Deron hits game-winner in possible season finale

    Tuesday, April 5, 2011, 11:17 PM [General]

    NEWARK, N.J. – Deron Williams has no idea the pain the Nets went through last season. He’s feeling his own pain – in his wrist and from not being a part of the postseason.

    But he had a great moment as a Net that for the moment made the pain in his wrist go away and made everyone realize how far away from last year this team is.

    Williams’ strained right wrist was feeling weak, yet he played 43 minutes, delivered a career-high tying 21 assists and scored the game-winning basket on a step-back jump shot with 1.7 seconds left. The score gave the Nets a much-needed 107-105 victory that was significant for many reasons.

    It gave them 24 victories, which is twice as many as they had last season when they finished with a 12-70 mark. It ended a six-game losing streak. It also was Williams’ first game-winner in what might have been his last game of the season.

    Williams’ wrist continues to be the big story for the Nets even at this stage of the season. There are only five games left so it makes sense to shut him down. It made sense earlier, but he came back to play in the ESPN-televised game against the Knicks and Sunday’s against the Heat.

    This was his fourth game back and he said afterward it’s “probably a possibility” it was his final one.

    Williams will see a hand specialist tomorrow and then go from there. Both he and Nets coach Avery Johnson didn’t rule out the possibility of Williams playing in Friday’s game against the Knicks. For some in the Nets’ organization, it’s the second-biggest game of the year. The first was last week’s game on national TV.

    But the Nets are not going to traipse Williams out there if he can’t play. It’s the same situation with Kris Humphries, who missed his third straight game and won’t play against Detroit with ankle and heel injuries.

    If the Nets don’t have Williams or Humphries, they’re a very long shot to beat the Knicks. But Johnson said both players would be re-evaluated before Friday’s game.

    If this was the way Williams went out, he’s leaving on a high. The only thing that would have been better was if he set his career high for assists. Williams should have done that.

    He picked up his 21st with 9:20 left in the game. The Nets struggled to score after that and there were some passes he made earlier in the game that should have been converted into scores.

    “He’s had an impact on our offense ever since we made the trade,” Johnson said. “We definitely needed every one of his 21 assists.”

    “I just think the difference is very obvious between when he plays and when he doesn’t,” said Brook Lopez, who had 30 points and 12 rebounds. “I’m not that much of a believer in numbers but those numbers tonight, it’s tough to argue against those.”

    This is what the Nets expected from Williams every not. Maybe not that many assists, but making sure everyone is involved and being able to make game-deciding plays at the end of the game.

    He did it with a bum wrist and if this was it this season, Williams went out in fine fashion.

    “Yeah, on a win,” he said. “It was good. It ended on a good note.”

    We’ll know for sure by Friday if this really was it for Williams, though.

    ***

    Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone

    ***

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

     

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    Nets battled back, but Heat too strong

    Sunday, April 3, 2011, 10:51 PM [General]

    The Nets finally showed some of the spirit and pride coach Avery Johnson hoped to see from them, but it came after LeBron James and the Miami Heat had built a 21-point cushion.

    The Nets got within six, but the Heat were never really threatened. Even though Miami missed so many shots inside and free throws that allowed the Nets to hang around, when the Heat needed a bucket, James, Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh delivered or made the pass that led to the score.

    That’s a luxury the Nets wish they had, so many teams wish they had it – multiple stars who can make plays. But if there is anything the Nets should take out of their 108-94 loss, it was that they came back, something they didn’t do against the Rockets or the 76ers.

    They came back with a small lineup and with Travis Outlaw hitting shots and getting to the line. But more than anything, they came back. They gave fans a reason to stay to the end and a reason for coach Johnson to keep playing Deron Williams.

    When it was a 21-point game in the first half it appeared this would go the way of the Rockets’ game and of the Sixers’ game and then there would be no reason to play Williams.

    But Johnson put the game in his All-Star point guard’s hands and he did what he could, finishing with 18 points and 12 assists. But the Nets needed more. Losers of 10 of their last 11, the Nets need more.

