This is the final Saturday Dose of the 2012-13 season and I feel no pressing need to furiously recap all 12 games from Friday (peruse our player news blurbs if you want every substantive detail), so I will conclude with some thoughts about the Nets.
I grew up in northern New Jersey (which makes my early and abiding love for the Supersonics a bit mystifying), and although I haven't lived there since 2004, I do have a fondness for the Nets teams of the early 2000s. That NJ squad was powered by Jason Kidd's fundamental brilliance, the explosiveness and emotion of pre-knee injury Kenyon Martin, the exuberant slashing of a fresh-out-of-Arizona Richard Jefferson (he took more than half his shots at the rim in 2002-03, converting at a 61 percent clip), a veteran sharp-shooter in Kerry Kittles, and a dyed-in-the-wool blue-collar frontcourt rotation featuring Aaron Williams, Jason Collins and Rodney Rogers, and anchored by the inimitable Dikembe Mutombo. (In response to the comment about Keith Van Horn's exclusion...I was building up this paragraph to discuss the 03-04 team that faced the Spurs (below), but you are absolutely correct that KVH's competent scoring and rebounding (he was 6'10" after all) earn him a spot in the pantheon of early-aughts Nets...not to mention his knee-high socks, wispy Van Dyke and fleeting moments of excellence. He left the team after a four-game sweep vs. the Lakers in the 2002 Finals, in which he shot 38.6 percent from the field.)
It was not the Dream Team, to be sure, but we're talking about a New Jersey Nets squad that languished in the shadow of the global-icon Knicks, while playing in a cavernous and under-attended arena 20 minutes away from a landfill called 'Fresh Kills'.
I remember watching, dumbstruck, as Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker helped the Celtics erase a 21-point deficit in the fourth quarter vs. the Nets during the 2002 playoffs. I was in the nosebleeds for Games 3 and 4 of the 2002-03 Finals, Spurs vs. Nets, both of which crystallized into half-court defensive brawls. Game 4 featured 49 fouls and combined 32.1 percent shooting from the field. The Spurs shot 28.9 percent but they only lost by a point, 76-77, before going on to win the series in six games. Hardcore basketball fans may have appreciated the brand of basketball being played, but it wasn't exactly viewer-friendly and it probably lost to Mad About You in the TV ratings, to David Stern's chagrin.
On a side note, I vividly recall much hand-wringing among fans after the 2004 season when the Nets, rather than re-sign Kenyon Martin (who had just begun dealing with knee problems), worked a sign-and-trade with the Nuggets for three first-round picks. Denver handed K-Mart a six-year maximum contract which quickly became a boondoggle once he needed multiple knee surgeries, and the rest is history (well not entirely, since he's still playing for New York...though currently injured). One moral of the story is that medical red flags are not to be dismissed lightly. CC: Eric Gordon, Jared Sullinger, Andrew Bogut, etc.
The modern-day Nets, the Brooklynite version, at least pretended to have a 'Big Three' on Friday. It's a welcome sight no matter how fleeting it proves to have been. Deron Williams scored 33 points with 14 assists, hitting five 3-pointers along the way, and his numbers in April are worthy of recitation -- 25.2 points on 55.3 percent shooting, 2.0 threes, 2.6 boards, 8.0 assists and just 1.6 turnovers (before Friday's festivities). He has canceled a planned cortisone shot to ease the pain in his ankles, which is another great sign, and his late-season surge stands in stark contrast to the injury and DNP-riddled rosters of most fantasy owners.
Brook Lopez hit 10-of-16 shots and finished with 24 points, six boards and five blocks. BroLo scoring at a steady pace isn't surprising, but the five swats were a season-high and they serve to highlight a recent trend -- in his past seven games he's now averaging 3.1 blocks per game (which is what league-leader Serge Ibaka is averaging this season). Prior to this season he had never averaged more than 2.4 blocks per game in any month (he did it in November 2009), but he's already bested that mark twice this season. Here's another tidbit to keep in mind for next year -- Lopez played all 82 games in each of his first three seasons in the NBA, before foot injuries ruined limited him to five games played in 2011-12.
Joe Johnson added to the good vibes by scoring 24 points with four 3-pointers, six rebounds, four assists and three steals. He even made 9-of-17 field goals and both of his free throws for one of the most well-rounded lines of his underwhelming-if-steady season. He scored 20 points vs. Boston on Monday, so he now has consecutive games with 20+ points for the third time all season. He has yet to crack 20 points in three straight games, however, and he won't have an easy go during Sunday's matinee vs. the Raptors, as Toronto has given up the seventh-fewest points per game of any team in the past five games. Numbers aside, it's great to see Johnson playing well despite his chronic heel issue, which it seems he is simply managing down the stretch. The Nets are basically locked into the fourth seed, and first-round home court advantage, so JJ must be feeling better if he's still in uniform for the final handful of games.
While I'm fussing around with the Nets...how about Reggie Evans? As I've mentioned many times (and is obvious if you've seen Brooklyn play and/or been reading boxscores) Evans easily leads the NBA in total rebound rate, grabbing 26.6 percent of all available boards, a new career-best. The next closest guys are Anderson Varejao, Kevin Love, Omer Asik and Andre Drummond. For comparison, consider that Dennis Rodman is the all-time leader in career rebound rate, at 23.4 percent, and Dwight Howard is second at 20.8 percent. If Evans keeps up his current pace for the final few games, he'll set the second-highest single-season mark in NBA history (again trailing Rodman, whose 29.7 percent in 1994-95 seems untouchable). If he does earn that distinction, he ought to write a 'thank you' card to Brook Lopez.
Interesting fact answer: The Bobcats hand out the fewest assists of any team in the NBA (19.0) but they are closely followed by the playoff-bound Knicks (19.2), Pacers (20.3), and Nets (20.3).
That will conclude the inaugural season of the Saturday Dose. I'll be writing columns during the summer, at the very least for inclusion in the draft guide, so be sure to check in periodically. If you're still playing out the bitter end of the 2012-13 season...good luck.