Five games into the Brooklyn Nets season the novelty of being the new kid of the block has worn off. Now it's time to start winning some basketball games; especially since their city rivals, the Knicks, have gotten off to such a heady start. The Nets bounced back with another win against the Orlando Magic tonight (82-74) – completing a sweep of their home-and-home series – but not before another scare, the Magic almost erased a 20-point lead that Brooklyn had built up.
A key for consistent Nets wins is getting their much-talked about back-court duo Deron Williams and Joe Johnson on the same page. So far this season Johnson is struggling through his worst statistical output since the 2002-03 season with the Phoenix Suns as he continues to try to acclimate himself with his new All-Star running mate.
Johnson shot a woeful 3-13 from the field tonight (dropping his field goal percentage to .362% for the Nets five-games so far) and finished with just 13 points – roughly his average for the season. The fans are getting restless, they want to see the All-Star capabilities of Johnson who says there's a breakout game coming soon.
"It will [come]. It'll come together soon man. We'll get back to the drawing board tomorrow, prepare for Cleveland and take it one game at a time and soon it's gonna' come," said Johnson after the game. "All my shots tonight felt great – maybe except for one or two – but, other than that I felt like they were all going in."
Avery Johnson deflected questions that the player was due a breakout game.
"Breakout for what? As long as we're winning – you know there's a possibility that Joe could average 22 points per game, or he could average 16. "I [just] want Joe to be efficient. Now, was this his most efficient game? No. But, he'll get there. He's playing with Deron Williams, Brook Lopez. He's geting double and triple teams, especially since Gerald Wallace is out. So, again, he's going to get there, he's going to be efficient," said the coach at the post-game conference. "Joe just needs to come to practice tomorrow and shoot the basketball, keep playing with his teammates and he'll be just fine."
Unlike the other big-name pairing at the Knicks, both Johnson's game and Deron Williams' on-court play are more suited to each other than Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire's. As Johnson moves away from the 'Iso-Joe' reputation he earned while at Atlanta, he says the Nets are still a work in progress as he's still learning Williams sweet spots on the floor.
"For me it's more about taking my time, picking my spots and not rushing. Shots are shots. Obviously I'm still trying to feel my way in [get acclimated], not just offensively, but just us as players in general, trying to develop some chemistry to where we can be just clicking on all cylinders," said Johnson.
The 'work in progress' sentiment is also touched on by Avery Johnson who stressed that his team shouldn't be judged after a small sample of games, rather he feels it may take up to a quarter of the season to see where this team of newly formed players is at.
"We’re (three) games into the season, " coach Johnson said. “About our record, after 10 or 20 games let’s have a deep discussion about our record. Not after (four).”
If the Nets are to make ground on the streaking Knicks, Johnson will have to step up his game to a more consistent level over the period coach Johnson described. The coach has maintained from the get-go that he wanted efficiency from his players this season and even though he's been logging heavy minutes (just over 41 tonight), Joe Johnson says that hasn't been a factor in his inconsistent form.
"Regardless of how long he plays me on the court, I'm ready," asserts the Nets guard. "It's not about my minutes, whether I play a lot or whether I don't, for me it's just trying to be productive in the minutes that I do play."
With the next two games at home, followed by a grueling three-game Californian road stand against the Kings, Lakers and Warriors, the Nets are stressing patience with Johnson but must be hoping he regains his touch sooner, than later, if they're to seriously challenge for the Atlantic crown. Otherwise the next time you hear the phrase, 'Where Brooklyn at?', the answer will be surely be: middle of the road in the Eastern Conference.
Image via : AP/Frank Franklin II