Game Notes: New Jersey Nets 95, Washington Wizards 85
* Before the game Coach Eddie Jordan made it a point to say that his rotation is not at all set in stone, and he’ll let the nature of the game determine who he puts in and for how long. He held true to form during the game. All 12 of the active players on the roster saw at least five minutes of run. One lineup that played particularly well was Dee Brown, Nick Young, Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison and JaVale McGee. This lineup was quick, got their hands on lots of loose balls and presented matchup problems on the offensive end of the floor.
* Etan Thomas was a force while he was in the game. In just 18 minutes of play, he scored 10 points, grabbed 8 rebounds and blocked a shot. What didn’t show up in the stat sheet was how physically imposing he was in comparison to Nets’ centers Josh Boone and Brook Lopez. Unlike the injured Brendan Haywood who is more a finesse center, Thomas is a bruiser, and he showed that. Coach Jordan said after the game that Thomas’ minutes were not limited due to injury, but due to matchups. He felt like JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche presented more difficult matchups for the Nets. Still, Etan showed no ill effects from heart surgery.
* Juan Dixon is clearly the fan favorite in Washington. As I was getting settled in my seat, I heard numerous people watch him in warmups, and they were glad to see him back. When he was officially introduced before the game, he received a rousing standing ovation and before he entered the game for the first time, he received yet another one. Although he only scored 2 points, the fans remained on his side. There will be a time when his quick scoring ability will come in handy, although it didn’t tonight.
* The Wizards shot a putrid 37% from the field and no one really got off offensively. Caron had 13 points and 11 rebounds, but he shot 3 for 11 from the field. Antawn Jamison scored 14 points, on 6 of 18 shooting. DeShawn Stevenson, the closest thing the Wizards have to a sharpshooter, also scored 14, but he shot 5-13 from the field. The whole time I was watching the Wizards performance, I could not help but wonder how things would be different if Gilbert Arenas were in the lineup. There were plenty of games last year, when the played well and did not really need his presence. Then you have games like tonight, when his ability to score, get to the free throw line and create a shot, when it looks like one can’t be had was sorely missed. When I saw Arenas in the locker room I told him that the team could have used him tonight, and he said, “Yeah, tell me about it.”
* Vince Carter has come under criticism during his career for not being assertive enough when his team really needs him. This year, considering he’s the elder statesmen of the Nets, he’ll have to display that more consistently, and tonight he did. The boxscore shows that he scored a ho-him 21 points and handed out six assists. But when the Nets needed a big basket, they would go into isolation mode, and Vince would either score or draw players to him and kick it out. He had his way with the Wizards in the second half.
* Last year when I watched Yi Jianlian, I was completely unimpressed. He had a sweet stroke, but he took difficult shots, and he seemed unwilling to mix it up inside, even when he frequently had a height advantage over his defender. Tonight, I saw a completely different Yi. He still rode that stroke of his to the the tune of 17 points (7-11 from the field, 2-2 from three-point land), but he also spent some time in the paint. During one stretch in the first half, he blocked Etan Thomas’ shot on one end, then capitalized on the secondary fast break by standing at the top of the key and draining a three-point shot. Another time down the floor he authoritatively threw down a dunk, then pumped his fist as he ran up the court. He got 31 minutes of playing time tonight, which was second on his team behind Carter. True, it is only the first game, but it was nice to see Yi display that type of aggressiveness in his second season.
* The Wizards’ Nick Young also looked good, despite the team’s loss. In just 17 minutes of playing time he scored 10 points on 5-9 shooting, dished out three assists and grabbed two rebounds. He played both guard positions and a bit of small forward, and he got his shot off whenever he wanted. I was actually a bit surprised that he did not get more playing time given how much difficulty the Wizards were having putting points on the board. I suspect that had to do with his spotty defensive performance.
* If Juan Dixon was the darling of the Wizards home crowd, forward/center Andray Blatche was the polar opposite. Although he scored 13 points and grabbed six rebounds, he also led the team with 5 turnovers, and he took several bad shots, which drew the ire of the crowd. There were several instances when the offense flowed smoothly and then the ball would get to Blatche he’d take a bad shot, which triggered the Nets fast break. Again, this is only the first game, but given all that is expected of Blatche this year, this was not a good start and he said as much after the game. To his credit however, he did take some of the blame after the game, so perhaps he’ll bounce back on Saturday against the Pistons
* Coach Jordan mentioned before the game that Oleksiy Pecherov would be joining Haywood and Arenas on the inactive list. The thinking was that it was important to keep JaVale McGee active since had a terrific preseason and he didn’t want to “punish” him by having him start on the inactive list. Since Pecherov had spent time on the inactive list last year, it would be nothing for him to be inactive for the first game. McGee was scoreless with two rebounds and a block, but he ran the floor impressively and he has the potential to be a Theo Ratliff-type player for the Wizards.
* I briefly talked to Dee Brown at his locker after the game and I reminded him that when I saw him this summer, he stressed that it was his job to keep the team upbeat and bring an infectious energy to the team. When I asked him how he would do that given the somber mood of the team he said, “Tomorrow is a new day baby, and when we practice, I’ll do my thing, and everyone will be fine”. He also said that it felt good to be back in a real live NBA game after playing in Turkey last year. Brown went scoreless, but handed out three pretty assists in just eight minutes. He has a knack for getting the ball to his teammates in their sweet spots and he is a pest on defense.
* The Wizards next game is on Saturday in Detroit against the Pistons and the next game I’ll be covering will be next Friday in Washington, when they take on the New York Knicks.