Nets update. The Nets have lost four of their last five, with their latest defeat a 93-76 home thumper against the Celtics yesterday (merry Christmas!). Only the Heat (5-4) have played fewer road games than the Nets (5-6), whose 11-4 start now seems like a distant memory. Brook Lopez's absence certainly didn't help, but the Nets' 2-4 record since his return suggests their issues aren't as simple as one player's absence. Speaking of which: Kris Humphries is not expected to play tonight due to an abdominal strain.
JJ and Deron. Everyone knew the Nets were taking a huge gamble this summer when they picked up the remaining $89 million owed to Joe Johnson, and so far it's looking like the former Hawks' star may be declining even more rapidly than expected. The 31-year-old Johnson's per-minute scoring, rebounding and assist numbers are all at their lowest levels since 2005, while his PER (13.90) is below average for the first time since 2004. In short: this will not end well.
More surprising have been the struggles of Deron Wiliams. Fresh off signing a new $99 million extension over the summer, Williams is shooting a career-low 39.8% while posting mere mortal numbers across the board: 16.6 ppg, 8.0 apg, 17.09 PER, 51.6% true shooting. The Bucks could live with getting that from Brandon Jennings, but there's a reason the Bucks seemed averse to forking over $10 million per season for Jennings this summer, while the Nets gladly shelled out nearly $20 million per year for Williams. The former Illinois star also raised some eyebrows earlier this week when he suggested he was more comfortable in the motion offense he ran under Jerry Sloan in Utah than the more iso-based offense preferred by Nets coach Avery Johnson
Beno. Beno Udrih is finally nearing his return from a sprained ankle, though he is still listed as questionable for tonight's game (Tobias Harris is also questionable, but it's not like he was going to play anyway). The Bucks have been drastically better with Udrih on the court this season (+9.4 pts/100), though interestingly enough it's been on the defensive end where lineups featuring Udrih have excelled. The Bucks are a whopping 14.2 pts/100 better defensively with Udrih on the court but 4.8 pts/100 worse offensively. Which is strange since a) the Bucks' offense has been rather abysmal since Udrih last played almost a month ago and b) Beno's hardly known for his work on the defensive end. But the Bucks are also 11.0 pts/100 worse defensively with Brandon Jennings on the court, so it would seem that as so-so as Beno might be, Jennings has been that much worse.
Central madness. Coming off perhaps their least inspiring effort of the season in Saturday night's home loss to the Cavs, the Bucks find themselves 6th in the East and third in the Central, though just one game behind Indiana for the top spot in division. While the Bucks (7-6) and Bulls (8-7) have struggled at home, Indiana's top-ranked defense has helped them overcome a fairly wretched offense to climb back into the top spot in the Central. The problem for the Bucks is that at some point both Chicago (Derrick Rose) and Indiana (Danny Granger) will be adding all-stars back into their lineups, while the Bucks...well, barring a trade the Bucks pretty much are who they are right now. It's not to say the Bucks were expecting to win the Central coming into the season, but they've had a number of very winnable games get away from them thus far, with Saturday's loss to Cleveland exhibit A.
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