Struggling Nets return home to face Lillard, Trail Blazers
NEW YORK — In the last week, the Brooklyn Nets have faced two elite point guards in the Western Conference.
Their meetings with Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City and Chris Paul in Los Angeles did not go well.
On Sunday, the Nets return home and face another top point guard when they host Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Nets return from their five-game trip with a 4-8 record and a three-game losing streak, partially because they could not stop Paul and Westbrook.
On Monday, Paul had 21 points and nine assists in Brooklyn's 127-95 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. A night later, second-year point guard D'Angelo Russell shredded Brooklyn's defense by scoring 32 points in a 125-118 loss.
“We stopped moving the ball offensively and stopped making the extra pass, and that fueled their transition,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “Defensively, we've slipped in these past three games.”
The road trip ended Friday when Westbrook torched the Nets for 30 points in a 125-104 loss. If Westbrook's performance was not frustrating enough, the Nets were within three points and then gave up a 12-1 run while Westbrook was relaxing on the bench and enjoying his latest triple-double.
It was a continuation of a trend against opposing point guards for the Nets. Brooklyn has allowed an opposing point guard to get at least 20 points in six games and has lost each time.
If those were not bad enough for Net fans, Lillard is a sore spot from 2012. The Trail Blazers used their sixth overall pick in the 2012 draft to get him and the pick was obtained from the Nets for Gerald Wallace, who eventually was traded to the Boston Celtics along with three first-round picks in the ill-fated Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce deal.
Lillard is averaging a career-high 28.7 points per game while also shooting a career-best 45.5 percent. He scored 27 points Friday but shot 8 of 24 from the field in a 113-101 loss at New Orleans as Portland dropped its third straight.
“I feel like soon it's going to go in that direction,” Lillard told reporters. “We just have to stay true to it, stay true to what we do.”
During its slide, Portland has lost by an average of 18 points per game. Lillard is shooting 34.9 percent (22-of-63) while Portland's defense has allowed 117 points and been outscored by 36 points in the last three opening quarters.
“It's a long year, we're not in panic mode,” Portland forward Ed Davis said. “I mean it is an 82-game season. We just finished with game 14. We are still working on things.
“We obviously are not playing the best basketball right now, but we are still .500. It's not like we are on an eight-game losing streak, but we are on a three-game losing streak. We just need to take it one day at a time, stay together and see what happens.”
One thing that will not happen Sunday is Jeremy Lin returning from a strained left hamstring. Lin was injured in the first half of a 105-100 win over the Detroit Pistons Nov. 2 and the Nets are 3-4 without him.
Lin was re-evaluated Thursday and the Nets did not have a further timetable. He accompanied the Nets on the trip and did some running and shooting after not participating in Friday's morning shootaround.
“Just progressing as planned. He's on target. I'm not going to give exact dates but he's progressing on schedule. Atkinson told reporters Friday. “I'm going to listen to the performance team. We're going to be smart about this, take a long term approach.”
Without Lin, the Nets have tried different things at point guard. Rookie Isaiah Whitehead started the first two games before getting a concussion, Sean Kilpatrick shot 14-of-49 while starting the next four and Randy Foye played 15 minutes as the starter Friday.
However, the starting point guard matters little if the Nets are unable to rebound effectively. Brooklyn was outrebounded 46-30 Friday and while it is around the middle of the pack with 44.2 rebounds per game, the Nets had a minus-30 rebounding differential in their last three games.
“We've got to do a better job protecting the rim. I thought they were getting to the rim, and we didn't protect it like we should, and we need to do a better job,” Atkinson said.
Portland has won five of the last six games with the Nets and six of its last nine road games in the series. Lillard has scored at least 30 points in his last three games against the Nets while Brook Lopez has scored at least 20 points in his last five games against Portland.