Nets Worked Hard, But Still Were Outworked

    Saturday, December 26, 2009, 11:53 PM [General]

    A two-day Christmas break looked like it was going to do the Nets some good. They played with passion and energy and seemed committed to breaking though and ending their second-longest losing streak of the season.

    But on the court you make your own breaks.

    It didn’t matter how hard they worked because the undersized Rockets know something about working for a win. They’ve done it all season in the deep West and did it to the Nets Saturday night, losers of a 98-93 nailbiter, their ninth in a row.

    It wasn’t the Nets’ ninth nailbiter in a row, but their ninth loss. The first seven were lopsided for the most part, but the last two have come down to the wire. The 2-28 Nets just haven’t been able to make the key stop or hit the key shot that gets them over the hump.

    On this night it was the key shot, key stop and key rebounds. The Nets missed five of their last eight shots, let Aaron Brooks score on a layup with 37.3 seconds left to make it 93-91 and the boards were a problem all night.

    That’s work. That’s hustle. That’s desire. As much as the Nets wanted this game, coming back from 11 down to be a stop and a shot away from taking the lead in the final minute, they couldn’t keep the more aggressive Rockets off the glass.

    Houston held a 16-6 edge on the offensive boards, 12-7 advantage in second-chance points and were plus-12 overall in rebounding. They also took 15 more foul shots. Although six were on intentional fouls in the final 24 seconds, it was an indication of how much more aggressive the Rockets were.

    “Clearly, you’re not going to win many games when you give up 16 offensive rebounds,” coach Kiki Vandeweghe said. “In many ways it’s too bad because we did a lot of good things in the game. We worked very hard, played very good defense, especially in the second half.

    “We played hard. We played pretty well. I think that it’s just the little things. Tonight it was just offensive rebounds that hurt us.”

    The Nets weren’t as downtrodden as you would expect after this loss because they feel as if they’re getting closer.

    Yi Jianlian made some mistakes in this game –- a key missed foul shot, drawing a tech for hanging on the rim, not being much of a presence on the defensive glass –- but you have to like the way he’s played since returning from injury.

    This was his second game back after seven weeks out of uniform and he followed up his 22-point night Wednesday with a 17-point effort last night. He was aggressive offensively, taking the ball to the basket and looking for dunks and fouls. He had two driving dunks and almost a third.

    The Nets couldn’t have expected Yi would come back this strong. Now they’re waiting for Chris Douglas-Roberts (ankle) and Jarvis Hayes (hamstring). Their returns could be at some point next week, and yes, the Nets could be whole finally.

    That doesn’t mean they’re going to reel off a nine-game winning streak. But they believe they’re going to win some games in the near future –- once they clean up some end-of-game execution things and commit more to the defensive end.

    The Nets played much better defense in this game, but giving the Rockets 16 extra possessions means they didn’t finish out the trip.

    “It’s defensively,” Devin Harris said. “I think we gave up too many offensive rebounds, too many tapouts where they got more possessions than we did. They’re a tough team. They keep grinding it out and keep getting shots at the basket. One of them is going to fall for them. That’s what we’ve got to try and cut out.”

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

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Nets' Christmas Wishes

    Thursday, December 24, 2009, 2:54 PM [General]

    The Nets will have a blue Christmas without Vince Carter and with 27 losses already.

    Twenty-seven losses in 29 games doesn’t put it fully into perspective, but this does: two have been against the Wolves. But this is the holidays, time for laughter and good cheer and for asking for things.

    So here’s the Nets’ Christmas Wish List:

    Devin Harris: To prove he can lead a team and lead them to some wins; For Mikhail Prokhorov to be the Russian Mark Cuban and use his money to turn the Nets from worst to first.

    Brook Lopez: More Walt Disney books and figurines and fewer games where he plays like Bambi like last night against Al Jefferson. But Lopez has been the Nets MVP thus far.

    Courtney Lee: After spending his rookie season with Dwight Howard, for Lopez to continue to develop inside to open things up and to be able to knock down the shots the big man creates

    Chris Douglas-Roberts: Good health and more wins. Really all the super-competitive CDR wants is wins.

    Yi Jianlian: Stay healthy and disprove all Nets fans by having more games like last night.

    Keyon Dooling: To be 27 and have 27-year-old hips again. He's 29.

    Jarvis Hayes: To have that play back in Minnesota in the openerk when he tore his hamstring trying to block a shot from behind. He hasn't played since.

    Terrence Williams: Knock down shots and be able to Tweet freely about whatever he wants.

    Josh Boone: Someone to notice his hard work and improved play at power forward when Yi was out because a healthy Yi means much less of Boone.

    Rafer Alston: A contender to put together a deal that doesn’t include Nets taking back multi-year salary.