    The Heat’s Big Three combined to shoot 23-for-40, score 65 points, grab 21 rebounds and dish out 14 assists.

    The Nets didn’t have a 20-point scorer, got 12 rebounds from their starting five, including just three from Brook Lopez, and collectively shot 40 percent. It was surprising they were in the game in the second half.

    “We battled,” Johnson said. “I told the guys we missed 16 makeable shots in the first half. That’s a lot of shots. But we made some of those to help cut the deficit. But their key players took over.”

    The Nets definitely missed Kris Humphries. No one is saying they would have won if the Nets’ top rebounder and most physical player wasn’t watching from the bench with ankle and foot injuries. But you have to believe these numbers would have looked a little different if No. 43 was in the game:

    • * Rebounds: Heat 50, Nets 30
    • * Points in the paint: Heat 60, Nets 30
    • * Blocked shots: Heat 4, Nets 0

    The Nets had no presence inside. James got inside whenever he wanted, Wade, too. There weren’t many contested shots in the paint by the Nets. And it would have been worse if the Heat hadn’t missed layups and dunks.

    “We’ve got to try something different at the power forward spot,” Johnson said, “because nothing we’ve tried has worked so far.”

    Johan Petro started Friday in Philadelphia and was pulled quickly. Brandan Wright started last night and was pulled quicker – 2:42 into the game – and he stayed glued to the bench until the final 47.9 seconds.

    Johnson doesn’t have many choices at power forward. He could try Outlaw, but he seems to be better coming off the bench. But it’s something Johnson is going to have to decide for Tuesday’s game.

    Humphries is out for at least that game, if not longer, when the Nets play Minnesota, but they may get lucky and play the T-Wolves without rebounder extraordinaire Kevin Love due to a groin injury.

    Nets shooting guard Anthony Morrow is a question mark with tendinitis in his left knee that limited him to just five minutes in the second half against the Heat. Although he came out of these last three games fine, you can’t be sure about Williams’ status due to his wrist and with the Nets not playing for anything.
     
    So Johnson may make multiple changes to the starting lineup with Tuesday and Wednesday’s back-to-back with Minnesota and at Detroit. But the biggest thing Johnson would like to change is how the Nets start and the final result.

    ***

    Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone

    ***

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

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    Nets need to show up for Heat visit

    Saturday, April 2, 2011, 3:59 PM [General]

    The first time LeBron James and the Heat visited the Prudential Center was Halloween afternoon and it was scary how quickly the game got away from the Nets.

    James and company are back, playing in The Rock tomorrow, and it’s scary how badly the Nets have played lately.

    The Nets are expecting a big crowd like in October and they’re hoping they give more of a show than that day and than many of their games here recently.

    “It’s going to be one of the last home games,” Nets guard Sasha Vujacic said. “I hope that Prudential Center is going to be packed and with our fans - because we need that right now. We need that energy from our fans for 48 minutes and we have to feel like at home.”

    The Nets are pleading for the fans to show. But the Nets have to show themselves to give the fans a reason to show when the Heat, Knicks, Celtics, Lakers or Blake Griffin and the Clippers aren't coming to town. Deron Williams  was one of several Nets to say the Nets shouldn’t have trouble getting up for this game, but really they should be ready for every game.

    They haven’t, though, with nine losses in the last 10 games. In all nine losses the Nets have either been down double-digits or been up by at least 12 and squandered the lead.

    There have been execution problems in some of the games, but overall the Nets have lacked energy and fight in many of these games. Looking back at the nine losses during this stretch:

    • They played the Bulls tough, but Williams struggled with his shot and the Nets couldn’t score late against the NBA’s best defensive team. Nets lose by 11.
    • The next night in Milwaukee, Williams aggravated his wrist injury and appeared done for the season. The Bucks ran away with it late, winning by 15.
    • A matinee game in Washington without Williams and the Nets build a 17-point lead, but lose it and lose by seven to the Wiz.
    • The Nets return home and lose to the Pacers by four after being up 12 on Indy.
    • After winning in Cleveland in overtime, the Nets battle the Magic in Orlando, but lose by 10.
    • The next night in Atlanta, the Nets are down 30 before making a comeback, but still fall by 11.
    • Houston comes to Newark and the Nets have a problem, falling behind by 20 in the first half and get blasted by 25.
    • The next night in an ESPN game and in Williams’ return, the Nets jump out to a 16-point lead on the Knicks, but can’t stop New York in the second half and lose by four.
    • Last night in Philadelphia, the Sixers clinched a playoff spot in commanding fashion, building a 35-point lead before scoring a 25-point victory.

