The Nets don’t want to say it’s a talent issue, because they think they have enough to win games. They think it’s a mental thing.
When a team makes a run or when the Nets’ offense struggles, they have that 'here-we-go-again' moment, and it dooms them. It happened -– when else? -– in the third quarter against the Miami Heat.
A 14-point third quarter helped lead to the Nets’ 63rd loss, a 99-89 defeat that spoiled the NBA head coaching debut of John Loyer. It wouldn’t have gone on Loyer’s record, who was the acting coach while interim Kiki Vandeweghe was in California with his ill mother. But it would have been an achievement for him and the Nets.
“Pretty much the same thing,” Brook Lopez said. “A 14-point third quarter, a couple second shots on their part and it hurt us. We couldn't get back.”
“Well, we’ve had some third quarters,” Loyer said. “For whatever reason we’ve come out and not played with the same intensity and your opponent usually kicks it up a notch.
“The old saying is you can’t play all four quarters the same way. You really can’t come out in the third quarter like you played in the first half. Teams typically pick up the pace, pick it up a little defensively and we have to adjust. We talked about that. We talk about it every day. And it’s something that until we overcome that it’s going to be tough to outscore a team in the third quarter.”
That’s the amazing thing. The Nets know the third quarter is one of their nemeses, and yet they can’t do anything about it. One player said they try to do different things, prepare differently, and then said, “It’s mental.”
It’s all mental for the Nets at this point. They’re relatively healthy, although rookie Terrence Williams took a nasty spill and left the game with a sprained foot and ankle. So it’s mental.
Remember, they need three wins to avoid the record for most losses in a season. They say they desperately want to avoid it, but they aren’t playing that way. If they were, they wouldn’t have these killer lulls. The Nets would be able to bounce back from them, but their struggles, as well as the record, are weighing on them.
Jarvis Hayes has said more than once the Nets are pressing. They know they're in danger of completing an abysmal season with the ultimate nightmare: being known as the worst team ever.
It seems in every game now, the Nets get that look in their eyes where you can see they’re in trouble, and the other team pounces. Dwyane Wade was the catalyst in the third, when he accounted for more points than the Nets with 10 and three assists.
Then in the fourth it was Michael Beasley scoring big buckets whenever the Nets looked like they could make a little run.
Ultimately, though, this game was similar to Saturday’s loss to Toronto and so many others the Nets have dropped this season.
“We had a solid first half, but that third quarter, we didn’t shoot the ball well and we didn’t really guard,” Devin Harris said. “It was about a six-minute stretch ... we’ve been known to have from time to time ... that really kind of dug us a hole we couldn’t get out of.”
The Nets have to start the game better and finish the first half better so that they have a lead that even one of their lulls won’t let disappear. It was three Saturday and one last night. They lost both by 10 points thanks to another bad third quarter.
Seventy games into the season, you would think they knew this and how to overcome it. It’s a mental thing.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)