The Brooklyn Nets have been playing better basketball under interim coach P.J. Carlesimo, but have dropped two in a row after having problems defending the paint. The outlook for the Orlando Magic appears much worse, as they've lost five straight heading into a five-game road trip.
Brooklyn will try to shore up its interior defense Monday night when it goes for a four-game season sweep of the Magic, who have been shut down in the first three meetings.
The Nets (26-18) won 12 of their first 14 after firing former coach Avery Johnson, but are now coming off their first back-to-back losses under Carlesimo. The new coach was perfectly blunt in his assessment of Brooklyn's losses at Memphis and Houston on Friday and Saturday, respectively.
"We've done a horrible job defending the other team's center," he told the team's official website.
Brooklyn was outscored 60-24 in the paint in a 119-106 loss to the Rockets, one night after the Grizzlies had a 62-40 edge in that area en route to a 101-77 rout. The Nets allowed 20 points to Memphis' Marc Gasol on 10-of-15 shooting, and 20 more to Houston's Omer Asik, who was 9 of 12 from the field.
Perhaps a four-game homestand will help after four road games in six days, but Carlesimo wasn't necessarily buying that excuse.
"We can say we're tired, fourth game in six nights, out on the road and all that," Carlesimo said, "... But we're just getting annihilated on points in the paint."
The Nets' defense has been somewhat shaky most of the season. Their 46.3 percent field-goal defense ranks 28th in the league.
Saturday's contest started in promising fashion, with Deron Williams scoring 20 points in the first quarter alone. He only scored seven the rest of the game and was ejected late in the fourth quarter for arguing with an official.
The Rockets' point total was the highest allowed by Brooklyn this season.
"We've had breakdowns, man," said Joe Johnson, the team's second-leading scorer at 17.2 points per game. "Once you have one or two breakdowns, guys stop trusting one another. Then everybody kind of just locked in on their own man and that's when you get out of sync.
"Somehow, some way we've got to get back to trusting each other and playing good defense."
The Nets haven't had any trouble stifling Orlando (14-29) this season, yielding an average of 76.0 points in their three victories. A season series sweep may be especially sweet considering the Magic swept the previous three - a total of 10 meetings, in which Dwight Howard averaged 19.7 points and shot 67.3 percent.
A career high-tying 31 points from J.J. Redick couldn't keep Orlando from a 104-102 loss to Detroit on Sunday, its fifth straight defeat. Redick received little help from his teammates, particularly in the first half when he shot 7 of 10 while the rest of the Magic went 9 of 33.
Orlando misfired on three shots on its final possession of the game, squandering an opportunity to force overtime.
Glen Davis' return from a sprained shoulder Jan. 14 seemed it could help stop Orlando's slide after the Magic went 1-10 without him. But they're just 1-6 since Davis (15.5 points per game) came back.
"It just seems like it's getting more and more frustrating," Redick said. "The way we're losing is tough. But we can control our mindset, our attitude, our perspective over these last nine games before the (All-Star) break. We have a chance to use this road trip to get better, and we will."