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Nets zoned out again

6/14/2003

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The story of this game is the same as the story of this series. The New Jersey Nets can't solve the San Antonio Spurs' zone and subsequently can't solve the Spurs.

Though it's easier said than done, the Nets must find a way to shoot the ball better to solve the Spurs' 3-2 zone. They're not penetrating the ball by passing to the middle of the lane. If they do that, they'll get a good shot and will have a chance at shooting the Spurs out of the zone. Instead, they're passing the ball around the perimeter, which makes the zone look more fierce than it really is and settling for shots that they are missing. The Nets aren't a good jump-shooting team, so they must attack the middle of the lane and look for easy layups and fouls.

This was a very up and down night for the Nets. On one hand, they outrebounded the Spurs 42-39 and forced 15 turnovers (including six by Tim Duncan). On the other hand, they turned the ball over 16 times (including eight by Kenyon Martin) and shot only 35 percent from the field. That's a direct result of their inability to solve the zone.

Jason Kidd attempted to take over this game, but his shot just wasn't consistent enough for him to pull it off. Though he scored 29 points, it took him 23 shots to get those points. That's too many shots for a guy like Kidd. His job is to direct the offense, not to be the focal point of it. But Kidd seemed resigned from the beginning of the game to the fact that he would need to score more for his team to win. And after a strong first-quarter showing, Kidd spent the rest of the game attempting to rediscover his missing shot.

But a lot of the blame should fall on Kidd's teammates. After a strong Game 4, Richard Jefferson scored 19 points but was useless when the Spurs switched to the 3-2 zone because of his lack of a jumper. Kerry Kittles scored only eight points as he continued his disappointing play in the Finals, and the bench was non-existent. The reserves were 5-for-20 from the field and only scored 16 points compared to the Spurs' 35 bench points. That type of play is absymal at any point, but the Nets were missing Martin's strong low-post play due to his flu-like symptoms. And when a guy as important to your team as Martin isn't 100 percent, the rest of the team must step up.

Martin's sickness was the reason for his lethargic play. At the six-minute mark of the first half, Martin asked for a breather because of his lack of strength. I looked into Martin's eyes and they were glazed over. It was obvious by his body language that he wasn't into this game. That contributed to his carlessness with the ball and meager four points. Martin didn't have the strength to run the court as he's used to and wasn't able to sufficiently body-up Duncan. But like the true warrior that he is, he still was able to block three shots and tried to give the Nets something.

The Nets missed Martin's effort and energy but not as much as it may seem. They must play a near-perfect game to beat the Spurs and they simply aren't doing it. The Nets now face the unenviable task of having to win two consecutive games on the road to hoist the championship trophy.

Fred Carter is an NBA analyst for ESPN.