This would have been a nice sendoff for Nets principal owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who flew back to Russia last night.
He already was seen as a conquering hero by the NBA community for swooping in Wednesday and announcing the Nets were done playing by Denver’s rules, done with the protracted trade talks for Carmelo Anthony that were played out in the public and taking back control of the Nets.
All of that may have had something to do with how the Nets have played on this five-game home stand. They played relaxed and carefree. They won the first two games on Prokhorov’s stay and came within six seconds of their first three-game winning streak since late January/early February 2009. But the Nets couldn’t close out the Mavericks and suffered a seemingly gut-wrenching 87-86 loss to a legitimate Western Conference power.
Dirk Nowitzki scored the game-winner on a vintage pump-fake, high-arching jumper that hit the rim, bounced up in the air, hit the rim again and rolled around before falling through the net.
It was a crushing play, one of many down the stretch for the Nets, who weren’t as crushed because of how hard they’ve played the past three games, and how close they came to beating a very good team.
But the Nets are kicking themselves for not finishing off the Mavericks. Yes, you read that correctly. The Nets had a chance to finish off Dirk, Jason Kidd, Mark Cuban and the mighty Mavericks even when it appeared with about five minutes left in the game that they were done.
The Nets were down seven with under five minutes left. On most nights that’s the ball game and against the Mavericks you figured it was. But the Nets kept battling, kept coming at the Mavericks, using Brook Lopez inside.
Seven was gone pretty quickly and the Nets were leading by one after a Sasha Vujacic three-pointer with 2:34 remaining. No, that’s not a big enough lead, but it’s what the Nets did after that.
They made no more field goals. They scored just three points. They had two air balls, an offensive goal-tending turnover and a missed free throw.
In all, the Nets missed three foul shots in the last 4:28. And after making a great defensive stand with a two-point lead with about 38 seconds left, they couldn’t corral the rebound, leading to a Tyson Chandler foul shot.
The Nets didn’t get the play or shot they wanted on the very last play as Devin Harris was supposed to run screen-roll with Brook Lopez. Instead, Harris passed the ball to Jordan Farmar, whose contested three didn’t hit the rim.
“We’ll learn from this,” coach Avery Johnson said. “I like to be in games like this home or away. We’ll learn much quicker now than what we did earlier in the season.
“We hung in there and battled back. [I’m] just proud of our guys. This is three straight games where we’ve played some pretty good basketball. You’re down by one point against the Mavericks at home and you got the last possession on another possession before where we didn’t come up with the loose ball, we’ll take it.”
The real test will be how the Nets do Monday when Cleveland comes to town. Prokhorov won’t be here but will the Nets still feel the effect of his presence and more importantly his press conference.
The Nets played with chips on their shoulders in the last three games for different reasons. They have to be able to do it on the last two games of this homestand against teams they’ve already beaten -– lowly Cleveland and Memphis.
The Nets felt good about their performance last night. Even Harris said the Nets “got our swagger back.” Not sure if a 12-win team should have any swagger, but if it works for the Nets they should roll with it. But then they can’t feel overconfident just because the Cavaliers are coming to town.
They have to continue to show the same fight and urgency as they have in the past three games and just make a few more plays at the end or this narrow loss to Dallas will mean nothing.
Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)