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Nets haven't lost sense of humor

The Nets broke their six-game losing streak Wednesday night
03/14/2008 5:59 PM ET
By Al Iannazzone / Special to YESNetwork.com

Devin Harris and the Nets played their hearts out.(AP)
It was good to see that through all the losing the Nets have endured lately - and one win over the Cavaliers doesn't mean they're out of the woods - that they didn't lose their senses of humor.

After that potentially season-saving win against LeBron James, in which the Nets did play inspired, refuse-to-lose basketball, Richard Jefferson had fun with the people covering him.

"A lot of people have been writing us off, saying we're not going to do this, saying it's doomsday and all this other stuff," he said. "Why would be confident? That's the thing that got me: why would we be confident because we lost games? Hey, we still got 17 games left and I'm not sure but I think if the playoffs were to start today we are in. Am I right? Holy Crap. Who would have thought that?"

Someone jumped in and said something about that after the Nets dropped six straight and all five on their Southwest Division road trip that the playoffs were still within reach, and Jefferson interrupted.

"I don't think it's reach," he said. "We are in if it were start today. Right now, we are a playoff team and it's a matter of us improving our seed and seeing how high we can get."

Jefferson was having fun, and it was funny and good natured. But the Nets should be past the days of trying to disprove the media and get inspired by what's written or said.

We have our jobs and they have theirs.

Ours is to report what we see and on that trip, against some of the best teams in the NBA - and one of the worst in Memphis - the Nets were at times awful. There were games where the fight wasn't there, and that's inexcusable.

They've been a bad team all year long and if 11 games under .500 is a reason to poke fun, so be it. Yet what happened in the Cleveland game doesn't matter if the Nets can't follow it up with a good performance tomorrow against Utah, or Tuesday at Chicago or home on Wednesday for the Hawks.

Another thing that stood out at the end of the trip and after the Cleveland win was it seemed the Nets were making excuses for their struggles. Some reminded us that they were playing good teams and still were getting to know each other's game after Jason Kidd was traded and replaced by Devin Harris.

There's no denying that. But you can play with effort and passion no matter how long you've been playing together, like they did against the Cavaliers. That wasn't always there on the trip.

"Look, we've had a hard schedule," coach Lawrence Frank said the morning of the Nets thrashing in Houston Monday. "We could have had a team that went to the Finals do this trip, [and] with the exception of the Memphis game, and could be in a similar position."

Jefferson said something similar.

"It's very difficult and I believe a lot of people understand that we got Devin back two games before we went on that road trip," he said. "So if you want to establish an identity it's tough to do it against San Antonio back-to-back, against New Orleans, against Houston on a 20-game win streak. I'm not making excuses, but these are six out of the top eight teams that in the NBA that you're trying to go against.

There also is a danger in thinking because they're back in the East, playing mostly Eastern Conference teams, the Nets are in a good spot.

"Luckily we're not going to play against Dallas anymore," Jefferson said. "We're not going to play against New Orleans anymore. We're not going to play Houston anymore. We're not going to play Utah 17 more times. It's a matter of improving as a team.

"I've played five games with Devin and we're going against a team that just won 20 in a row. We got our butts whipped. Teams get into rhythms. Some do it early. Some do it late. It's a matter of when you get your rhythm. We still believe we can do it. Now is it easier in the Eastern Conference? It is. It definitely is. Did we go out west at the wrong time? Most likely."

The Nets went out west with Kidd and lost all six games in January. Granted, he didn't want to be here, but that just makes for another excuse.

The bottom line is you play hard every night, no matter what. What happened in the Cleveland game is what should happen every single game. The Nets may not win them all, but they should play with that passion and effort every night, and that's no joke.

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THURSDAY, March 13: Posted at 12:14 a.m. ET

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — LeBron James did everything he could not to let the Cavaliers lose. He led them back from 19 points down and played the final seconds with numbness in his knee after banging it with Vince Carter.

On most nights, James would not have lost, not when he scores 42 points and takes 23 field shots. But he was facing a Nets team that just wouldn't let itself lose. That is the first time those words have been typed or read about the Nets. But it's true.

They beat James and the Cavaliers, 104-99, Wednesday night with a truly inspiring effort, snapping a six-game losing streak. The Nets led wire-to-wire and didn't fold when the Cavaliers made their runs. These guys were almost recognizable.

"I think we led the whole game," Bostjan Nachbar said. "That tells you how much we wanted it. I think we wanted it more."

There is no denying that.

The Nets returned from their 0-5 trip against San Antonio, Memphis, New Orleans, Dallas and Houston seemingly a beaten team. The last three games were hardly games as their execution and effort were below par.

Back home, though, they were a totally different team.

In the finale against Houston, the Nets shot about 19 percent for the first 26 minutes. They were in the high 70s for much of the first half against Cleveland.

On the trip, the Nets showed no resilience. When a team made a run, you could have either changed your channel or gone to bed. It was over. The Nets stood up against the Cavaliers. They answered every Cavalier run.

"I think that start helped us," Nachbar said. "But at the same time, we were kind of fed up with losing."

On the trip, the Nets had 12 assists twice. They had 30 of their 39 field goals against the Cavaliers.