    Eduardo Najera: To be pain free and prove he’s worthy of his contract.

    Trenton Hassell: His professionalism to be rewarded by a contender seeking defensive help.

    Bobby Simmons: His professionalism to be rewarded by a contender needing veteran help.

    Tony Battie: To be 30 and have 30-year-old knees again.

    Sean Williams: To still be in the NBA next season and making NBA money.

    Rod Thorn: Remain president and be able to spend Prokhorov’s money after years of being handcuffed financially and rebuild the Nets.

    Kiki Vandeweghe: Return exclusively to his GM post; Yi to continue to have games like last night; more salary-saving moves.

    Bruce Ratner: All the legal hurdles to be over and a shovel finally put in the ground in Brooklyn.

    Mikhail Prokorov: Board of Governors approval and later OKs from LeBron James and Amare Stoudemire.

    Brett Yormark: To somehow acquire Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker, Danilo Gallinari and Manu Ginobili so Yormark can sell sponsorships throughout Europe and South America; To draft John Wall and play with him for a chance to market the Great Wall and China.

    Nets' fans: The clock to strike midnight, July 1, 2010.

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

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Remembering Where The Season Was Lost

    Tuesday, December 22, 2009, 3:29 PM [General]

    There is nothing like a Nets-Timberwolves game as a little pre-Christmas appetizer. Too bad this isn’t 2000 when there was something to the game with Stephon Marbury going against his old team or 2003 or 2004 when both teams were good.

    Instead, tomorrow the NBA’s two worst teams square off in what could be called the John Wall Bowl. Wall is the Kentucky guard everyone is projecting as the first overall pick, presuming he comes out, and someone the Nets would love to have.

    You might say the Wolves don’t need any more point guards since that’s all they drafted and acquired over the summer, but you never know what they’re going to do. Timberwolves president David Kahn believes in acquiring assets

    The one thing we know is this game has significance on many levels.

    For one: the Nets get a chance to show if the game against the Lakers -- when they competed and played hard and believed they could win -- was a breakthrough. They need a win badly.

    Another it’s a rematch of a game that set the tone for this sorry season. It may have seemed an insignificant game, but in our opinion it was huge.

    These two met on opening night and our feeling is if the Nets close out that game and get win No. 1 in Game 1, this season is totally different.

    They wouldn’t be .500 at this point or even close to .500 but they obviously wouldn’t have set the record for most losses to start a season, they would have a few more wins and coach Lawrence Frank might still be on the bench.

    "Who’s to know? Who’s to know?" Devin Harris said. "We wouldn’t be in the record books. That’s the only thing we really can look at, but other than that who’s to know?"

    If the Nets win that game, maybe they have a little confidence, find a way to beat the Bobcats less than a week later and then the Sixers and on and on. Little by little after that Minnesota game, the Nets played not to lose instead of to win. When the snowball rolls down the hill you know what happens and you saw what happened.

    Injuries mounted, losses mounted and that’s all this season has been about for the Nets. And in the opener, it wasn’t just the Nets losing, it was the way they lost.

    Up 19 in the third period and 16 around the midway point of the fourth period, the Nets had this game won. All they needed to take a stand. Instead, the Nets crumbled under a pile of mistakes, turnovers, missed free throws, missed layups and a free-throw violation.

    They lost at the buzzer after Damien Wilkins picked up an offensive rebound and hit a short shot at the buzzer to give the Wolves the 95-93 win.

    You can point to the Nets' lack of chemistry from them not playing together, due to all the injuries in camp or a lack of experience because Frank had mostly young guys on the floor. But the Wolves had young guys, too, and were led by rookie Jonny Flynn, a player the Nets coveted, in the fourth period.

    Flynn didn’t show a lack of experience. He showed a mettle the Nets knew he possessed and something they needed on this night and still need.

    Had the Wolves lost that game, they would have been the Nets. Minnesota dropped its next 15 games. The Wolves could have been the ones trying to avoid the worst start in NBA history.

    You can ask: if the Wolves won the opener why didn’t they win a few more games like you propose the Nets would have?

    The Wolves play out West, play tougher teams, had a much tougher schedule than the Nets. Plus, as we stated earlier, if the Nets would have closed out the game, a game they dominated, it would have carried more weight.

    That takes us to tomorrow when the Nets without Chris Douglas-Roberts but with Yi Jianlian playing for the first time since Nov. 2, play these same Wolves.

    Minnesota comes in with Kevin Love healthy. They’re playing better, but this is a winnable game for the Nets, and the way they’ve played you can’t say that often.

    They’ve had two days to add some plays on offense and make some much-needed improvements on defense.

    This game won’t make-or-break the Nets’ season. That happened the first time they met. But this is a chance for the Nets show they’ve grown from the Laker game and the last two days of work.

