Lionel Hollins may be right, but he has to get creative in crunch-time

LeBron James turned the Nets down in the summer of 2010 -- and he has been crushing them ever since.

King James inflicted hurt on the New Jersey/Brooklyn franchise yet again on Saturday night in Cleveland, hitting the winning floater with one second left to give the Cavaliers a 90-88 victory.

James, who has won 21 of his last 26 regular-season games against the Nets, finished with 26 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists.

Once again, the Nets (3-13) played a potential NBA title contender down to the wire. And, once again, they came up short.

They built an 83-76 lead with 4:55 left but failed to record a field goal from there, amassing only five points -- all on made free throws -- over their final 10 offensive possessions (including Jarrett Jack's 3-point heave at the buzzer that missed).

Brooklyn is now 2-6 in games that are within five or fewer points in the final five minutes -- shooting 31 percent from the field and 27.3 percent from 3-point range in those situations.

Some of their struggles in crunch-time obviously have to do with the fact they simply don't have a go-to superstar.

But Nets coach Lionel Hollins also deserves some blame for that as well -- max player Brook Lopez (22 points, 9 rebounds), victim of a missed foul call on James late, needs to get more quality touches/shots down the stretch (he's 0-for-7 from the field this season in "clutch" situations, including the missed bunny in Golden State) -- even if doesn't want to accept it.

Before Saturday night's game, Hollins, who holds a 41-57 record since taking over for Jason Kidd in 2014-15, was asked about the difference between winning and losing in closing time -- and seemed to absolve himself of any responsibility for his team's late-game woes because of a lack of talent in the process.

"I don't try to analyze everything. I see it and I know what it is. But what good does it do for me to stay up all night and analyze it and try to figure out how to make it different when we don't have Kevin Durant, we don't have Russell Westbrook (and) we don't have LeBron James?" Hollins told reporters in Cleveland.

"We are who we are," he continued, honestly, "and if we go out and play together as a team and work as a group and try to be disciplined in what we're doing, we give ourselves a chance. That's all you can do. If you're not good enough to win those games, because of the other team's talent, you've still done all you can do and you just go home and go to bed."


But even if Hollins is right, most NBA coaches will take the blame even when it isn't on them, deflecting criticism off of their players in the process.

Nets GM Billy King, fairly at the center of fan criticism for trading 11 first-round picks (including Derrick Favors and pick swaps) for Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in an effort to satisfy his Russian ownership's desire to win now, was the one who hired Hollins, giving the former 56-game winner in Memphis a four-year contract that could be worth around $20 million if Brooklyn picks up his fourth-year option.

Hollins, the old-school, no-nonsense coach whose team somehow made the playoffs in his first season -- overcoming a rocky start in which he clashed with several players, most notably Lopez, and simplified the offense to suit his underwhelming personnel -- had hoped his team's greatest strength going into his second season be its depth. That hasn't been the case.

And it's that lack of depth on the "bridge year" roster that King (currently in the final year of his contract) built that continues to hamper the Nets night in and night out. Their starters -- specifically, Lopez, Thaddeus Young, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (inserted into the starting unit at the request of the front office, 6 points, 10 rebounds, 5 steals on Saturday night) and, surprisingly, Jack -- have played pretty darn well.

Their bench, for the most part, hasn't.

Which brings us to Sunday night's game against Detroit at Barclays Center -- the final game in what has been a dreadful month of November.

The Nets, who owe their unprotected 2016 and 2018 first-round selections to Boston (along with a pick swap in 2017), don't have to leave New York until Dec. 18.

They've been playing hard but don't have the results to show for it.

Time is ticking. The playoffs seem like a long shot.

Hollins might not be at fault in his mind for why the Nets are where they are, but if success is judged on wins and losses, he and his team have a lot of ground to make up.

He needs to tinker and make adjustments, whip out his clipboard and draw up some creative plays to put Lopez in a position to have success and turn things around in crunch time. That's why they pay him the big bucks. After all, not every shot down the stretch has to be a contested mid-range jumper, tough long two-pointer or floater by a probing Jack or Joe Johnson.

Another game-winner by LeBron -- the man who has been haunting them for years -- certainly didn't help matters.