. Any string of games featuring Washington, Sacramento, Cleveland, Charlotte, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Toronto and two against Atlanta isn’t a bad way for a new coach to start mid-season. The fact the veteran club has taken care of its business beating the teams it should would seem to earn Carlesimo the ears of his team going forward.
Nets probable starting lineup:
PG Deron Williams
SG Joe Johnson
SF Gerald Wallace
PF Reggie Evans
C Brook Lopez
Two games after taking the reins from Johnson, Carlesimo inserted Reggie Evans in the starting lineup where Evans’ has done what he does. He’s averaged 11 rebounds a game, providing the ying to Brook Lopez’s Stiemsma-esque rebounding-yang.
With a successful mid-season coaching change, you would like to be able to point to clear philosophical changes and strategies that changed the approach or style of play or some measurable difference that changed the outcome. The statistical evidence is middling, however, suggesting it’s the same club that struggled under Johnson.
Because although Williams is averaging around 2 more assists a game, he is still shooting in the low 40% and attempting over 5 3s a game. Although Lopez has had some breakout scoring games and is shooting 4% better from the field this month than last, he is averaging fewer rebounds and blocked shots. Johnon’s stats are nearly identical and Wallace has still been in and out of the lineup with injuries.
You could argue a veteran club is playing with renewed fire or something, but this is just a veteran team in a weak conference that happened to catch a run against the dregs of the league. And that is why this is so depressing…
Wolves probable starting lineup:
PG Ricky Rubio
SG Luke Ridnour
SF Andrei Kirilenko
PF Derrick Williams
C Greg Stiemsma
I don’t know where to begin anymore. The Wolves are down 4 of their top 7 scorers on the season, but that’s a skewed statement due to Ridnour being their 4th and Barea being their 6th highest per-game scorers this year. At some point, when the roles are shuffled as much as they are right now, the stats don’t mean much.
Against Houston, newcomers Mickael Gelabale and Chris Johnson had found roles they excelled at. Johnson rolled to the bucket and hustled for rebounds and loose balls. Gelabale spaced the floor by camping out in the corner, hit open shots and finished at the rim while also hustling and defending well. Against Atlanta, Johnson wound up in foul trouble early and Gelabale couldn’t find his way onto the floor.
The reactionary instinct is to go after acting head coach Terry Porter, and wring your hands in frustration over the lack of halftime adjustments, the questionable rotations and lineups — why not at least try the same tack that worked so well against Houston? Rubio’s scoring hand is forced if there aren’t offensive options alongside him. It’s courting disaster, and as much as it pains me to write, it’s similar to Brooklyn’s Lopez starting alongside a weak rebounder or Kirilenko forced into being depended on as a primary 3-point shooter — ying to yang. Complimentary pieces gotta compliment, and when so many are dinged up and out, it’s a puzzle that most nights won’t fit.
And so: the Wolves are still without Pek for a week. Shved’s ankle is questionable. As it has for most of the season, no Love + no Chase = no outside shooting. Stiemer’s fouls and Johnson’s length could prove useful against Lopez. Ricky has a small history of pestering Williams. Dante’s shot looked like it was rediscovered against Atlanta. Derrick Williams has shown to be useful in at least 1/2 of a game. Kirilenko could see time on iso-Joe. Ridnour will have to figure out a way to stay on the floor or hope the Nets go small. Maybe Porter will remember Gelabale was signed to help space the floor. Maybe the pieces will find a way to fit.