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

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Nets Know Defense Can't Rest Anymore

    Monday, December 21, 2009, 5:27 PM [General]

    The Nets had one of their longer practices since the new regime took over. Kiki Vandeweghe said it was his first real practice with the Nets.

    You certainly could look at it that way, since he had just about everyone take part except for Chris Douglas-Roberts, whose sprained right ankle kept him hobbled, and Eduardo Najera. Yi Jianlian was out there and Jarvis Hayes, too.

    Slowly but surely, it seems the Nets are getting their regular players back. You can’t be entirely sure because it seems every time someone is about to return, someone else gets hurt.

    But barring more setbacks or injuries, you’re looking at the possibility -– possibility -– that the Nets will have 15 players available for Saturday’s game against the Rockets or maybe Dec. 28 against Oklahoma City.

    By then the Nets may also be playing defense.

    They went over many things like more movement on offense and getting out and running, but defense was a main focus today. They put in the new defense or, more aptly put, they put a defense in.

    Better late than never, we say.

    There is no denying the Nets’ defense has been awful the last couple of weeks. During this seven-game losing streak, they’re giving up 110 points on 52.9 percent shooting. No knock on Vandeweghe, but it seems the Nets forgot all they learned about defense under Lawrence Frank when he left.

    We understand they’re running a new offense and guys are in different positions now, but that’s just a nice way of saying guys aren’t getting back or guys are worrying too much about their scoring and not focusing enough on the other end.

    That’s really what’s been going on here. The Nets are 2-26. Their season, for all intents and purposes, is over. So there seem to be guys who want to get theirs. Guys don’t seem to be playing for each other and for the team.

    But the turning point may have been the Toronto demolition Friday and the breakthrough may have been the Lakers’ loss Saturday.

    The Nets were humiliated in Toronto, down by 37 at halftime. About 24 hours later, they were leading the champion Lakers at the half.

    It wasn’t a moral victory. The Nets didn’t finish the job. But they believed they could beat the Lakers and people within the team said it was the most competitive half of basketball they played all season on both ends of the floor.

    Pride definitely kicked in, but now it has to follow them for the rest of the season.

    It's easy to get up for the Lakers after laying down in Toronto. Next up is the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Nets can’t have the attitude that, since they just fought the Lakers, they should beat the Wolves. They have to take what they took with them from the loss to the Lakers and these two practices into that game, especially on the defensive end.

    It’s somewhat ironic that Vandeweghe is teaching defense. He admits –- in a self-deprecating fashion -– that he wasn’t much of a defender when he played. Last week, we asked him about stopping LeBron James, and here was Vandeweghe’s answer

    “I don't know, I'm not guarding him,” Vandeweghe said. “That's not saying anything. I never guarded anybody anyway.”

    But Vandeweghe is a prideful guy. He doesn’t want to be a coach, but he doesn’t want the team he’s coaching to be this bad defensively either. He has said over and over how much he realizes he hates losing by being back on the bench and in the locker room and at the practices.

    As much as this is a developmental year, it’s also about developing good habits, winning habits, and many of them start on the defensive end.

    Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)
    0 (0 Ratings)

    Time for rest, reflection, returns and soul searching

    Sunday, December 20, 2009, 3:59 PM [General]

    Call it a much-needed mental health day –- not just for the Nets players but the guys covering the team. I'll say this: It hasn’t been dull.

    There’s been a coaching change, an NBA record, guys Tweeting, guys being outspoken about the troubles, talk of being “soft” and not having “heart” and the team being a “a little divided” and the president telling everyone to stop yakking and just play basketball. And there are still 54 games remaining.

    But this is a big week for the Nets, starting with Sunday’s needed day off.

    They have been bad but also have had a brutal schedule. They just played eight games in 12 days, including four in five. Those four went like this: at Cleveland, home for Utah, at Toronto, home for the Lakers -- four losses by a combined total of 68 points.

    This is their first real day off since Nov. 22. On other non-game days they either practiced, met or flew somewhere. Not Sunday.

    Now the Nets have a little time to catch their breaths and clear their minds.

    They’re not playing for the championship. They’re not even playing for a postseason spot, although 9 ½ games out for some teams is not a surmountable deficit, especially with 54 to play. But the Nets have to figure out and decide what they want out of this season.

    Do they want to just fill the stat sheet and put up good numbers that really don’t count for much when you’re on a bad team?

    Or do they want to be like Oklahoma City last year and the year before –- a bad team that you could see would turn into something because of how hard they played and how much they wanted to prove doubters wrong?

    In the preseason and beyond, that’s what the Nets talked about –- proving everyone wrong. They have but in a bad way. They’re worse than expected and they really shouldn’t be.

