Jared Dudley

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Lichtenstein: Nets Vet Vents Frustration At Recurring Late-Game Collapses

Dudley Highly Critical Of Team After Loss To Thunder

Steve Lichtenstein
December 06, 2018 - 1:01 pm
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“It’s like ‘Groundhog Day.’”

Nets forward Jared Dudley is old school, so he's able to reference the 1993 comedy classic when he vented his frustration after the Nets snatched another defeat from the jaws of victory Wednesday night at Barclays Center, blowing a 20-point fourth-quarter lead in falling to the Thunder, 114-112.

The loss was Brooklyn’s eighth in a row and 11th in 13 games since blossoming guard Caris LeVert crumpled to the floor at the end of the first half in Minnesota on Nov. 12. LeVert is out indefinitely with a subtalar dislocation of his right foot.

More incredibly, the Nets are now a league-worst 4-12 in games that were within a five-point margin in the last five minutes and 8-8 when they’ve led at any point by double digits. 

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This was the Nets’ fourth loss (after New Orleans, Philadelphia and Memphis) in the most inconceivable manner. Or maybe, as I noted in the latest episode of my "City Game" podcast, we’ve reached the point when we must now classify these collapses as very conceivable.

This is who the Nets are.

“We’re losing in very similar ways -- not playing smart basketball,” Dudley said. “Not doing the little things -- rebounding, stupid turnovers, not knowing shot selection, time on the clock, fouling bad shots, putting them on the free-throw line. We’re just playing bad basketball in the last five to seven minutes, and it just seems like we’re out there and not making enough adjustments.”

Those who are irked by Dudley’s comments because of his miniscule production (four points and four rebounds in 19:31), I remind you that scoring totals and basketball IQ do not have a direct correlation. Besides, Dudley was a plus-12 Wednesday, though it wouldn’t have been my preference to have him on the floor on the Nets' final possession with three seconds left, when, as a last option, he had the inbound pass to him knocked out of bounds, all but killing the clock.

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When it comes to breaking down these games, however, Dudley hit the nail on the head. The Nets were moving the ball beautifully through three quarters against the league’s most efficient defense (100.5 points per 100 possessions entering Wednesday). In the fourth quarter, however, the Thunder started switching every screen. The Nets, again, found that problematic.

“We don’t have a star player, so the ball should never just be iso, pick-and-roll every single time, because we’re not good enough to do that,” Dudley said. “Sometimes, if we have enough IQ on the team, you try to get flares, you try to move the ball at different times -- sometimes you get a mismatch, you go by, you got to make the right read. So it’s always tougher for a team that doesn’t have a star player. As you saw with (the Thunder), they just give the ball to Paul George (47 points, 25 in the fourth quarter, including the go-ahead 3-pointer). He’s going to make a play. That’s what he gets paid for. 

"But for us, we just can’t get stagnant. We play the right way for the first three, three and a half quarters, and in the last six, seven minutes, it goes to pick-and-roll iso. And I don’t get it, because we have the same approach, and I don’t see any players here good enough to be able to do that on a consistent basis and get to the free-throw line. Even when Paul George missed a lot of shots, he got to the free-throw line a lot."

I’m not sure if that was meant as an indictment of Nets coach Kenny Atkinson, who continues to trust D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie to make one-on-one plays down the stretch with extremely little success, but it sure sounded like one.

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Dinwiddie is now 9-of-25 (36 percent) on field goals in clutch situations, per NBA.com. Russell is only slightly better at 11-of-29 (37.9 percent). 

On Wednesday, it was Russell’s turn to wear the goat horns, as he was the player to whom Dudley referred regarding shooting too early with the Nets ahead, 112-111. Russell launched a pull-up 3-pointer with 10.8 seconds remaining when there was still eight seconds left on the shot clock.

The Thunder took advantage of the new life, thanks to a Nets gaffe on the other end.

Off the inbound pass to Thunder star guard Russell Westbrook, who was surprisingly well contained with 21 points on 23 field-goal attempts, George moved over to set a screen above the 3-point line. For whatever reason, Nets forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who, mind you, was inserted for defensive purposes to stick to the red-hot George, moved in to double Westbrook. That left George wide open on the opposite side. George pump-faked Dinwiddie, who appeared to be unaware that he was supposed to switch off Westbrook when the screen was set (or maybe he wasn’t supposed to) and buried the dagger.

“These game-winners are like the easiest game-winners in NBA history,” Dudley said. “Players have to be more in tune -- we have to be on the same page. ‘What is it? Are we switching? Are we not switching? Are we keeping it in front?’ We’re giving guys wide-open shots. These are practice shots.”

Defensive miscommunications are as much an end-game problem for the Nets as the offensive stagnation. The run that allowed the Grizzlies to come back from seven points down in the last 25 seconds began when Nets wing DeMarre Carroll, a 10-year veteran, inexplicably helped on a Mike Conley drive to the basket, even though in those situations, you’re supposed to concede two-point shots. Instead, Conley’s kick-out found Jaren Jackson Jr., who was fouled (or not, per the NBA’s last two-minute report) by Hollis-Jefferson in the act of making a 3-pointer.

Unlike almost every other team, the Nets are not adept at switching on defense. I don’t know if it’s because they don’t practice it enough, or maybe, like the offense, they’re used to playing one way for 90 percent of the game and then change tactics at a point when every mistake is magnified. 

I’ve urged ad nauseum about how switching could help the Nets move up the ladder in defensive efficiency, but when two defenders end up guarding the same man while leaving a shooter open or no one knows when a switch is on or not, then a defense looks amateurish.

You don’t have to be an All-Star. A roleplayer like Dudley can see it just as clearly.      

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