TORONTO - The Nets are feeling a different type of frustration these days. They’re playing better, but have nothing to show for it.
They’re in games now in the fourth period – marked improvement from some of their games a couple of weeks ago when they were out of it before the dance team made its first appearance of the night.
You would rather play competitively than not at all. But a loss is a loss and each one weighs heavily on this team that is hoping for a breakthrough.
Once again they thought they had one, but left the Air Canada Centre after their 108-99 defeat to the Raptors with the same expressions.
There were the predictable head shakes, the stares down at the floor, the looks around the room to hear what some of their teammates was saying about this latest defeat and many of the same words spoken.
After Brook Lopez said something he seemed to have said a 100 times this season, he uttered, “I’ve rehearsed this a lot.”
As the losses mount – the Nets are up to 44 now or 11 for every one win - the players run out of things to say. They are encouraged by their effort lately, but it doesn’t matter if it comes in a loss.
This was a game that could have been much worse. The Nets trailed by 40 the last time they were in Toronto and were down 11 midway through the first last night. That could have turned to 20 and 30 and then 40 very quickly.
It didn’t because the Nets took a stand and eventually and predictably they fell.
The stand came in the form of a run that turned the Nets’ 11-point deficit into a 12-point lead in the second period. They played defense, executed well on offensive and most importantly hit their shots.
The bench – Terrence Williams, Kris Humphries, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Chris Quinn - was a big part of the run as they played with energy and didn’t want to go out with another humiliating defeat.
But the 12-point lead, that took the Nets 6:40 to earn was gone in about three minutes and 30 seconds. Their energy lessened. Their defense stopped playing and the shots stopped falling.
Many of the starters were back in the game at this point and they couldn’t sustain what the bench produced.
But in the third, the starters got it done on the offensive end, but couldn’t on the defensive end. The game was back-and-forth, but the Nets didn’t wilt – until the fourth period.
The inevitable happened when it has lately, in the final quarter. But this one was different than the last three that came down to game-tying shots in the closing seconds. Not coincidentally, the level of competition was better.
Those three narrow losses came against the Wizards, Sixers and Pistons, at home. The Raptors are much better, more versatile, tougher to guard and they were playing in their loud confines.
The Nets were down four early in the fourth but it became double-digits pretty quickly. And with Devin Harris missing 13-of-17 shots and Lopez having a ho-hum 12-point, three-rebound game the Nets didn’t have the firepower to come back, even on a night when Chris Bosh was almost as pedestrian as Lopez.
He scored 20, on 8-of-20 shooting, and had nine rebounds – both well below his season averages. But the Nets couldn’t capitalize.
They’re at the point now where they can play hard and competitively for longer, but they still don’t know how to win games. So the frustration continues.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)