    “It was one of them games you just want to forget about,” Williams said. “There was nothing really good that comes out of games like this.”

    The only good thing is the Nets have to realize if they play the same way against the Heat the game will be over sooner than the 23-point beating in October.

    Heat coach Erik Spoelstra still will tell his players not to overlook the Nets, that they’re a dangerous team. The Heat probably won’t. James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are playing for seeding in the East. They’re currently second, one-half game up on Boston and 2 ½ behind the Bulls.

    The Nets, with the right mentality, can be a dangerous team, especially with Williams attacking. You expect him to be ready for this game and the Nets to follow.
     
    This may not be as important to the franchise as the Knicks’ game was, but it is in many other ways. It could be Williams’ last game of the season, depending on how his wrist feels. It’s also against a team whose blueprint the Nets probably will want to follow.

    They are going to try and surround Williams with other stars the way Miami did. That’s something for management to do this summer and next season. But the players still have work to do this season and they should get back to work after taking some games off recently.

    ***

    Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone

    ***

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

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    Battered Nets playing like a beaten bunch

    Friday, April 1, 2011, 10:40 PM [General]

    PHILADELPHIA – The Nets are limping toward the end of the season in more ways than one.

    With seven games left, the Nets hope to win again. Hope is the operative word. It’s not going to happen unless the Nets change the way they approach these games.

    Keeping with their recent trend of allowing teams to put them away early, the Nets were demolished 115-90 by the Sixers last night. It was one of their worst performances of the season, which is something we feel we’ve been saying plenty of lately.

    “We looked tired,” coach Avery Johnson said. “Our legs looked tired. Mentally we looked tired. Very seldom have we had that quit spirit like we had tonight.”

    Johnson said he could tell at shootaround the Nets didn’t have the right focus or mind frame heading into this game. He said they were “in the fog a little bit.”

    The Nets have got injuries to key guys. But other than Wednesday’s game against the Knicks that they made their biggest of the season, the Nets have showed very little fight or urgency lately.

    You can say the Nets don’t need to show urgency when they’re playing for nothing at this point, but we disagree. You’re always playing for something. You’re playing for your teammates, for each other, for the organization that is paying you millions of dollars, for the fans who pay to watch you play and, of course, for pride.

    In three of the last four games, the Nets have showed very little pride. They trailed by 30 against the Hawks last Saturday, by 26 Monday at home against Houston and were down 35 to the Sixers.

    “We are not in the playoffs,” Sasha Vujacic said. “We are playing for something. We don’t know what we’re playing for. We’ve got to put our heads together, and try to beat someone in the next [seven] games.”

    The Nets definitely missed Kris Humphries last night. He was the latest Net to take his place in the infirmary. But his was back in New Jersey, where he rested and received treatment on a sprained ankle and bruised heel.

    Now, only Brook Lopez and Travis Outlaw have been available for and appeared in every game as a Net this season.

    Damion James has missed the most games – 34 after breaking his foot, three with a concussion and seven with recurring pain in the foot that could ultimately end his season. Next is Anthony Morrow, who was out 18 games. Jordan Farmar has sat nine total for different injuries.

    Deron Williams has missed six because of his strained right wrist and he may have to sit out some more before the season is out. But Williams played last night against the Sixers and is expected to play in Sunday’s game against the Heat.

    Overall, though, Williams is being called “day-to-day” by everyone involved. But at some point after Sunday’s game it won’t be surprising if the Nets say Williams won’t play again this season.

