After spending almost my entire Sunday hiking—if you live in Los Angeles and have about eight hours of your life to kill, definitely check out the Bridge to Nowhere—I did what any sensible Black man would do: I ordered some chicken wings and watched basketball.
As I thumbed through NBA League Pass on my iPad, I noticed most of my typical favorites to watch—like Golden State, the Temecula Clippers or the Boston Celtics—weren’t playing. So because I love a good train wreck as much as everyone else, I turned on the Nets-Wizards game without checking the score.
Much to my surprise, I had stumbled into the middle of a dog fight between a Nets squad that’s still struggling to make sense of its trade for James Harden and a Wizard’s squad still trying to convince Bradley Beal not to run out of the Capitol One Arena screaming bloody murder and demanding a trade.
It was the fourth quarter, with Brooklyn up five with 12 seconds left on the clock. Under regular circumstances, the game is over. But when you have Beal and Russell Westbrook on your team, there’s no such thing as regular circumstances. Because this happened:
Me when Beal hit that three: “Oh, that’s cute. But them boys are still going home with an L.”
Me when Garrison Matthews stole the rock and dished it Westbrook: “Oh shit.”
Me when Russ pounced on the Nets and stabbed them in the neck with that three: *chokes on chicken wing, crumples to the floor*
I would imagine that if Nets coach Steve Nash was eating chicken wings he would’ve had a similar response. But since he was wearing a mask as he watched his team squander an 18 point lead and eventually lose 149-146, we’re only left to our imaginations. So I’m gonna assume he mumbled something along the lines of “Whyyyyyyyyyyy did I trade for this guy?!” or “Can we trade his ass back to Houston?!”
It’s not fair to put all the blame on Harden, especially since he didn’t even play last night. (He was out with a left thigh contusion that he presumably sustained while standing on tables in the club.) But since trading for the eight-time All-Star, the Nets have deployed a strategy that begins and ends with forgoing defense in favor of trying to outscore their opponents.
It’s not working.
Kyrie Irving, who dropped 26 points last night and is averaging 27.6 this season, had this to say about his defensive effort against the Nets—or lack thereof: “I couldn’t guard a stick today.”
And therein lies the problem: Where is the sacrifice as a team to play championship basketball? And more importantly, who in the hell is going to actually play defense? (Last time I checked, the Nets were ranked 27th in the league.) Aside from squandering an 18-point lead, the Nets allowed 72 points in the paint—which is the most allowed in any game since 2017 and the third most in the past 25 seasons—were outscored 12-2 in clutch time, and let Beal score 22 points in the fourth quarter? The hell are y’all doing?
There’s still plenty of time to make trades or snatch somebody up on the buyout market, but outside help is merely a band-aid. The Nets need to handle their business in-house first.
“When you give up 149 points, that’s one error in about 50 defensive lapses,” Nash said in reference to Joe Harris’ costly turnover at the end of the game. “So not good enough defensively, and we can look at the missed layup or the turnover for the 3 there, but we shouldn’t have been in that position. We had a big lead early, and we let them stay around a long, long time until their confidence grew. They’re a desperate [group] looking for a win, and we gave them a chance and gave them life.”
I can’t lie though: Westbrook was the perfect foil for the Nets latest setback.
Yes, I openly questioned his trade to Washington:
Westbrook just turned 32, and while he’s still an explosive scorer, his game is heavily predicated on his athleticism—the same athleticism that’s doomed to evaporate any day now. Add in the fact that he can’t shoot for shit and is the proud owner of one of the worst contracts in the entire league and it’s hard to rationalize why a team that’s in full rebuild mode would not only compromise its salary cap flexibility for eternity but pay good money to see a nigga show up to work dressed like this just to lose games. The Wizards could’ve done that shit for free.
I also have yet to be proven wrong in my assessment considering the Wizards are 4-12.
But with his unmatched intensity and history of butting heads with Durant in the past, who’s better equipped to force-feed the Nets a slice of humble pie than Russell Westbrook?
The Nets better get it together before the rest of the league memorizes the recipe.