    Teams win with injuries to key players. Teams that aren’t supposed to be good battle to the end of games. Players on teams that aren’t supposed to be good raise their value by playing all out and doing everything they can to help their team stay competitive.

    That’s what the Nets have to do, should do and should have been doing all along.

    Everyone knows this is a rebuilding year and everything is about next season, but many of their players are playing for next season, too.

    The Nets have eight players who will be free agents in July. Not many of them are raising their value, but if the collective mindset changes and they lift their games and competitive spirit, there could be changes across the board.

    That’s what makes this a big week.

    After today’s needed respite, the Nets have two days of practice, when Yi Jianlian and Jarvis Hayes should return to the court. Yi expects to play Wednesday for the first time since Nov. 2 and Hayes is shooting for Saturday. He hasn’t played since opening night.

    These are two of the Nets’ best shooters. They may not always be productive, but you can never question their effort and energy. Speaking of those attributes, it’s a big week for Chris Douglas-Roberts, too.

    He sprained his ankle last night against the Lakers. It didn’t look good, but he downplayed it. He’s probably going to want to play Wednesday when the Nets have a legitimate shot at getting win No. 3.

    Minnesota is in Wednesday, the first of several winnable games on this homestand. Still say the season would have gone totally different if the Nets close out Minnesota, up 19 in the season opener.

    The Wolves have won just five times this season and twice on the road. After Minnesota, the Nets play the Rockets, Thunder, Knicks, Cavaliers and Bucks.

    There are some games in there you know will be tough for them to get. But after an off day, two practices with old faces back on the floor, more off days for Christmas holiday, the Nets should have plenty of time to decide what they want to be and what they want out of this season and they should start showing it against Minnesota.

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

     

    3.7 (1 Ratings)

    Nets Feel Good About 19-Point Loss

    Saturday, December 19, 2009, 11:48 PM [General]

    EAST RUTHERFORD -- All the words that were used in the locker room after Friday’s game in Toronto seemed to have struck a chord with the Nets.

    We’re just talking about the ones they used to us. More colorful things probably were said among the players and coaches.

    But to beatwriters after Friday’s debacle in Toronto, Nets players used words like “pitiful,” “horrible,” “inexcusable,” and “awful,” and one of them questioned very loudly where everyone’s pride was.

    Less than 24 hours later, the Nets responded, playing with a passion they didn’t have at all in Toronto, an energy that was zapped from the start in Canada and a hunger that never made its way into the arena. They had all those things Friday and still lost by 19 to the Lakers, 103-84.

    It was a bad loss, but the feeling in the locker room on this night was the Nets are going to be OK. The Lakers are the champs and the Nets battled the champs into the third quarter. That snow outside the Izod Center was confetti, because this was a momentous occasion.

    "I was proud of the way the guys played," coach Kiki Vandeweghe said. "They came out and played hard. They competed. They competed every play.

    "Tonight felt completely different," he added. "Last night we didn’t come with any effort. We weren’t in the game right from the start. That was upsetting. What I asked the guys to do is you come with effort and they did tonight."

    The truth is the Nets did show a little something less than 24 hours after no one gave them a chance to stand up to Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. Make no mistake, this was a game for a little while and much longer than anyone might have imagined.

    Down 12 in the second period, Devin Harris led a Nets’ comeback with a quarter we haven’t seen from him since last season. He scored 17 points in the second to push the Nets to a two-point lead at halftime that they extended to six in the third quarter.

    Could it be? Could the team that has won just two of its 27 games beat the defending champs, owners of the best record in the NBA, one night after falling behind by 37 in the first half and 40 in the second to an underachieving Raptors team?

    It would have made for a great story, but Bryant, especially, and the rest of the star-studded Lakers had a different ending in mind.

    Bryant, broken finger and all, wouldn’t let the Lakers lose to the Nets. He wasn’t going to disappoint all the Laker fans that braved the snow to chant M-V-P and hold up their camera phones to take pictures.

    “I needed a little burst to get us back in the game pretty quickly,” Bryant said. “We didn’t want New Jersey to get more confidence when it got to a six-point advantage. We didn’t want them getting any further, so I kind of turned it on a little bit.”

    That was all the Lakers needed and all the Nets could take. They already erased one double-digit lead. They couldn’t make another one disappear after Bryant helped put them up 10.

    The Nets got it down to seven. Seven became 15 about four minutes later and 21 about four minutes after that.

    “They made shots and we didn't,” Harris said. “They got to the free-throw line. They got easy buckets. They did a lot to keep us on that other end and not allow us to get in that transition game that we like.”

    Just as you would expect.

    Yet there were smiles instead of frowns, and players and coaches feeling better about themselves. It doesn’t matter that this was the Nets’ seventh consecutive loss and seventh straight by double figures. The Nets were in this game longer than anyone expected, maybe even longer than they did, and they now believe they figured out how they need to play.

