With or Without Wallace, Nets Defense Needs Improvement

Josh Newman, SNYNets.com

NEW YORK — Of the problems facing the Brooklyn Nets right now, defense is near the top of the list;  specifically, defending smaller lineups.

In Monday evening’s demoralizing 107-96 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Nets were outplayed down the stretch, mainly by a small lineup that features 6-foot-9, 235-pound Andrei Kirilenko at power forward.

Gerald Wallace

The Nets’ best defender, 6-foot-7 Gerald Wallace, may have helped solved the matchup problem, but he was out day-to-day with a sprained left ankle, for which he is officially day-to-day.

Wallace was ruled out for a second straight game on Wednesday morning before shootaround at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami. Regardless, the Nets need some answers as they prepare to face a Heat team that will also go small.

“They’re another small lineup, playing a power forward (Chris Bosh) at center and playing a small forward at power forward in Battier,” Nets head coach Avery Johnson said after Monday evening’s loss. “Their wing players, Wade and LeBron, have been consistently good for a long time. Our pick-and-roll coverage is gonna have to be really, really good and everybody will have to be on the same page.”

Even when Wallace was healthy for all but the final 27.6 seconds of Saturday’s opening win against the Toronto Raptors, the defense was an issue.

The Nets gave up 100 points to the Raptors before the 107 to the Timberwolves. While it’s only been two games and this group is work in progress, it currently ranks 27th in the NBA in opponent points per game. The Nets are also currently 25th in opponent field goal percentage at 47.4 percent.

It’s a small sample size just two games into the season, but it’s a trend that will need to be reversed if the Nets are to meet heightened expectations in their first season in Brooklyn.

“Historically, here, we’ve always had problems with small lineups,” Johnson said. “As you saw in the game tonight, when they went small at 4, they kind of put us in a bind. No excuses about Gerald Wallace not being here, but those are situations where we feel strongly about Wallace. When he’s not here, we’ve got to find a solution.”

Wallace would have presumably guarded LeBron James, who is off to a torrid start. Through four games, the three-time and reigning MVP is averaging 23 points, 9.3 rebounds and 5.0 assists as the Heat have won their last two since a 20-point loss to the Knicks at Madison Square Garden back on Nov. 2.

With Wallace unable to play, it will be interesting to see where Johnson goes. With Wallace out Monday, Johnson started Keith Bogans in the backcourt with Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. The thinking behind was not disrupting the regular bench rotation and starting MarShon Brooks or C.J. Watson

“He brings so much energy and that’s really something we’re going to have to manufacture ourselves because nobody can replace him,” Brook Lopez said of Wallace. “We can definitely use energy, so we just have to do what we can.”

The Nets have lost 11 consecutive games against the Heat dating back to Nov. 14, 2009 and 14 of their last 15 against the defending NBA champions.

Josh Newman is SNYNets.com’s Field Reporter. Follow him on Twitter for up to the minute news and banter on all things related to the Brooklyn Nets and the NBA.