The New Jersey Nets have already made history with the longest losing streak by an NBA team to begin a season. Their 18th consecutive loss came on Wednesday night against the Mavericks. Now the Nets will try to avoid going 0-19 when they host the Bobcats tonight in general manager Kiki Vandeweghe’s first game as interim coach.
So what can Vandeweghe do get the Nets on the winning track that Lawrence Frank, fired as the coach last Sunday, couldn’t? Vandeweghe admits he has no magic formula, though he does to plan to give the younger players more minutes and play at a faster pace. The Nets are 15th in NBA with a 92.5 pace factor.
“At this point, you don't have training camp, you can't make radical changes,” Vandeweghe said. “What we might do is simplify things a little for the young players, focus on the development of our young players. That's obviously going to be a big focus. Then on the court, I would expect we might play a bit quicker, make it a 94-foot game. We have a very fast team, players who are athletic, can run. We want to get out, open the court up a little. On the defensive end, I would expect we'll be a bit more aggressive, more pressure, try, again, to make the game quicker.”
While the Nets have continued to play hard, morale is definitely an issue for a team that is winless this deep into the season.
“I feel like the streak is getting the best of us,” guard Chris Douglas-Roberts said. “You have to have the heart to overcome something like this.”
Vandeweghe understands the frustration of his players.
“Nobody likes to lose, period, and obviously we've made it clear and everybody knows this is a developmental year but nobody expected this,” Vandeweghe said. “Obviously, it's not acceptable. I think it's not acceptable to anybody but especially the players.”
Vandeweghe has never been a head coach and did not want to job but was persuaded by Nets president Rod Thorn. Vandeweghe, though, insisted that he have a veteran assistant coach and the Nets hired Del Harris. Vandeweghe and Harris once were assistants with the Mavericks under Don Nelson.
“Del obviously has been around the NBA for a very long time,” Vandeweghe said. “I worked with Del in Dallas for two years. He came in halfway through the season, helped Don Nelson, really I think, turn around the Mavericks. I saw what he did. I got to know him very well. We spent a lot of time together. He taught me a lot in those two years, talking about Xs and Os. He's one of the brightest guys I think in the game. He's been in this role. He's been a head coach with a lot of experience and he's been somebody who's been in that support role, which I can really appreciate.”
Iverson Set to Debut with 76ers
Allen Iverson’s official return to the Philadelphia 76ers will come Monday when he joins the active roster for that night’s game against the Nuggets at the Wachovia Center. That will end his short-lived retirement that came after he left the Grizzlies three games into the season.
However, Iverson is coming back on the 76ers’ terms as he signed a non-guaranteed contract for only the remainder of this season at the veteran’s minimum salary. What attracted him to the 76ers is that he played the first 10 ½ seasons of his career with them and has a chance to step in as the starting point guard with Lou Williams out until late January with a broken jaw.
“This is a low risk for the organization and a high reward,” 76ers general manager Ed Stefanski said. “When he steps onto the court, he gives you everything he has. I told him that's one thing I want, for him to show our young guys on the court and to talk to young guys about what's happening on the court.”
Coach Eddie Jordan says he has not decided if Iverson will replace rookie Jrue Holiday in the lineup. However, it sure sounds that way.
“I compare him to Brett Favre, a guy who people think is almost too old to play and he's having an MVP-type year,” Jordan said. “It's not a big maybe. I think he can be that.”
Iverson was reportedly a divisive figure in the Pistons’ locker room last season because he was upset about being used as a bench player for the first time in his career. Jordan, though, has no qualms about Iverson’s attitude potentially becoming a problem.
“I think the team is excited about it,” Jordan said. “Guys are jacked up. He's a winner, an assassin on the floor. That sort of thing is contagious.”
Bird Preaches Patience
The Pacers have lost seven of their last eight games to fall to 6-10. However, team president Larry Bird is stressing patience rather than change, especially because coach Jim O’Brien has not had the full roster at his disposal this season due to injuries.
“Everything is always based off wins and losses, but the thing with us is, we're rebuilding and we're trying to get a team here that we can compete with on a nightly basis,” Bird said. “From my point of view, I'd like to see everybody back and see what we have as a team.”
Bird also says O’Brien does not have to worry about his job security.
“He’s in a tough position,” Bird said. “He hasn't had all of his players, even through training camp. What you have to do is let your coach have all his players and see where you're at and go from there. We're slowly getting the guys back out there to play a little.”
Closing Games a Concern for Lakers
You know a team is playing well when its biggest concern is that it is not winning by a large enough margin. That is how things are going for the L.A. Lakers, who have won seven straight games to raise their record to an NBA-best 14-3.
The Lakers’ average margin of victory during the streak has been 16.7 points. Yet that isn’t enough for some of their players would like to see the reserves play better in garbage time.
“We have to do a better job at closing those games,” forward Lamar Odom said after the Lakers wound up beating the Hornets by 11 points on Tuesday after holding a 21-point lead at the end of the third quarter. “Use each other to each other's strength. Share the basketball and move it within the triangle. Know how to use each other."
Odom is the leader of the Lakers’ reserve corps now that forward Pau Gasol has returned to the lineup. However, beyond Shannon Brown’s 113, none of the other Lakers’ reserves have an offensive rating over 100, a group that includes Odom, Jordan Farmar, Adam Morrison, Josh Powell and Sasha Vujacic.
“There are still things we need to improve on,” Odom said. “We need to keep getting better and better and better.”
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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