    The next thing is the Nets hope they don’t have to play too long with out Chris Douglas-Roberts. He suffered a level 1 ankle sprain with 4:47 left in this blowout. X-rays were negative. Everything else about this night seemed positive, excluding the outcome.

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

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Nets sink to new low

    Friday, December 18, 2009, 11:09 PM [General]

    Just when you thought the Nets couldn’t sink any lower, they give you one of these performances.

    In a season filled with low points Friday night was the lowest, lower than when they set the mark for most losses to start a season. This was as bad as gets, considering the opponent and what the Nets let them do, which was every little thing the Raptors wanted.

    The Nets were down 24 points in the first quarter, 37 points at the half, 38 early in the third and 40 in the fourth to a struggling, underachieving team. But, there is no more struggling underachieving team than the Nets, which was magnified by their 118-95 loss to the Raptors.

    This was going to be a tough season, but no one could have guessed the Nets would be 23 games under .500 after 27 games. And no one could have predicted that a team seemingly so desperate for a win would come out with no energy and effort in the front end of a back-to-back when the second part was against the Lakers.

    The Nets have no shot in that game so if they were going to get one it was this one.

    Think again.

    The Nets were down 10 less than five minutes into the game and trailed by double figures the final 43:07.

    “Just embarrassing,” Devin Harris said. “The effort that we gave, it just wasn't there from the start.”

    “Pitiful,” Chris Douglas-Roberts said. “Horrible. Horrible effort. Awful. Everything about it. From the beginning, there were no signs.”

    They paint quite a picture and it wasn’t pretty unless you were from Toronto, a Raptors fan or a member of the Raptors. Then it was one of the most enjoyable nights of your life.

    The fans saw a great show and got free food at Pizza Pizza for the Raptors breaking 100 points. The only surprise was that they had to wait until two minutes into the fourth quarter to hit the century mark.

    The Nets' defense was awful, worse than it has been all season. A couple of teams have scored more, but doubtfully with such ease.

    The Raptors had 34 points in the paint in the first half. The Nets had 33 points total in that time. Toronto started 12-for-15 and built a 22-point lead just 9:02 into the game. They were getting easy layups and dunks as the Nets played listless basketball from the start.

    “We just have to come with a better approach,” Rafer Alston said. “That’s what it is. We have to come with a mindset that we have come to battle, and it has to be an all-out war from the jump to the end. It’s a mindset. And we didn’t have that.”

    The Nets haven’t had it much this season. This was their sixth straight loss and all six have been by double digits.

    Any guess what the Lakers are thinking right now? Is there any way Kobe Bryant is going to let his team lose to the Nets? Don’t you think the Nets know it?

    It doesn't get much worse than showing no effort and losing the winnable games.

    “This, we hope is an aberration,” coach Kiki Vandeweghe said. “You take this as a learning experience and you say, ‘If you’re going to come with this type of energy this is what happens.’ I don’t think any of us want to be here. It was no fun. No fun to coach, no fun to play.”

    It was for the Raptors and people of Toronto.

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

     

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Harris' Hack Overshadows Strong Nets' Effort

    Tuesday, December 15, 2009, 11:32 PM [General]

    CLEVELAND -– Devin Harris treated his Nets' teammates to steak dinner when they got here, a bonding experience they hoped would bring them closer together on and off the court.

    It seemed to have worked the way the Nets played against the Cavaliers last night. But with one swing of Harris’ arm, the Nets' best performance maybe in weeks became somewhat of an afterthought.

    The Nets lost the game, 99-89, but the bigger story was Harris' ejection after a hard foul and LeBron James' reaction to it. Anything involving James becomes a big deal.

    After Harris unintentionally took down Jamario Moon with a shot across his head and neck as he went in for a dunk, James sprinted to defend his teammate. If it had been Mo Williams pinning Harris up against the basket stanchion it wouldn’t have been as big a story. Remember, James is the King.

    James also is the Nets' No. 1 priority this summer when free agency begins. It’s doubtful anything that happened last night will sway his decision, but at least the Nets weren’t annihilated like they have been so often lately.

    The difference was 10, but it was two-point game with 4:09 left in the third quarter. That’s not a misprint. The Nets, who lost to the Warriors by 16, Pacers by 16 and Hawks by 23 in the past week, were down just two to James and the Cavaliers with about 16 minutes of basketball left.

    You kept waiting for the lead to grow to 14, 16, 20 and then the Nets be out of it. But they stayed in it, for the most part, until the end, even after Harris was ejected with 3:48 left.

