Nets can't close home schedule with a win

    Monday, April 11, 2011, 10:30 PM [General]

    NEWARK, N.J. – You could tell the Nets wanted this game – for themselves and for their fans.

    This was their home finale and it was a difficult fadeaway jump shot by D.J. Augustin with 1.1 seconds left that ultimately decided the 105-103 Charlotte win. But it didn’t come down to that tough shot by Augustin over Lopez. When you lose a game by two points there are so many plays that contribute.

    You can point to some poor defense, bad shot selection and an inability to finish inside. And just once you would like to see the Nets deliver a hard foul when someone is driving to the basket instead of just letting the guy score or reaching at him, and giving him a three-point play opportunity.

    That happened too much in this game that like the Raptors game the night before wound up being a battle of attrition. Each team had nine players, and although Brook Lopez once again was the best player on the court, the Nets couldn’t overcome their own mistakes earlier.

    In Toronto, they fell behind by 21. In this game, the Nets had a nice rhythm early, led by eight, but didn’t extend their cushion. They have to figure out how to do that, develop a killer instinct that way because teams do it to the Nets all the time.

    Their eight-point lead became a 10-point deficit and then the Nets had to climb their way back. They did, pulling ahead by one, 94-93 on Sasha Vujacic’s three with 2:01 remaining. The problem was, the Bobcats made their final five shots. On a side note, the Bobcats are the second-worst scoring team in the league. The Nets are third worst.

    “Tough way to finish up but give our guys a lot of credit,” coach Avery Johnson said. “They came out in the second half and really played hard. D.J. hit a tough shot, tough shot.”

    This game was typical of many Nets’ games this season, especially at home, where they finished 19-22 in their first season at the Prudential Center.

    Even with Vujacic draining a game-tying three on an out-of-bounds play with 10.9 seconds left, the Nets couldn’t make enough plays on both ends of the floor with the game on the line.

    “We had a great effort,” said Lopez, who led everyone with 31 points, but needed to be stronger inside on the defensive end. “Obviously we’re building something bigger and we got one more, but the fans showed us a lot of support tonight at home and I just want to thank them for it.”

    The Nets still have one more game this season and would like to end it on a positive note. But they play in Chicago on Wednesday and there is a chance the Bulls could be playing for the best record in the NBA so they may not rest their regulars. It will depend on the results of some games on Tuesday.

    The Nets wanted this one and not just because they were home. But for all they have gone through this season, trade rumors, injuries, trades, surgeries, they don’t want it to end this way – with 14 losses in their last 16 games heading into Chicago.

    But this game was like a few others that could have gone either way late and a big shot, a bad offensive possession or a bad defensive trip cost the Nets.

    Think Oklahoma City and triple-overtime loss, or the game when Jameer Nelson hit a tough shot over Lopez in the closing seconds to give Orlando a one-point win, or Kris Humphries’ jumper being a hair late in a one-point overtime loss to the Suns.

    “We’ve had a lot of positive experiences here at the Prudential Center,” Johnson said. “Hopefully it’s one that the fans look forward to seeing next year with even a more improved product.”

    You have to believe having Deron Williams would help the Nets in these situations. He has in victories over the Celtics and Timberwolves when he hit the game-winning shot in what was his last game of the season. The Nets would have liked a similar ending in their home finale.

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    Williams had surgery to remove loose particles and scar tissue from his right wrist. The Nets doctors said he should resume basketball activities in 6-8 weeks.

    ***

    Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone

    ***

    Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.) 

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    The pain is almost over

    Sunday, April 10, 2011, 10:02 PM [General]

    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.

    ***

    Follow me on Twitter: Al_Iannazzone

    ***

    Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)

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    Minus Williams, Nets were no match for Knicks

    Friday, April 8, 2011, 10:04 PM [General]

    NEWARK, N.J. – The Nets’ final game this season against the Knicks lacked so much of the appeal their prior one did. Three announcements made early Friday morning took the luster out of the game and turned the attention elsewhere.

    The first and biggest one came from the Nets as they revealed All-Star point guard Deron Williams would need surgery to clean out fragments and scar tissue in his right wrist and his season was over. Then Avery Johnson said Kris Humphries wouldn’t play because of his right foot injury, and his season was over.

    At around the same time in Westchester County, the Knicks ruled out Amar’e Stoudemire because of a sprained left ankle.

    There still was Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups and Brook Lopez and a near full house at the Prudential Center, most of which were Knicks fans. But Knicks 116, Nets 93 Friday was missing most of the hype, anticipation and hotly contested play of the Knicks’ four-point victory over New Jersey on ESPN last week.

