It sure looked like a scrimmage or a preseason game from watching the Nets on Friday 7/31 afternoon. But it wasn’t.
It was the start of the restart season.
To be kind and frank, the Nets could use so much work in their game. They played like this is the first time their players played with each other. They used this game to get to know one another and brush up their game.
The Nets played the Orlando Magic in the NBA bubble at HP Field House at ESPN Wide World on Sports in Orlando on Friday afternoon. The Magic played like they should be a lock in the playoffs while the Nets played like they were holding a playoff spot warm for another team to sneak in. The Magic’s 128-118 victory over the Nets appeared to look respectable, but it wasn’t.
Horrid defense, lousy shooting an awful rebounding summed up everything that went wrong with the Nets. Sure, no one expected much from the Nets playing many of their replacement players, but they could have expected more from Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, and several of their young core players.
The Magic exposed the Nets on defense, allowing Nikola Vucevic, Jonathan Isaac, Markelle Fultz, and Evan Fournier to pick and roll, slash to the basket and hit open shots that helped the Magic outscore the Nets 75-43 in the middle two quarters. The only thing missing was the Nets crying “UNCLE!”
Look, the Nets knew they were in a bind without their stars playing and their replacements not ready to play. Jamal Crawford did not play since he is not in game shape to play. Michael Beasley tested positive for coronavirus. Lance Thomas played, but he is still feeling his way from watching him attempt to defend.
But no one thought it would be this bad where the Nets could use plenty of practice time just to work out the kinks. It could have been much worse if the Magic decided not to take it easy in the fourth quarter as Aaron Gordon and Vucevic spent time on the bench. The damage was done, though, and the Nets knew it.
Not even the Nets’ 18-0 run in the fourth quarter that cut the Magic’s lead to 128-118 would soften the blow.
Magic coach Steve Clifford counted the minutes until the game ended. He wanted to get it over with. He did not want his players to get hurt in a game that was decided in the third quarter. He hated inserting Vucevic and Gordon when the Nets made that 12-0 run just to stall them.
Conditioning could be an issue for the Nets. Allen and LeVert looked winded by the third quarter. It’s understandable if Crawford was, but there’s no reason for the Nets young stars to look tired and out of sorts in the first game of the restart.
If Nets fans did not watch the game, it would be understandable. They know this team is playing just to get by to finish the season. With Kevin Durant and Irving not playing after season-ending surgery and Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan and Taurean Price not playing after being tested positive for coronavirus, the Nets just hope to have fresh bodies to play with and survive.
The Nets started off well by shooting 70 percent in the first quarter, and they were rewarded with a 39-36 lead in the first quarter. That was as good as it got for them. From there, the Magic asserted control the rest of the way.
There was nothing the Nets could do about it. They knew this is what they have to deal with in finishing up a season that turned out to be a nightmare than a dream. They underachieved, and Kyrie Irving injured his shoulder and Kenny Atkinson lost his job as a coach. Now, they have a star in Irving who clearly wanted no part of playing in this restart by milking his injury while several other players such as Dinwiddie and Jordan understandably did not want to risk their health after testing positive for coronavirus.
It’s hard to judge what Jacque Vaughn can do as a coach with the replacements, and the Nets know it. Fortunately for him, he has a backer in general manager Sean Marks. That may not matter, though if Nets owner Joe Tsai decided to hire a prolific coach that would raise the team’s profile and give Durant and Irving a chance to win a championship. The guess here is Tsai will search for a big-name coach since it’s hard to sell Vaughn to his two stars that have championship aspirations.
No one will remember what the Nets did in their restart a few months from now. No one cares. It’s not about the record or making the playoffs or winning a playoff game. They just want this season to be over with and get ready for next season.
With seven games left and maybe four more in the playoffs, it’s all about survival based on how the Nets looked in their restart opener.
They could also use a refresher on so many facets of their game.
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