    "The ball moved, we found open guys, guys got to the right spot, we read the defense, and everyone was playing off one another," Harris said. "That’s the kind of effort we need, not just from the second to fourth [quarters], but if you start and finish the game with that kind of movement and understanding of each other [we should be OK]."

    Harris could face a suspension for the play on Moon. But you have to believe that because of Harris' reputation and the fact the Nets were in the game, he wouldn’t do something like that on purpose would weigh in his favor.  Moon skies and Harris can’t get up as high so he hit him in the head and sent him crashing to the floor. Everyone involved said it looked worse than it was. The fall made it look worse.

    This game is behind them, but the Nets have to take something from it. They have to follow up with this hard-working performance when they host the Jazz, a team that can pick-and-roll them to death. Their zone was effective against the Cavaliers.

    James said the Cavaliers never found any rhythm because of a truckload of fouls called in the first half especially. They also took too many jumpers against the Nets’ zone until James started attacking it and slashing to the basket.

    He did it after the game got close. It seemed at times the Cavaliers were overlooking the two-win Nets and were surprised at how close it was.

    "They’re an NBA team," James said. "It’s not about who plays who better. It’s about who gets the win. We got the win and that’s what it’s all about.

    "Every game is its own. You can’t go into a game saying this team only has two wins. That’s when you get bit. You go into a game you just try to play well and you want to win. You win by 20 or win by one. It’s a win."

    The Nets may not remember what a win feels like, but more performances like this and they will.

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

    0 (0 Ratings)

    The Uphill Climb Continues For Nets

    Monday, December 14, 2009, 5:07 PM [General]

    ATLANTA -- There was nothing more fitting than the Nets holding practice this morning in the home of the Rambling Wreck. That’s just what they are.

    Twenty-four games into this season, the Nets have two wins. At this rate, they’re going to win about seven games, but they’ll be better than that. The Nets, who practiced today on the campus of Georgia Tech, won’t break the record for fewest wins in a season -- nine -– unless they have extended injuries to Devin Harris or Brook Lopez.

    While we were in Atlanta, we were reminded of something former Nets coach Kevin Loughery said. We spoke to Loughery, who lives in Atlanta and was the player-coach of the 9-73 Sixers, after the Nets set the mark with 18 consecutive losses to start this season.

    “They’ll be all right,” Loughery said. “They won’t break the record for most losses for the season. This is the weakest I’ve seen the NBA in years. They have enough talent to win some games.

    “They’ve had a lot of injuries. Lopez is a top five center in the NBA or will be. The only problem is you can’t afford another injury to their two top players, Lopez and Harris.”

    The amazing thing is the Nets seem to be playing better lately. They’re more confident, effective and efficient on offense. They scored 107 last night and lost by 23 to Atlanta. The problem is the Nets’ losses are becoming more and more lopsided.

    They played the Hawks, but the Nets just can’t play defense for whatever reason. They probably will play LeBron James and the Cavaliers tough tomorrow, but if they don’t defend, the far superior team should have a relatively easy night.

    All that said, despite Harris saying there’s a “little division on the team right now” –- he meant on the court -- things are not nearly as bad as previous Nets teams that featured Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter. A few years back, the chemistry was terrible, players weren’t talking to each other and one certain moody player was drifting back and forth with his allegiance.

    These Nets are getting along remarkably well, all things considered. The record is much worse, but the atmosphere is better.

    “They’re hanging together, and this is a tough time for them to hang together,” coach/GM Kiki Vandeweghe said. “They could easily drift apart, but they’re not. They’re trying to do the right things.”

    The Nets have to concentrate their effort on the defensive end. They’re a step slow, a few strides behind and aren’t getting help when they get beaten. More talking, better rotations, more focus all would help.

    Vandeweghe is new to this coaching thing and continues to give his team outs by saying they’re working hard and trying and are beaten up and still haven’t had that many practices.

    When the Nets had eight guys regularly, they were playing defense. They just couldn’t score. So now whenever they meet they need to concentrate on defense because the offense has made major strides of late.

    “I think we have to be realistic in that we haven’t been able to have a real practice yet since I got here,” Vandeweghe said. “Until we can get a couple of weeks during the season or a couple days of practice, we’re going to have to just inch it along.

    “On a consistent basis while we’re playing we’re right there with teams. A lot of times it’s through the first half. We start to break down the second half as we get a little bit more tired. It’s a tough schedule for us. Our guys are playing a lot of minutes.”

    Vandeweghe is trying not to break the Nets, thinking more like an executive than a coach. Sure he wants to win. He’s competitive and has told us repeatedly that, despite his calm demeanor, he can’t stand losing. But her keeps things in “perspective,” he said.

    “At times I try to be realistic about where we are, try and step back, out of the picture and really look at it objectively,” Vandeweghe said. “You look at your goals, which are to develop winning habits in young players, teach them how to play.

