Three Takeaways from a Brooklyn Nets Demolition of the Orlando Magic
Entering Wednesday’s action, the Brooklyn Nets were coming off a disappointing, but understandable loss to a juiced=up Chicago Bulls team. It was the second night of an international back-to-back, and it showed in the second half. It would be dismissive to claim that as the only reason for the loss, though. The Bulls played a tight second half, for one, and the Nets had issues that, while maybe impacted by dead legs, weren’t just the dead legs themselves.
However, the taste of that loss would easily be washed out with a win vs. the Orlando Magic. The Nets have been playing excellent basketball over the last two weeks. Losses like that happen in a long season. Take care of business Wednesday, and a six-game road trip would start out 3-1. Hard to complain about that.
And take care of business they did. The Nets pushed Orlando to an arm’s distance early in the second quarter, and kept them there until the close of third quarter. Leading 85-74 with the period winding down, Brooklyn would rip off a 30-9 run over the next 10 or so minutes to turn a fairly competitive contest into a laugher. Here are three takeaways from the win:
The Magic Cosplay Carpenters
You know, building houses? All the bricks they shot? Seriously though, they shot dismally from three. Brooklyn played well, sure, but the story of this game cannot be told without at least touching on Orlando’s complete ineptitude from deep. The second quarter, in particular, featured a number of open jumpers from the Magic that clanged off iron. It all added up to a fetid 4-33 from deep.
And it’s notable because it feels like a continuation of Brooklyn’s luck this year. The defense is much improved from this previous regular season, no doubt. Per Cleaning the Glass, the Nets are up to the fourth-best half-court defense in the league this year. But for now, they’re almost certainly punching above their weight. They give up the fifth-most shots at the rim, but opponents are converting those attempts at a bottom-10 rate (or is it a top-10 rate? I don’t know, but there’s a lot of missed layups against Brooklyn). That’s a little less luck based, likely due to their schedule so far not including a lot of potent offensive teams and some of the fruits of a defensive scheme that drops the big back more often.
However, opponents also have the second-worst mark from downtown against the Nets, and the sixth-worst from the midrange. It feels like it’s a matter of time before the other shoe drops, and the regression monster hits. Orlando, though, certainly wasn’t the team to reverse that trend.
James Harden Keeps Progressing
HardenWatch was a fun time Wednesday night. The Beard looked the best he’s looked all season, and he continued a pattern of progress. It’s important to note his early struggles were not just the result of a lack of burst, whether from the hamstring injury or his conditioning or supernatural interference. There was looseness in his handles, likely as a result from not playing basketball for months. The rule changes were not completely insignificant either, and whether that was the cause of some trepidation attacking the rim, who knows? But Harden certainly wasn’t as eager to get rolling downhill as we’ve seen in the past.
None of that was the case in Orlando. The burst isn’t, and truly may never return to, peak Harden. Or even the Harden of this past March. But again, that’s not his only tool in the toolkit. Here, he gets to the rim and forces a (bad) goaltending call with a lethal behind-the-back dribble:
That simply wasn’t in his arsenal on opening night. He’s also just so damn strong, built like a bull in the chest area so defenders just bounce off him. Here, he gets just a half-step, not a whole step, on the defender, but that’s all he needs. If you’re on the side of Harden, it’s already over, because you can’t knock him off balance:
And finally, this was the most intriguing Harden possession of the night. He doesn’t find a lane to the rim against Cole Anthony. Whatever. He decides to post him up (lord knows how many times I’ve mentioned this as a potential development in his game), draws two, and finds Bruce Brown for two:
These hours…they’re unsettling. Eerie, even. Scary, if you’re so inclined.
Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge
They’re the final takeaway. DeAndre’ Bembry deserves a shoutout for nailing all three of his outside shots (now that would be the real scary hours). Paul Millsap, again, was good off the bench. But good lord, these two just won’t miss. In particular, Aldridge looks more spry than he has since 2018. This long predates the heart condition he played with last year. He’s hunting his offense, and for a team bereft of non-superstar creators, the Nets need it. He’s posting up in semi-transition and attacking closeouts.
But of course, the real story is he might be the second-hottest jump-shooter in the world. I actually counted three missed mid-range shots from Aldridge today, which would constitute a cold streak for him, had he not made up for it by going three-for-five from deep. He won’t last the whole season with these shooting splits, but there are more than just flashes of prime Aldridge. There are stretches where he takes over basketball games. What a wild development.
And I say he’s the second-hottest jump-shooter on the planet because of his own teammate. Kevin Durant went 11-12 vs. the Magic. He has no right to do that, like he was a lob-finishing center. How can ‘Efficiency Man’ primarily be an off-the-dribble jump shooter? It makes no sense!
But Kevin Durant is eternal. The lefty hang dribble into a pull-up jimbo. The Dirk imitation (that he might be better at). The fadeaway over the left shoulder. When the Basketball Hall of Fame replaces physical memorabilia with NFTs, these are the gifs that should adorn the hallways. Simple and unstoppable. Beautiful. And it goes beyond him dumping 30 on an overmatched Magic team.
Durant is in his Blue Period. Unlike, say, Kyrie Irving, KD has never dazzled us with colorful explosions, aesthetically sprawling works of art that only get more confusing with each rewind. Using one or two colors is enough for Durant to ruin lives. You know how it ends before the play even begins. KD is a master, celebrating his craft by championing the very basics of it. Get to your spot, and hit your shot. A tale as old as time. Everything KD does on the court makes complete sense. And yet, it’s still unfathomable.