WASHINGTON, D.C. - The fans who came to the arena on Halloween night were given Gilbert Arenas masks. The Nets probably wished they were guarding the imposter. They couldn't stop the real Agent Zero or anyone on the Wizards for that matter.
The Nets came as a team that believed they could play defense, but the trick was on them and their coach. The Wizards and the fans got the treat, a laugher in their home opener, filled with layups, dunks, threes, and a halfcourt bucket by Arenas to beat the first-quarter buzzer.
Yes, Arenas was back and so were the Nets' lackluster defensive ways. The result was a 123-104 Washington win that dropped the Nets to 0-3 on the season.
If you haven't already, it's fair to start wondering when the Nets are going to get their first win, especially with the pregame news that Devin Harris would miss at least 7-10 days with a sore groin.
The Nets are in Charlotte on Monday, certainly a winnable game, before coming home to play West power Denver, going to Philly and then returning home to play the mighty Celtics.
The Nets need the next one and could get it even without Harris, but not if they don't play defense.
Even the Bobcats, who needed two overtimes last night to hit 100 and scored 79 and 59 in their other two games, could put up plenty of points if the Nets are as porous defensively as they were against the Wizards.
Coach Lawrence Frank described the defensive performance as "pitiful." No one could argue that. The Wizards got whatever they wanted -- Arenas had 32 and Andray Blatche a career 30 -- and they were without 20-point scorers Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison due to injury.
"It's pitiful this game," Frank said. "You think about everything we try to stand for: no middle team. They got middle a bunch. No paint, they got paint all night. Blatche, I don't think I've ever seen an NBA line of 15-for-18, no free throws, no threes, 30. Guys are driving.
"It was just a total defensive breakdown. Both individually and collectively, our inability to protect the paint, front the post, pressure the ball, it was a very, very dismal defensive performance."
It didn't matter what the Nets did on the offensive end. They trailed by double-digits the last 24 minutes and 1.5 seconds of the game, were outscored 63-53, and let the Wizards shoot 25-for-36 (69.4 percent).
"Defensively, we never impacted the game," Frank said.
There are going to be nights like this, especially for a young team. But after the way defense was preached and stressed and preached and stressed and worked on over and over in training camp, it is somewhat surprising the Nets never made a stand.
The Wizards were joking with them at times, getting easy dunks, pounding their chests, pointing at the crowd, just enjoying themselves. The Nets needed to do something, whether it was commit a hard foul or show an enough-is-enough attitude and get consecutive stops.
These were the Wizards after all, without their second- and third-best players. This wasn't the Lakers, Magic or the Suns and Warriors of a few years back.
"They're blowing by," Rafer Alston said. "Even on pick-and-roll, they're getting wherever they want to get. They post up guys and getting what they need. We're giving them everything ... free-throw game, layups, dunks, lobs. What's going to stop it is one, on the ball, it starts with the point guards, then off the ball, and everything else."
The Nets have many things to fix. You might hear that more than once this season.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)