    “Objectively, we've had a lot of injuries. ... Then again, you have to make guys understand that here's what you want. It's clear. This is what's acceptable and this is what's not.”

    The defense has been unacceptable. Saying “while we’re playing” is, too. They should play the whole game, regardless. Practices can be optional, defense can’t.

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

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    Nets can't win this way

    Sunday, December 13, 2009, 9:17 PM [General]

    ATLANTA -- The game got away from the Nets late in the second period but in essence it happened during the opening tap.

    The way the Nets are constructed they have to play near-perfect basketball to beat playoff teams, especially contending ones like the Hawks. The Nets were dismantled by the Pacers on Friday and they will be in the draft lottery.

    Even if the Nets were fully healthy, they probably would struggle against most teams, and definitely the one they played against Sunday. The Hawks made it look easy despite not having starter and defense stretcher Marvin Williams.

    It didn’t matter. The Hawks still had too much, still had guys to stretch the defense and bodies to control the boards inside.

    The Nets racked up a season high in points, but it didn’t matter because they couldn’t stop the Hawks on the other end and suffered another head-shaking, deflating defeat, by the count of 130-107. It was their third straight loss and third by at least 16 points.

    Things were bad when Lawrence Frank was the coach, but in the six defeats since his firing the Nets have lost by double-digits five times.

    Some of it is the opponent, although two of the last three have been Golden State and Indiana. Most of it is the Nets just don’t have the players or mental toughness to compete with some of these teams, particularly on the defensive end.

    Things were supposed to change when Devin Harris and Courtney Lee returned and the offense, especially lately, has been much better. But the defense has gone backwards.

    They let up 100 points four times in 16 games under Frank and eight times in 10 games since his dismissal.

    Now the Nets are waiting for Yi Jianlian and Jarvis Hayes to return, and there’s no question they miss them. But they’re offensive players and the Nets’ problems have been on the defensive end.

    “It’s pretty deflating but they’re a great team and their shooters, they made open shots,” Devin Harris said. “They were 11-for-16, I think, from three and that’s tough to match up with definitely with a team like that and the way they can score.”

    They were 11-for-17, but the point is well taken. The Nets can’t compete with teams like the Hawks unless they play a perfect game on both ends and they didn’t by a long shot.

    It was a good offensive night, for the most part. They shot better than 50 percent from the field, including 50 from downtown, ran the floor. But defensively is where they usually relax or fail to bounce back.

    Wasted was Harris’ 23 points and nine assists and another double-double from Brook Lopez (19 points, 12 rebounds).

    There was one stretch where the Hawks scored on 15-of-18 possessions -– and this was over a seven-minute stretch. There have been times when the Nets have had trouble scoring on 15 possessions in a half.

    “As I told the guys, they’re making some progress,” coach Kiki Vandeweghe said. “We’ve made some progress on the offensive end. We shot 50 percent. We’re scoring the ball. It’s just now our defense was tough. And the Hawks made it tough – they played a very good game.”

    Tough wasn’t the word to describe the Nets’ defense. Bad is and that's being nice. It's been bad for a while.

    The offense is improved. Players love scoring points. But eventually you have to show mental toughness and a desire to play on the other end. That’s the only way the Nets will have a chance to win and against the more talented teams like the Hawks that might not be enough.

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

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    More Trouble Brewing for Nets

    Friday, December 11, 2009, 11:33 PM [General]

    The Nets followed their terrible performance against Golden State with an even worse one against the Pacers.

    And that’s not their biggest problem.

    Devin Harris left the game with what he thought was a broken pinky and was relieved to find out it was only sprained. Still, he couldn’t finish their 107-91 loss to the Danny Granger-less Pacers.

    And that’s not the Nets’ biggest problem.

    It’s what Harris said after the game, unsolicited and matter of fact. He never raised his voice, stayed calm and even was in a good mood. But it was big enough and serious enough for him to offer it up without provocation.

    “We’re a little divided as a team right now,” he said.

    Not shocking. They’re 2-21 after all. The surprising thing is that no one said anything like this when the Nets were losing 18 consecutive games. This was just their second straight loss and now they’re a team in crisis.

    This, to most of us here, came out of left field. The Nets have been beaten plenty and been beaten badly plenty, so this seemed like just another bad loss.

    But Harris, showing leadership, spoke up because he doesn’t want it to get worse and he wants everybody “to pull it together.”

    When he was speaking, a couple of players looked over at Harris to see what was going on or hear what he was saying. This is a new role for Harris, but he handled it well.

    Now the question is how will the Nets handle it? How will they respond to it? Because Harris opened up a whole new can of worms.

    Everyone will ask questions about it at practice today and if/when the Nets lose at Atlanta, it will come up again and again and again.

