Nets' paint play picks up, but shooting's off

In the Nets locker room after the team's 99-92 loss to the Lakers yesterday afternoon, the only thing written on the whiteboard was 107/99. Addressing the media, Avery Johnson joked that he hoped his football predictions would be better than his basketball ones, since he thought the Nets would score 107 points and the Lakers 99. Turns out, Johnson was only half right -- and on the losing end.

Another thing Johnson didn't see coming -- this one being a positive -- was how many points in the paint his team would score against the two-time defending NBA champions. While the Lakers only scored 32 points in the paint, well below their season average of 46.1 (No. 2 in the league), the Nets were 29 of 56 in that area on the court, totaling 58 points. Going into the game, their season average was only 37.3 -- sixth-worst in the league. The Nets also made a season-high 18 baskets at the rim. Speaking of the Nets' presence in the paint, Johnson was very impressed with Brook Lopez's season-high six offensive rebounds. It was a rare compliment from Johnson, who had publicly called out his center's lack of aggression several times in the past couple of weeks.

While Johnson was blown away by his team's 58 points in the paint, he was bewildered by their bricklaying from the perimeter. He said if his team can't get consistent production from the inside and outside, they'll have a difficult time getting Ws. In the Nets' last four games against some of the league's best teams -- the Celtics, Hawks, Mavericks and Lakers -- the Nets averaged a respectable 12 baskets made and 58.5% shooting at the rim, but they had 30.3% accuracy on 16.5 average attempts from three-point land.

The problem is, right now the Nets only have two three-point shooters -- one in the starting five (Anthony Morrow) and the other off the bench (Jordan Farmar) -- which is why Johnson has been playing Farmar more at off-guard lately, alongside Devin Harris at point and Morrow at small forward, because he's been hot from downtown (20 of 45 and 44.4 3FG% in their last eight games). The biggest hole in the Nets' offense is at the all-important swingman position. Travis Outlaw's play at small forward has been a disappointment and now he's hardly seeing the floor, his short-term fill-in, rookie Damion James, is now out six to eight weeks after foot surgery, and now Johnson has to toggle between two journeymen, Quinton Ross and Stephen Graham, who have never averaged more than 5.4 points in their career.

While it now appears that superstar small forward Carmelo Anthony will not sign an extension with any team he is traded to unless it's the Knicks, according to Chris Sheridan of ESPN New York, Nets GM Billy King says he will work the phones to find something to help the team (The Star-Ledger). "We’ll probably do some deals before the [February 24th trade] deadline, I’m pretty sure,'' said King, whose team is now 6-18 on the season and currently on a seven-game losing streak. "When you have your record like we are, you’ve got to do some things to get better." King will have to shoot a bit higher than what he's put together so far.

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