NEWARK – The Nets’ game against Indiana Monday had some of the same characteristics as Sunday’s in Washington and the result was the same – a bad loss.
If you’re a Nets’ fan and you’re looking for anything to hold on to - by now you probably should have given up on postseason hopes – they showed much more spirit and fight in their 102-98 loss to the Pacers.
The bottom line, though, is it was a loss – another one. The streak is up to four, following a five-game winning streak that appeared to be the turning-the-corner moment. But coach Avery Johnson was right in saying at the time, “we are approaching the corner.”
Now the only thing the Nets are approaching is the finish line.
They are eight games out of the playoffs with 13 to play and will be without Deron Williams for at least one more game because of his strained right wrist – key word at least.
There’s no question he would have made a difference. Williams is a superstar who can make plays for himself and others even when he’s not at 100 percent. And when the Nets go through droughts like they did last night and like they did the afternoon before a player like Williams could do something to stop it and turn the tides.
In a 27-30-hour span, the Nets wasted a 17-point lead and a 12-point advantage. In both collapses, the Nets were awful in the third period.
“The way we are coming out lately, it’s not too relaxed but just not with the right mindset on both sides of the court,” Sasha Vujacic said. “That’s what’s causing the momentum. Once the other team gets momentum it’s hard to stop them.”
Without Williams, it’s been very hard. The Nets were outscored 32-9 during one second-half stretch in Washington. Against the Pacers, it was a 29-17 third period that included 22 misses on 29 attempts.
The only difference was against Indiana, the Nets made a furious finish at the end of the game, nearly erasing an 11-point lead in the final 2:24.
Vujacic was a big part of the comeback, hitting a pair of threes on trips that wound up being four-point possessions. On both, the Nets hit the first and missed the second of two foul shots and got the offensive rebound. The second Vujacic three made it 98-94 with 63 seconds left.
The Nets couldn’t finish the comeback, though. In the last 40.5 seconds, they were 1-for-4 from the field and 1-for-2 from the foul line. The Pacers made the shots they needed to make – four free throws by Darren Collison in the final 9.6 seconds to make sure the Pacers continued their dominance over the area teams.
They are 3-0 against the Nets this season and have beaten the Knicks twice in the last week and a half. If the Pacers make the playoffs, they certainly can thank the two teams on each side of the Hudson for that.
But to Indiana’s credit, they are taking the games from the Nets and Knicks
The Pacers crushed the Nets in the two prior meetings, winning by 51 points combined. They crushed them last night by fighting back and by making the necessary plays at the end to strike a blow to the Nets’ miniscule hopes of making the playoffs
“It’s tough to accept it,” Vujacic said. “We’ve been trying hard and we’ve been [making] some progress. Mathematically it’s still there. We’ve got to go to Cleveland and win. We’ve got to win in Cleveland - then anything is possible.”
Mathematically yes. Realistically, no.
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Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)