    This seems to have started from a story that portrayed Rafer Alston ripping his teammates for not staying together during tough times. Alston was right. Being around this team, they put their heads down and lose focus and poise when teams go on runs.

    That’s pretty much what happened against the Pacers, who we must mention again was without Granger. The Nets never won without Harris. They’ve only won twice with him. The Pacers have won half as many without Granger and this was just the second game he missed.

    Droughts at the end of the first and third periods and at the start of the fourth doomed the Nets, but their defense from the beginning really ruined their chances of getting this winnable game.

    The Pacers are 22nd in points, 29th in field goal percentage, 27th in three-point accuracy. Without their best player, they rack up 107 points, shoot nearly 47 percent overall and 46 percent on threes, and Tyler Hansbrough and Roy Hibbert have their best nights as pros.

    That’s an embarrassing performance following another embarrassing performance.

    As one of the writers said, if these two games happened with Lawrence Frank here, there would be an outpouring of disgust and calls for his head. But it’s not the coach. It’s the players as Harris said.

    They have to find it in themselves to come together. Harris made his plea after Alston spoke the truth and the response will be shortly forthcoming.

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

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    Winnable game opens tough trip, stretch

    Thursday, December 10, 2009, 3:59 PM [General]

    As the Nets left for Indiana on Thursday, they probably weren't thinking like the rest of us, who believe if they have any shot of getting a game on this trip this is the one.

    On second thought, some of them might be thinking that way.

    We don't know that for sure because every athlete is confident his team can win, regardless of circumstances. So the Nets probably believe they can win all three.

    Our take, and we believe it's the popular one, is the Nets haven’t won three times in 22 games thus far. So getting all three with stops in Atlanta and Cleveland aren't high on the probability scale.

    Shoot for three, but a 1-2 trip would be considered good and actually would raise the Nets’ winning percentage from .09 to .13. But they must win Friday night.

    The Nets play the Pacers, who most figured would be in the same boat as New Jersey, the Knicks and Bucks -- battling for the bottom spot in the East. But that belongs to the Nets, with the Sixers gaining some ground. The Pacers got off to a decent start, but are coming back to Earth.

    They’ve lost six in a row and 10 of 11 since beating the Nets on Nov. 17 when New Jersey was playing with just eight available guys. Now Indiana is without All-Star Danny Granger, who is out with a foot injury, and the Nets have many of their guys back, including Devin Harris and Courtney Lee.

    All of this has to add up to a win or it could be a very long week and stretch of losses. Not like the one they already endured, but after Indiana, Atlanta and Cleveland, the Nets come home and face the Jazz, travel to Toronto and then play the Lakers at the Meadowlands next Saturday before a three-day break and a meeting with the Timberwolves.

    The Nets could win some of those games. The Raptors' game isn't a lock and they'd better beat Minnesota. But to start this stretch off the right way, they have to get past the Pacers.

    The Nets should be taking a two-game winning streak into Indy -- or maybe even a four. But offensive lapses cost them Sunday's game at the Knicks and Wednesday's game against the Warriors.

    That went predictably, though, as the Nets started fast but could sustain it, got sloppy and lost the game to the Warriors. It also was predictable because the Nets came home from Chicago -- late because of weather -- earlier that day after a hard-fought win in the Windy City the night before. The Nets were going to have to be sharp to beat the Warriors, who like to force turnovers, score points and get out and run.

    The Warriors came in allowing roughly 114 points and held the Nets to 89. Turnovers, missed shots, and a loss of steam all contributed to the Warriors looking like a defensive stalwarts. If that happens against the Pacers, who don't have the athletes or talent without Granger that Golden State has, it could be another bad night for the Nets.

    But this is why it should be different and why it should be different than the last time they played the Pacers.

    The Nets should be rested, coming off an off/travel day today. They have more players and you see the impact Harris and Lee have. Both are looking for consistency, though. Brook Lopez probably remembers what an easy time Roy Hibbert had in their last meeting, and there is no Granger. The Nets have to capitalize on all of this.

    We know it would take divine intervention for the Nets to be in the playoff chase when all is said and done so this one game doesn't mean that much. But with what lies ahead it could mean the difference between a seven-game losing skid and something a little more manageable. It also could boost their confidence and give them a blueprint on how to win games.

    This group is still learning -- as you saw from the Warriors' loss and the game against the Knicks. They're still getting a feel for each other, for coach Kiki Vandeweghe's offense, for how to win games.

    As much as all the phyisical problems this team has had, some of their biggest issues are mental. They make mental mistakes, careless turnovers and it carries over to the defensive end.

    All of that won't be cured with one road win against a team that will have its share of ping-pong balls in the draft lottery, but after all that's happened and what lies ahead, it can only help.

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

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