For weeks, the power forward spot has been a point of concern for this team. Back on March 12, we saw Brook Lopez and Andray Blatche coexist quite efficiently on the floor together and we thought perhaps the team had found a front court tandem that could work.
But on Sunday night, Blatche logged just 13 minutes in the club's 105-93 loss to the Atlanta Hawks. It was a game the team absolutely needed to win, and they collectively folded like a cheap suit.
Even worse, P.J. Carlesimo made a questionable decision to leave Reggie Evans on the bench during the game's most critical juncture. And in hindsight, that was a failure of epic proportions.
Before Sunday's loss, the Nets had not played since March 12 and had every incentive to beat the Hawks. But after playing a pretty solid first half, the Nets collapsed in the second. During the game's fourth quarter, the Hawks' Jeff Teague dished out seven assists en route to tying his career-high of 15. Defensively, the Nets struggled in pick-and-rolls and had no answer for the Hawks interior toughness down the stretch of the fourth quarter.
But in the first three quarters, they did. Through the game's first 36 minutes, Evans was the standout player for the Nets. He logged 14 points and 21 rebounds and looked to be on his way to besting his previous career-high on the glass, 24.
Inexplicably, with the Nets leading by two points after three quarters, Carlesimo sat Evans for the first seven minutes of the fourth. By the time he reentered the game, Teague, Al Horford and Josh Smith had already sucked the life out of Barclays Center and out of the Nets. With the Nets trailing by 10 points, Evans reentered, but the Nets could not muster the energy and spirit needed for a comeback.
That Evans did not play was not the most troubling thing, it's that he should have.
When asked if he had any idea why he was benched after such a productive first half, Evans could only shake his head. "No," he said.
"It kinda is what it is, man. It's over with, you can't press rewind. I would have loved to have be in, but unfortunately, other people gotta play. You can't really do anything about it, you gotta roll with the punches."
He did admit, though, that it was tough sitting on the bench and watching his team unravel.
"It's hard," he said. "Just knowing that we were right there and that we were kinda just fading away."When addressing the media, Deron Williams seemed unsure about a lot of things and he cited the constant shuffling of the Nets lineups and rotations as an area of uncertainty.
At this point, it's too late for that.
Professional athletes—and especially NBA players—are creatures of habit. Players need to know what is expected of them and when and how long they will play. If there is one area that Carlesimo has seemingly failed, it is there.
At some point during the course of a season, things need to become clear. That the Nets still lack answers so often after bad losses is an area for concern.
"I don't know what it is, I've been trying to figure it out all year," Williams said when asked why the team appears to go through flat stretches.
"When we sub, at times, it takes us a while to get going again and it seems like we could be up a couple baskets and we sub and a team goes on a 7-0 run real quick and those things, we gotta try to avoid coming down the stretch like this and against good teams like we played tonight."
When asked what happened down the stretch of the game's final quarter, Williams pointed to the Nets defense, which suffered without Evans.
"They killed us in the pick-and-roll," he said. "Teague was making a lot of things happen in the fourth quarter."
And Carlesimo was not. When asked what the Nets could do differently, Williams could not offer much.
"We're still trying to figure that out," he said.
Unfortunately, time is about up.
As the Nets embark on their eight game road trip and attempt to recapture the still attainable Atlantic Division title, a lot of things need to be figured out. One such thing is the rotation, and that is the coach's job.
On Sunday night, Reggie Evans grabbed at least 20 rebounds in a game for the fifth time this season. For the first time this season, the Nets lost. Afterward, when asked about the decision to leave him out of the game for such an extended period, Evans could not explain why. Carlesimo did not communicate with him and all he could do was shrug his shoulders and shake his head when asked why he was not in the game.
At this point in the season, the Nets should be more certain of who they are. The team should have forged an identity by now.
If not, once their first round playoff series concludes, the team will collectively do exactly what Evans did after the Nets dropped their 105-93 loss to the Hawks on Sunday.
Stare blankly at nothing in particular. Confused. Befuddled.
Wondering, silently, what happened.
For Brooklyn, with the Knicks limping and the division crown there for the taking, the opportunity to snatch it and proclaim the 2013 Atlantic Division title to be the property of King's County is right there.
Carlesimo and his team need to all realize that and seize the opportunity. There is only 16 games to go, the guessing game needs to end and Carlesimo is the one that needs to make a few firm decisions and emerge as the leader of this team.