Brooklyn Nets Still Have Long Way to Go, As Weak Schedule Could Be Fool’s Gold No Matter Who Is Coaching

Tim Duncan, Andray BlatcheNo player likes to be taken off the court, but Deron Williams had to be wishing interim coach P.J. Carlesimo would take him out of his misery in the third quarter on Monday.

Williams, who has stunningly devolved into the most average $17 million point guard the NBA has ever seen, clunked and stumbled his way to another forgettable performance in a loss to the Spurs. All memories of the Brooklyn Nets’ 2-0 start since Carlesimo replaced Avery Johnson last week were gone as the Nets were held to five points in the third quarter.

At the very least, Williams can say he provided all of the scoring for his team in that fateful quarter, when he played all 12 minutes and had a hand in Brooklyn committing more turnovers (seven) than points. The third quarter opened with the Spurs ahead by 10. It ended with Nando De Colo — who had the ball courtesy of a turnover by Williams with four seconds on the clock — coaxing in an off-balance jump shot to give San Antonio a 33-point advantage.

The loss was definitive evidence that the Nets’ problems run deeper than Johnson, who was canned after guiding Brooklyn to just three wins in 13 games in December. If the Nets recover from an inevitable loss in Oklahoma City on Wednesday, be skeptical of any winning streak that follows. A light upcoming schedule may provide surface optimism for New York’s new team, but it would be fool’s gold.

“I already said we can’t call ourselves champions,” Williams told reporters after Brooklyn’s 104-73 loss. “We have a long way to go, even though I told you we had a great team on paper and we needed time to jell. I didn’t think it would take this long. I haven’t really figured out why we can’t jell. We just need to play better, and I think everybody knows that.”

The Nets’ two wins came against the Bobcats and the Cavaliers, who had combined records of 14-45 entering those matchups. After visiting the Thunder, the Nets finish up their three-game road trip in Washington, D.C., then play the Kings, Sixers, Suns, Pacers and Raptors in succession, with four of those games at home. Of those teams, only the Pacers are even within two games of .500.

Should the Nets beat every one of those clubs with losing records, do not count on their success continuing against the slate that follows: a home-and-home with the Hawks, followed by road games against the Knicks, Grizzlies, Timberwolves and Rockets. A respite against the Magic leads to a brutal three-game home stand against the Heat, Bulls and Lakers.

Due to all the hype that surrounded the team heading into the season, there is a temptation to say the Nets have failed to live up to expectations. In fact, the Nets are pretty much exactly what closer observers expected. Brook Lopez, when healthy, remains something less than an elite center despite All-Star-like numbers, and the big-name backcourt of Williams and Joe Johnson is so stationary, both players could easily be mistaken for expertly trimmed topiary versions of their younger selves. If their bench wanted to take part in the cute pastime of naming itself, it could start with “Andray Blatche and the Misfits.”

No matter what the Nets’ record tells us at the moment or come mid-January, mere wins and losses will not amount to much. If they truly are playing better — and maybe even give Indiana a run for its money — then, sure, some talk of the Nets being back on track may be warranted. But if they are simply beating the Raptors while Williams clangs his way to another 3-for-11 shooting performance, not even Phil Jackson will be enough to save the Nets.

Have a question for Ben Watanabe? Send it to him via Twitter at @BenjeeBallgame or send it here.

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