TORONTO – For all of you suffering Nets’ fans, keep telling yourselves there are only two games remaining.
A season that opened with anticipation – a new owner, home arena, coach, general manager and essentially a new roster – and started with some promise as the Nets won their first two games, is ending miserably.
The Nets have doubled their win total from last season, but they lost for the 13th time in 15 games, dropping a 99-92 decision to Toronto in a battle of attrition Sunday.
When the game started, the Nets had 10 healthy bodies, but lost backup point guard Ben Uzoh in the fourth period with a bruised right knee and then newly signed guard Mario West to a separated shoulder. The Nets already are without point guards Deron Williams and Sundiata Gaines.
The Raptors only had nine players – they were without six of their top seven guys. Yet Toronto led by as many as 21 and were ahead by double figures for a 33:10 stretch over the second, third and fourth quarters before the Nets made things interesting.
The Nets got within six with a chance to cut it to four and then turned the ball over. After a Nets’ defensive stand, they got within four, 96-92, with 46.9 seconds left on a Brook Lopez hook shot. The Nets didn’t score again.
“We gave ourselves an opportunity,” Lopez said after a 35-point, 11-rebound effort. “I think that’s important especially when you’re playing the third to last game of the season. It means that we’re not checking out.”
There are no moral victories, but Lopez is right. At least the Nets didn’t lay down when they were down 21. They could have and if they did, the tone of this piece would be a little different. But the Nets fought to the end.
The same can’t be said for all the games they’ve played here lately. But the Nets probably realized that this was a winnable game and it never should have gotten as out of hand as it did.
It was the same things we’ve seen from the Nets too many times – lack of energy early, poor defense, bad execution, missed shots and suddenly they’re climbing a huge hill.
“We weren’t very good with our energy level,” coach Avery Johnson said. “We didn’t follow the game plan. We were up too close on guys that were drivers. Their post catches were too easy on offense. We didn’t rebound the ball well.
“But guys found some energy, found some life. Hopefully this will carry over to our last home game of the season tomorrow.”
That’s Monday night when the Nets will try for their 25th win of the season with Charlotte visiting the Prudential Center. The Nets have plenty of areas to address this offseason, but they need to get energy guys or Johnson has to find a different way to get more out of this team.
It seems it doesn’t matter who the coach is, the Nets have sluggish starts. We saw them under Lawrence Frank and Kiki Vandeweghe and we’ve seen it too often this season.
Having Williams from the start of the season will make a difference. If the Nets had Williams, Kris Humphries – they were beaten 45-31 on the boards – and Anthony Morrow this game probably would have gone differently.
Williams and Humphries already are done for the season. Morrow might be because of tendinitis in his left knee. He will have an MRI on Monday. Williams will have surgery on Monday. West will be further evaluated on Monday.
It will be another busy day for the Nets’ medical staff and then the team plays its home finale in a season that is not ending the way anyone hoped, Sunday’s second-half effort notwithstanding.
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Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)