If there was one overriding priority for the Nets during the preseason, it was the development of the relationship between new point guard Jeremy Lin and franchise center Brook Lopez because of the productive dynamic that could create for the entire offense. But Lopez and the Nets found out in the first game without the injured Lin how much more difficult that is when a defense can throw the kitchen sink at Lopez, as the Hornets did in a 99-95 win Friday night at Barclays Center.
Lopez scored 10 of the Nets’ first 17 points and was held to eight the rest of the way as the Hornets sent two and three defenders at him. He had only two of those points in the second and third quarters, when the Hornets took control.
“I think they probably had a talk at halftime and said, ‘We can’t let this guy get so many touches and so many shots in the post,’ ” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “I think they made an adjustment and really made his catches tough. They started fronting him in the post, and quite honestly, we’re going to have to work on doing a better job of getting him counters to that.”
The Nets, who will end their current homestand against Minnesota on Tuesday night at Barclays Center, are going to have extended time to work on their adjustments because Lin virtually is guaranteed to miss a minimum of seven straight games through the end of a string of five road games that follow the Timberwolves contest. That means rookie point guard Isaiah Whitehead, who started in Lin’s place, and Sean Kilpatrick, who ran the show most of the fourth quarter, must build their own relationships with Lopez.
Whitehead had his best outing of the season against the Hornets with eight points, three assists and three turnovers, but he blamed himself and the Nets more than Charlotte’s defense for their offensive troubles. “We just weren’t finding him,” Whitehead said of Lopez. “We should always find him in the right spots. It’s our job to get him open and call the right plays.”
Kilpatrick recognized that there were times when the Nets got the ball inside to Lopez and he got stuck wrestling with defenders and trying to force shots because there were few outlets.
“It’s tough, especially when they’re doubling him the way they did,” Kilpatrick said. “We have to be better as guards and as a unit, continuing to slide over when they decide to double-team him and make sure that we’re open for an outlet, because he is going to get that a lot.
“He demands a lot of attention, and I think that’s something he handles well. He’s a great passer out of the post, so we have to keep cutting and making sure we’re available when he needs us.”
Kilpatrick has moved from two-guard to the point, so he faces a learning curve. “I have to do better,” he said. “I have to make better decisions and continue to keep getting everybody involved and make sure I’m doing my job as the quarterback at that time.”