John Paolantonio, SNYNets.comNEW YORK — The Brooklyn Nets got off to the best start in franchise history in November, opening the season 11-4. A major reason for the success was the Nets bench. The "Bench Mob" put up great numbers, allowed Avery Johnson to give his starters sufficient rest, and often extended leads.
But after losing four straight games, it's obvious how much the Nets have missed Brook Lopez. And an understated reason for the recent losing has been the recent inefficiency of the bench.
In the first 15 games of the season, the Nets bench—Andray, Blatche, CJ Watson, Reggie Evans, Jerry Stackhouse and Keith Bogans—were excelling together most of the time with either Joe Johnson or Deron Williams on the floor with them.
In November, the Nets played well with Brook Lopez starting in the middle and solidifying the interior defense. Lopez scored and blocked shots at a higher rate than ever before in his career. Back on Nov. 28, the Nets defeated the Boston Celtics in Boston. Late in that win, Lopez hurt his foot and hasn't played since.
At the time Lopez got hurt, the Nets reserves were averaging about 30 points, 18 rebounds and five assists per game. And a big reason for that was Blatche. He was coming off the bench as Lopez's primary backup and sparked the second unit.
The team has not been the same since the Lopez injury, currently on a four game losing streak, and it is most evident in the play of the bench and the lack of production from them. Blatche, the team's most efficient reserve, has been forced to start with Lopez sidelined and the dynamic of the team has been throw off.
After the Nets 97-88 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday night, I spoke with C.J. Watson, another key reserve for the team. He, like most others in the locker room, was a bit somber.
When asked if the injury to Lopez has affected the bench's mentally, Watson didn't agree. "I don't think so," he said. "We still have to be aggressive and do what we can do when we are in the game and cant really have any excuses."
He continued, "We have to go out there and do what we can."
What he did agree with, though, was that the Nets defensive dynamic has changed without Lopez in the lineup. "Losing Brook is a big piece of the team," he said. "I think he was averaging 4 blocks a game, that does take a toll, but we still have to go out there and be productive without him."
Since Lopez went down and Blatche has started at center, the bench is averaging just 13 points and eight rebounds per game, and that's a major part of the reason why they've lost four straight.
If the Nets want to resemble the team that began the season 11-4, a healthy Lopez is necessary. Once he returns, Blatche can return to the bench and things will fall back into place.
After losing four straight, The Nets need a win in the worst way. On Tuesday, the New York Knicks visit Barclays Center, so winning the next one won't be an easy task, but Lopez practiced on Monday and is officially listed as a "game-time decision," so until tip-off, the Nets will hope that both he and the "Bench Mob" will make a return.