You could say it was an off-night for Cleveland. You can say the Cavaliers were without their two centers Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Ben Wallace. But this had more to do with what the Nets did, how much they wanted it.

It showed in Devin Harris' four steals, including two in the fourth period — one on James — that led to fastbreak layups. In Carter's two blocks, including one on James. In Carter's offensive rebound with 14.9 seconds left that resulted in two foul shots and a four-point lead. In the way they ran and defended and committed hard fouls.

"That's what we need to happen," Harris said. "Even with the mistakes in the fourth quarter we did the little things we need to do. We got the big offensive rebound from V. We got big stops when we needed to get them. We need to have that kind of effort and that kind of will every night."

It came down to this: the Nets wouldn't let themselves lose.

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Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)


TUESDAY, March 11: Posted at 6:38 p.m. ET

The trip that started with a good effort in San Antonio, continued with an uninspiring and ultimately disappointing performance in Memphis and ended with three consecutive blowouts.

Now the Nets are home and everyone is supposed to believe things are going to change. The problem is home has been no safe haven for the Nets either.

They're 15-17 at Izod Center, and continue to be plagued by the same issues that have hampered them all season.

Their effort is not always there. They keep showing a lack of resilience. When a team makes a run, they become too jump-shot oriented.

The Nets are not a good shooting team, so they have work go inside and try and draw fouls and get easy baskets. Otherwise more teams are going to play zone and dare the Nets to beat them.

"A lot of times the first available shot is not the best one," Bostjan Nachbar said. "We're just going to have to be more patient. We're in a tough spot with a lot of new guys and we're still out on the court trying to figure what the best shot is. But we're going to have to pick it up and play much better.

"If we continue like this, we're not going to have a bright future ahead of us."

The Nets averaged 84.2 points on the trip on 39.9 percent shooting and just 20.5 percent accuracy from three. Their assists to turnovers were unimpressive also. In the finale in Houston, they had 12 assists and 12 turnovers. Overall, they registered 91 assists to 64 turnovers.

These are just numbers that show bad the trip was, but they're not too far off their season averages. If they don't change how they play their season is going to end in Boston on April 17.

It has to start tomorrow at home against MVP-candidate Lebron James and the Cavaliers.

The Nets fans are disheartened by the play all season, but especially since the trade. After all that was written and said about Jason Kidd's desire to be traded bringing the team down, everyone expected the Nets to play harder if not better once the deal was made. There have been flashes, but not enough.

If the Nets weren't playing King James in the first home game after the trip, how many people would be there? The Nets have to start trying to win their fans back and the best way to do it are with wins against the Cavaliers and Western power Utah on Saturday.

More than anything, the Nets have to show better effort, not just for stretches.

"We're excited about both those games," Richard Jefferson said. "Get home, get some rest and try and get this corrected."

Coach Lawrence Frank always talks about the Nets playing harder, smarter and for longer. With 18 games left, it's time to do that. The question is: do the Nets have it in them?

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MONDAY, March 10: Posted at 11:54 p.m. ET

HOUSTON - Games aren't often decided in the first five minutes, but this one was.

In the first five minutes you could see where this one was going. The Rockets were playing harder and with more of a purpose and the Nets couldn't shoot straight.

Five minutes in, the Rockets already were up nine. The Nets already had missed seven straight field goals. Coach Lawrence Frank was upset and frustrated and already was whistled for a technical.

It was a portent of things to come. Only, incredibly, it got worse for the Nets. Yet it was the perfect ending to the imperfect five-game trip.

The Nets lost 91-73 to the Rockets on Monday and hopped their charter flight home having gone 0-5 on the trip.

"We need to learn from this entire week - how to persevere through tough times, how to stay focused and together," Vince Carter said. "There's a lot we can see we didn't do right."

That's glass half-full talk. The reality is there was too much the Nets did wrong during this trip and on this night, far too much.

First of all, you can't play lackluster and lose to the Memphis Grizzlies. Frank always is talking about creating winning habits but falling to that team, which is playing out the string, is unacceptable.

The last three games - at New Orleans, Dallas and Houston - were going to be tough. But they were relatively easy for those three teams. The Rockets blasted the Nets for their 19th straight win, the fourth-best streak in NBA history.

After those five minutes, the Nets made a little run and somehow drew within two. But it was fool's gold. Tracy McGrady was scoreless and once he got going you knew it would be over.

But the Rockets, who have learned to play without injured center Yao Ming, showed they can play with McGrady. He went to the bench for about 7:20 in the second period and what was a five-point Rockets' lead became 15.

After McGrady returned, the Rockets ran away.

Their lead grew to 27 in the third period. It's a wonder it was that close, especially considering the Nets missed 38 of their first 47 field goals. They were hitting on 19.1 percent before making three straight, lifting their accuracy to 24 percent.

"We're a jump-shot oriented team that sometimes is not as persistent as it needs to be in terms of attacking the paint," Frank said. "They literally have everyone in the paint so ultimately, you have to make some shots. The key is how are you going to get those shots?

"It's frustrating because there were times we were open and we were missing them. But that's kind of who we are a little bit so in order to win we've got to fight through it."

That's the problem, and has been the problem all year. There has been little to no fight from a team that keeps talking about reaching the playoffs. Their actions are not one of a team that really wants to be there.

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Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)
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