In the highly awaited battle of the Lopezes, it was Brook who got the better of Robin in the Nets' 101-97 victory in New Orleans.
While Robin put up a solid line of 14 points and 7 boards, Brook's 20 point, 7 rebound performance was just one of reasons why the Nets emerged victorious out of the Hive.
- Shooting 67% in the 1st quarter and jumping out to an 11-point lead was obviously a big factor in the Nets holding of the Hornets late charge, especially when you consider New Orleans played some of its best defense in the 1st and still fell into an early hole. Deron Williams (who might've played his best game as a Brooklyn Net with a 33-point, 8 assist game) hit some tough shots, Brook Lopez got into a groove against Robin early, and the Hornets' offensive inefficiencies buried them in the first 12 minutes.
- The Hornets defense really stepped it up in the 3rd quarter, holding the Nets to just 16 points and allowing their 2nd unit a chance to try and close the margin further. But the rotations by some guys (namely Roger Mason and Greivis Vasquez) was just awful sometimes and allowed the Nets to have good looks. Just when you thought the Hornets were going to pull even the Nets would get an open three or 15-footer and any momentum was squashed.
-That being said, you have to continue to like what Vasquez is doing on offense and what he brings to the table as the leader of this team. While the debate will likely continue whose team this is going forward (ie Gordon's or Davis'), as of right now, this is Vasquez's team, no question. 20 points, 7 assists ans 8 rebounds shows how well-rounded a player he has become, and its the little things he does and recognizes now that really impresses me.
For instance late in the game his little shovel pass to Anderson on the fast break for the transition three (how uncanny is the Peja-Ryno comparison at this point by the way? That transition three and the quick/unblockable release is so similar between the two) showed how in sync the two are now and how he knows when and where to look for guys with the ball. Same goes for with Smith on the pick and pop, or Lopez/Davis rolling down the lane, or even Gordon when the team runs the dribble handoff game.
I thought earlier that I saw a lot of Andre Miller in his game, but the more I watch Greivis the more I think of Manu Ginobili. I'm not saying he's near the same level, but with the combination of shooting, craftiness in getting to the rim (because of a lack of footspeed) and being a 6-foot-6 guard who can play either position, I really like the comparison.
- I continue to love the way Aminu is playing right now. The guy is an absolute bulldog who is not afraid to bang down low with the big guys; which is why the more I see him I feel he is a power forward in small forward clothes.
He's long and athletic and a terrific rebounder and because he can't really stretch the floor with his shooting, his future might be as a bench PF who comes in and goes all out. His stats weren't the greatest last night, but he is playing with a controlled agression I really like.
-Jason Smith is a huge difference-maker for this 2nd unit and this team in general, no question. You can see how the team dynamic changes when he's not in the lineup, and how it forces other guys' roles to change. The things he provides you really can't quantify, and it allows more freedom for the guys he plays to do what they do best. We've seen what a Nick Collison or an Elton Brand can do for a team (especially in the playoffs) as the guy who comes in, plays his butt of on defense, doesn't mind scrapping and picking up fouls, and possesses that ever-disappearing skill of knocking down an open 15-18 footer. I love Smith's game and I hope Demps recognizes his importance and locks him up after his current deal ends.
-He continues to struggle with his shot and his decision-making, but Austin Rivers defense is a joy to watch at times, and if he continues to play above-average defense, he will merit more playing time even if his offense doesn't improve at the rate we (and the organization) hope. Patience is and will continue to be the key with Rivers, but his defense has really come around as the season has gone by.
It was the first half (and especially the 1st quarter) that doomed the Hornets in this one, but you have to love how the fought and scrapped their way back into this game and made it close at the end, forcing D-Will to make some pressure free throws at the end to ice it. On most nights you won't be able to question the effort of a Monty Williams-led team, and this night was an example of that. Say what you want about the rotation strategy and schemes Monty employs (and we have and will continue to, believe me), he gets these guys to play their butts off every night, and if you watch the other lottery/up and coming teams in this league, you can't always say the same. What this team lacks in talent they (try to) make up for in effort; as the talent comes along, hopefully good results will as well.
The Nets are a team that I feel are well-constructed, with their high-scoring (and highly paid) backcourt, their glue/do everything small forward (Wallace), a pair of super-rebounders at PF (Evans and Humphries), and a top 5 center in Brook Lopez. You can do worse for bench guys than C.J. Watson, Andray Blatche (who's been good most of this season), Keith Bogans and Humphries (who even though he's overpaid should defs be starting and getting moreminutes for how good a rebounder he is) and they seem to have good chemistry. That being said I'm still not buying this team as a contender in the East, and see them getting bounced first round.
As for the Hornets they now head to Oklahoma City for the 2nd game of this back-to-back. With Gordon most likely out as the team keeps the cautious approach to his knee issues, we may be looking at a rough one tonight. But I'll still be watching, and with a team like New Orleans you never know if a surprise road performance is in store. Here's to hoping anyway.