The Nets were determined to make sure they wouldn’t own or share the worst record in NBA history. Their desire and belief paid off last night against an unlikely foe.
Most people penciled in this game against the Spurs as another Nets’ loss, meaning the Suns on Wednesday, or maybe the Hornets on Saturday, but more than likely the Wizards on Sunday, would be the game win No. 10 was reached.
But the Nets didn’t want to wait and put more pressure on themselves. They got the Spurs on a night they were ripe for the taking and played a terrific fourth quarter on both ends to nab a 90-84 victory that enabled the Nets to show their faces in public again.
No longer will the Nets be mentioned as the worst team in NBA history, although one of the worst, record-wise, will follow them.
There are plenty of reasons for that. This team should not be the worst in the NBA, and if they keep playing the way they have over the past four games -– three of them wins –- they very well could avoid that as well. Minnesota, a really bad team, is just four games ahead of the Nets. And now the Nets have their sights set on catching the T-Wolves.
For now, though, the Nets should enjoy this, even thought they tried to downplay it afterward. The most exuberant person was the overly excited PA announcer, screaming “We got 10,” and doing an imitation of John Sterling, only substituting “Nets” for “Yankees.”
The Nets were relieved but matter of fact because they know they’re better than 10-64, and they didn’t want to overdo it for 10 wins. If they were healthy the whole season and Lawrence Frank hadn’t been fired, the Nets would be much better than that. They weren’t playoff caliber by any means, but they shouldn’t have been chasing the 9-73 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers all season.
“That wasn’t a goal of ours, but it became our reality, and we got that monkey off our back,” Keyon Dooling said.
The Nets did it by winning three of the past four games, by not folding in the second half and actually lifting their play in crunch time. They did it because, in those three wins, Brook Lopez was the best player on the floor, even last night when he shared the court with Tim Duncan. They did it because Devin Harris was in control and running the team beautifully with 30 assists to just seven turnovers. And the Nets did it because they wanted to do it before it got too late. They didn’t want to wait until Washington and beyond, because then the pressure could really have gotten to them.
“I thought we just played very, very hard,” interim coach Kiki Vandeweghe said. “We talked about it before the game, right now we’re playing for pride. Step up and get in there and fight as hard as you can. That’s what I think they did.”
It’s one thing to do it against the Kings and the Pistons, and another to do it against the Spurs. San Antonio was missing key players –- Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili –- but they still had Duncan. Duncan looked tired, though, and was ineffective, missing nine shots, three free throws and matching the Nets with four turnovers, including the biggest one with 7.9 seconds left and San Antonio down three.
Duncan threw a pass intended for George Hill out of bounds with Courtney Lee defending. Lee said he gave a “Jersey Shore” fist pump after the ball went out of bounds.
“It’s a big relief,” Lee said. “Now we can go out and ball now and go out and play.”
The chase is over. The futility record stays in the Sixers’ hands. Now the Nets are chasing Minnesota.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)