    The biggest difference, no question, was Williams.

    He returned from a six-game absence due to his wrist for that game at The Garden. Williams' health status going from day-to-day to out for the rest of the season certainly changed things.

    The procedure, which will be done Monday, is basically a scope. And although no timetable will be given until the doctors actually go in there and clean out his wrist, Williams should be able to resume basketball activities long before training camp, whenever that is.

    Remember, a lockout is expected so camp may not start when it usually does in late September or early October. It will just give Williams more time to rest it. But Nets GM Billy King said Williams should be playing golf and shooting basketballs “this summer.”

    Really, that is all that matters.

    When you get to this point of the season – actually once the Nets were officially eliminated from the playoffs - Williams’ health and future, Lopez’s health and future and Humphries’ health and future are the stories of importance. And Lopez and Humphries, with all due respect, are well behind Williams.

    He is the future of the Nets, the most important player, the person who will recruit other stars to come to Newark/Brooklyn. If he can’t, it’s unlikely Williams will be around that long.

    The Nets know that, even though they will never admit it. They knew about Williams’ wrist, too.

    They might not have known it was going to require surgery. If they did, it probably would have happened much sooner. The Nets would not have put Williams in harm’s way or brought him back for the Knicks’ game last month.

    “As the doctor told me some of those particles had been there for a while,” King said. “He could tell they’ve been there for a while so it wasn’t like he did any more damage.”

    Originally, Williams and the Nets reported that rest would be the remedy. But the Nets’ medical people wanted Williams to undergo another MRI so they could be certain. King described the MRI Williams had on Wednesday as a “fine cut” MRI that gave a sharper image of the wrist and revealed the bone fragments and scar tissue.

    “When we got the trade, we got the information from Utah,” King said. “I talked to them. They disclosed everything. We did the MRI, everything was confirmed. And then at the end of the season, Doctor [Andrew] Weiland said it’s good not only to do another one, and it’s more of a fine-cut MRI, which, I didn’t know the difference.

    “There’s a 5-millimeter, then there’s the fine-cut, which is 3-millimeter. And the 3-millimeter’s the one they used at [Hospital for Special Surgery], and it showed that there was loose particles.”

    If Williams would have played, the score may have been different and maybe the Nets would have had a chance to win. But they just can’t defend the Knicks and ended up being swept by them in their four meetings this season.

    Not surprisingly, this was the least competitive one, yet it actually lived up to expectations.

    ***

    Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone

    ***

    Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)

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    Nets hope to silence Knicks and their fans

    Thursday, April 7, 2011, 5:16 PM [General]

    Four games remain in the Nets’ season and for some players their Nets careers, but that’s a story for a different day. For today, it’s all about tomorrow. Of the Final Four, this is the game that matters most to the Nets.

    We’re not saying they should take off their last three. The Nets should play every game the same. But there’s no denying Nets-Knicks IV has different significance, especially since New York has dominated the season series.

    The Knicks have won the first three games - including last week's ESPN-televised game at the Garden - and are averaging 112 points in three victories. It doesn’t take a genius to know the Nets are going to have to play better defense if they’re going to get a game against the Knicks this season.

    Defense: that seems to be a thing of the past for the Nets. They’re allowing 112.7 points in their last six games and gave up 116 points last night to the Pistons, who rank 23rd in scoring.

    We know, the Nets are missing most of their best defenders: in the paint (Kris Humphries), and on the perimeter (Deron Williams).

    There is a chance Williams and Humphries will play in the Knicks’ game, but if they do that likely will be it for them this season. This also is the cutoff game for Damion James, the rookie small forward who has been out with a sore foot.

    If you don’t see any of them tomorrow, you won’t see them again this season. If you see Williams and Humphries, it probably will be for the last time this season. But the Nets won’t make any announcements about their status until tomorrow.

    Hopefully, this will be the last time any of us have to ask about it because getting straight answers from the Nets, especially about Williams and his wrist, has been as difficult as it’s been for Avery Johnson to get his players to defend lately.

    If it matters, it doesn’t appear Amar’e Stoudemire or Chauncey Billups will play tomorrow for the playoff-bound Knicks. But like the Nets, the Knicks aren’t making any announcements until tomorrow. The Nets lost to the Knicks in February with Stoudemire injured and watching from the sideline.

    Maybe the Nets will wait to see what the Knicks do before they decide whether to play their point guard and best rebounder.