    Johnson said there were conversations about shutting Williams down for the remainder of the season. If the Nets-Knicks game Wednesday hadn’t been switched to ESPN, there probably is a good chance Williams’ season would have been done already.

    But the Nets did their homework and decided since Williams couldn’t further injure it, he would be able to play again. How much longer? That’s a question no one is willing to answer. But we have our theories.

    “I’m just glad he got through the last game OK,” Johnson said. “He won’t practice anymore this year, contact. When we go through contact in shootaround he’s out of it. We’ll see how it goes. We’ve evaluated it. We’ve looked at all of the reports. We’ve gathered information from Utah. We talked to him, talked to the doctors that evaluated him, our doctors. That’s where we are: day to day.”

    That’s where the Nets are, too. Day-to-day you don’t know whether the Nets are going to come to play or not, but you usually can figure it out pretty quickly lately.

    Most of us can see in the first quarter, but Johnson had an idea this could be a rough night about eight hours earlier.

    ***

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    ***

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

     

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    Williams' return lifts Nets, but not past Knicks

    Thursday, March 31, 2011, 12:27 AM [General]

    NEW YORK – Deron Williams had the ball against one of the worst defenses in the league and with a chance to tie the game or take the lead.

    The Nets wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

    They brought Williams back specifically for this game and specifically for this reason. Actually, the Nets would rather have had a big lead and have Williams make sure they didn’t give it up. That happened already -- twice in the third period -- against the Knicks.

    It came down to the Nets’ new superstar, who left the infirmary for a chance to stick a dagger in the Knicks on national television. But Williams rushed his shot, missed it and the Knicks celebrated the 120-116 victory.

    “I got a good look,” Williams said. “Just kind of rushed it, came up short.”

    On most occasions, the Knicks don’t make this stop. But the Nets misfired plenty in crunch time, missing six of their last seven shots. Williams was responsible for three of them, but if not for his presence and leadership the Nets probably aren’t in this game. If Williams doesn’t get in foul trouble, the Nets might even win.

    The Nets showed up for this game, unlike the last two, and that’s why it hurt so much for them to not close out the Knicks when they had the chance.

    The Nets put so much into this one game. Williams knew at least a week ago he wouldn’t be resting his strained right wrist on this night.

    With an ESPN audience, the Nets made this their biggest game of the season and they wanted their biggest star on the court. They wanted him there to make the big plays when they mattered.

    Williams scored 22 points, had eight assists and eight rebounds in 37 minutes and he said of his wrist: “it’s the best it’s felt in a long time.”

    But Williams hasn’t been shooting as much as he usually does, hasn’t been practicing at all and hadn’t played in 12 days because of the wrist. His rust showed at the end, but a little toughness was needed by the Nets in the third and fourth quarters.

    The Nets led by 16 in the first half and were dominating the glass. They knew the Knicks were going to make a run. Everyone knew Carmelo Anthony would try lead them back. But the Nets couldn’t stop the run, couldn’t stop Anthony.

    The Nets got rattled. They made bad decisions with the ball. They didn’t rebound nearly as aggressively as in the first half. They argued with officials, yelled at each other and got muscled around inside.

    Brook Lopez disappeared after a strong first half, scoring just four of his 26 in the second. On one sequence late lost his sneaker when he went up for a shot. Instead of completing the play, he bent down to get his sneaker and a loose ball bounced off his back and out of bounds.

    You can point some of the foul calls the Knicks got and those that the Nets didn’t get. But allowing 27 points off turnovers crushed the Nets as much as Anthony lighting them up for 39 points.

    “They made a made a little run to close out the first half and then the third quarter,” Williams said. “The start of the third quarter was pitiful. I think that’s where they got the momentum and kind of got their swagger back.”

    The Nets still had their chances. All they needed was a couple of makes and a couple of stops, but they couldn’t get them. They allowed 62 points in the second half, were outscored by 14 after halftime, played the type of defense the Knicks usually play.

    Still, the ball was in the hands of the player the Nets wanted to have it with the game on the line. The Nets will take that every time, especially when he’s in rhythm and both of his hands are healthy.

    ***

    Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone

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

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