The Nets are a bad team - clearly the worst in the league. Dead last in offensive efficiency, not much better on defense, and painfully slow to watch, there's not much going for New Jersey this season, and that's why they're on pace to set the record for fewest wins in a season (in a ridiculously weak Eastern Conference, at that).
The pace-adjusted stats show that they really are as bad as most people think they are, but their pythagorean record (based off of point differential) suggests that, while the Nets are really bad, they aren't historically bad, or even particularly awful in terms of the last few years: 12-54, still the worst in the NBA, but a fairly typical "worst in the league" record.
So while it was frustrating to watch the Rockets struggle to gain any sort of lead on these Nets through the first half, it shouldn't have been too shocking. Devin Harris is one of the best point guards in the NBA when he's not battling a variety of injuries, and though this has been a tough season for him, he's still capable of scoring efficiently a burning any defense in the league. He might not have AB's shooting touch from behind the arc, but he's got Brooks' speed and the finishing ability that the Rockets' starting point guard never really developed. Brook Lopez is a great young player, fully able to do the same.
But at the same time, one doesn't expect guys like Courtney Lee and Jarvis Hayes to light up your defense. Well, maybe Lee, but certainly not Hayes. And the story of tonight's game would certainly be, had a certain Argentine Slayer not exploded for a career night, of the Rockets' failure to defend properly.
On some level, I'm aware of the dangers of making any sort of "trend" based off of single-game (or multi-game, for that matter) samples. Shit happens - the tail ends of statistical distributions are bound to occur, eventually, right? But the Rockets totally failed to defend the perimeter for the first half, so that has to be their fault. Well, maybe not - the Nets are an awful team from beyond the arc. Their best three-point shooters (Yi Jianlian and Chris Quinn) stayed on the bench, and the only other "dangerous" perimeter shooter on their roster is Keyon Dooling, who decided to not shoot last night. Courtney Lee shot well last season, but he has declined this season significantly. Jarvis Hayes, who went off for 4/5 shooting from beyond the arc last night, is a career .354 shooter, but is also having a tough season.
But we should be aware that those players are capable of hitting open shots. Ariza is shooting terribly this season, but he can knock down threes like he's wearing purple and gold again when he's left open, and the same is true of most players (Rafer was, of course, the exception). So the Rox fucked up pretty bad in the first half when they kept leaving these players wide open, but even in the second half they didn't really close out like they should have.
In the end, it didn't matter. Luis Scola exploded for 44 points and 12 rebounds. He only turned the ball over twice (a nice change from some of his recent games), fouled only twice, and actually defended Lopez reasonably well down the stretch. I guess Josh Boone is considered something of a defensive player, but Scola destroyed him and everyone else Kiki Vandeweghe threw at him tonight. More on him later.
Part of what intrigues me about bad teams is that the way they lose goes beyond simple issues with not hitting shots or not defending properly. Bad teams find other ways to screw up, and the Rockets were able to exploit that last night. The Nets were destroyed on the fast break: 23 points vs only 9. The Rockets make a point to pressure the defense after every shot, attempting to run the break whenever the opposing team crashes the boards or makes a shot, and it showed. A 14-point advantage here was huge.
Turnovers, as usual, were something of an issue for the Rockets, but no more than normal. That was mitigated by massive advantages in rebounding (Jordan Hill continues to be critical here, as was David Andersen, Battier, and - of course - Scola).
Luis Scola - Yet another in a long string of great games from Luis, but this was obviously the best. He has really been on for the past month, basically. The increase in minutes has paid off in rare form.
Kyle Lowry - Continues to show why he's so important to the team. Plus/minus continues to be denigrated in the statistical community, but if there's one case for its truth, it might be Lowry (and Battier, too. But both look pretty good in boxscore metrics, too, so whatever). In any case, he settled down the defense and slowed down Devin Harris' initially-frantic pace. Critical, as usual.
Kevin Martin - A very quiet 20 points, but I continue to be blown away by his efficiency. Not that efficient tonight, but he kept getting to the line and didn't turn the ball over once.
Aaron Brooks - Unlike ak2themax, I feel pretty strongly that AB isn't Harris' equal, let alone his superior. Still, he shot poorly for much of the night, and I don't think he really made up for it elsewhere. Seven assists, though, so I might be wrong. Continued to get burned on the defensive end by screens, though that isn't really unusual. Fouling out is however, and he was clearly frustrated throughout the game. Just kinda pissed me off a little, I guess. Not particularly awful or anything, though.
Chuck Hayes - I don't know. Maybe Chuck needs rest, because he hasn't been getting it done the last few games. Weird. On the other hand, it could just be poor luck. Couldn't stop Lopez in the first few minutes and wasn't really given much of a chance to try again later. Helped get Lopez in foul trouble, though, so that was good.
Jordan Hill - Tough to criticize a 4 offensive rebound performance, but he didn't do much else, and kept trying to make tough shots early in the game. Play what you know, or at least save the experimental stuff for when the Rockets are up by 20.