    We know this: as much as the Nets want this game, they won’t put Williams and Humphries out there if there is a chance for them to do further damage to their injuries.

    Williams went to see a hand specialist Wednesday and was supposed to undergo an MRI. The results are expected to be given tomorrow, too.

    So there is so much to anticipate before the actual game is played. Once the game starts, though, the Nets are going to want to put all their attention into beating the Knicks and making sure Brook Lopez gets the ball down the stretch and is productive throughout the game.

    The Nets also are going to want to drown out whatever chants and boos fill Prudential Center.

    The last time these two teams met at The Rock in February – before Williams became a Net and Carmelo Anthony a Knick – the Nets were booed late in the game. Many of the first-time Nets couldn’t believe it.

    There could be more boos. There could be chants of “Me-lo.” There could be chants of “Dee-Fense” when the Nets have the ball. For that reason, it’s a big game for the Nets and for the organization.

    In this frustrating season that’s been filled with injuries and brutal losses, the Nets could feel good about themselves if they get a victory over the Knicks. They could feel good about giving the actual Nets’ fans in the building something to cheer about in the next to last home game.

    Tomorrow’s a big day, all the way around. The Nets will announce the latest on Williams and Humphries and then will see if, with or without them, they can finally beat the Knicks. Then it’s on to the final three games.

    ***

    Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone

    ***

    Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)

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    Nets needed to keep feeding dominant Lopez

    Wednesday, April 6, 2011, 11:17 PM [General]

    AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Brook Lopez was unstoppable. Never mind that he still wasn’t a presence on the boards. The Nets’ big man was a giant man in the middle on offense and was taking advantage of his size against the Pistons.

    Lopez appeared to be on his way to a 50-point night, should have had mid 40s easily and the Nets should have enjoyed what would have been one of their most gratifying wins of the season instead of a 116-109 loss.

    But the ball stopped going to Lopez. Just stopped. The Pistons went zone, fronted Lopez, did everything to make sure he didn’t get the ball, but the Nets still have to get the ball to Lopez and let him operate. This was a night when Lopez was operating.

    He took the ball from the baseline and went inside and scored. He tried to dunk everything. He was 14-for-17 – with six and-1s – and had 39 points with 9:50 to go in the game. Nine minutes and 50 seconds later, Lopez still had 39 points and just three more shot attempts. One of them was an offensive rebound of his own miss.

    This was not the way this game should have ended for Lopez and the Nets. Everyone in the visiting locker room knows it. Even the fans sitting right next to the Nets’ bench knew it. They were screaming out to get the ball to Lopez.

    But the Nets couldn’t get the ball to Lopez. They were relying on jump shots, and we’ve all seen what happens when the Nets do that. It doesn’t end pretty, and this one certainly didn’t.

    “We kind of lost the game by not getting the ball inside,” coach Avery Johnson said. “Brook had an outstanding offensive game, career high in points. Normally in the second half he’ll tend to not have the same type of energy. So we challenged at halftime to not finish the game with 22 points. He was trying to make a statement there, and that’s what we’ve been looking for all year.

    “In the last six, seven, eight minutes of the game we didn’t get him the ball. Because of that we struggled offensively.”

    Story of the Nets’ season, but you feel bad for Lopez because you saw how much he wanted this game and how he relished carrying his team. The Nets were without Deron Williams, Kris Humphries and Anthony Morrow.

    It was Lopez’s team and Lopez’s game. He was looking for the ball more than ever, attacking, being aggressive every time down the floor. Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vajucic, Mario West, Ben Uzoh and Travis Outlaw just couldn't get Lopez the ball.

    He didn’t do anything wrong -– except for one thing: he has to stick around after his best offensive game as a pro and address the media.

    We know he’s frustrated beyond belief. You could tell with some of his reactions on the court and the way he shook his head as he was walking off that he was disgusted. He’s an emotional guy who would rather not say anything when he feels that way, but as a captain and team leader he has to stand up and talk.

    He did plenty of talking with his game against the Pistons, and it’s a tribute to Lopez to still be playing this way in game 78 and with the Nets missing three starters.

    Lopez has not missed a game, and he was out there playing as if it was early in the season, accepting the challenge Johnson put before him. Lopez just wanted to keep it going. But the ball stopped finding him.

    “It’s accurate,” Johnson said. “We just didn’t find him. Hopefully we’ll find him in the next game in that situation.”

    The night Lopez was having, you have to find him – no matter what.

    ***

    Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone

    ***

    Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.) 

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