Harris, Nets finish off Bulls

    Wednesday, December 9, 2009, 12:13 AM [General]

    CHICAGO -- Anyone who has watched the Nets has seen this game at least 10, 12 times. Only there was something very different.

    They usually take an early lead, lose the advantage as well as their focus and poise after halftime, and talk about the need to learn how to finish out games.

    Tuesday night the Nets took the lead in the first quarter, didn’t lose it until late in the game, but they never lost their poise, confidence or belief.

    They showed a mettle that’s been greatly lacking for most of this season and pulled out a 103-101 win over the Bulls at the United Center.

    The Bulls are not a good team, but this still was a major step for the Nets and a sign that they’re headed in the right direction.

    Problems still remain because their defense faltered with the game on the line and their offense got stuck, but they still made enough plays -– the big one was a go-ahead runner by Devin Harris with 14.9 seconds left -- to get just their second win in 21 games this season.

    “We stayed with it mentally,” said Rafer Alston, who played well and hit two free throws with 6.3 seconds left to make it a three-point game.

    “When they made a run, at points there we almost lost our composure, but we stayed in it together, kept pushing one another. That allowed guys to get back their confidence and stay in the moment. We were up 10, they came back, but we just stayed with the game.”

    The Nets are looking like a different team lately, more confident and looser.

    A coaching change and the record for the worst start are behind them. They’re playing together more and getting big performances from multiple players.

    “This is a clean slate,” Chris Douglas-Roberts said after his 20-point night. “We put the record behind us and we're just moving forward.”

    "We only have two wins -- but this was the first one we really had to gut out. This was a gut check."

    Having Harris looking more and more like the player he was last season is a big plus, too.

    Harris wasn’t having a great night either. He was just 2-for-6 with 10 points heading into the fourth. But he hit the biggest shot of the night with the Nets down, 100-99, and under 20 seconds remaining.

    The Nets’ All-Star point guard drove right and hit a runner over Derrick Rose, who drove right past Courtney Lee and hit a runner over Tony Battie about five seconds earlier gave Chicago just their second lead since the first period.

    “It was my shot to take,” Harris said.

    Fortunately for the Nets, Harris took it and made it. Otherwise, this would have been filed under another bad loss or same Nets’ different day.

    But the Nets wrote a different ending to this script. They didn’t falter and fold when the opposition charged at them. The Nets made plays and found a way. Different Nets, different day.

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

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    Yi Can't Catch a Break

    Monday, December 7, 2009, 4:33 PM [General]

    Yi Jianlian’s NBA career isn’t going is he hoped, and his Nets’ career isn’t going how anyone hoped.

    The Nets knew they were taking a risk in trading productive and popular Richard Jefferson for the unproven Yi, and with each injury he suffers, the trade looks worse and worse. He suffered a busted lip Saturday and could miss up to two weeks.

    With each injury, you can continue to question why the Nets included Ryan Anderson in the deal involving Vince Carter or didn't draft Tyler Hansbrough, though he suffered an injury, too.

    Yi’s injuries and the questions about the moves seem like they will be ongoing things. We know why Anderson had to be involved; Orlando wouldn’t have done the deal otherwise. The Nets were high on Hansbrough, but felt Terrence Williams would improve and fit their style and what they want to accomplish.

    At this point, the Nets are fortunate to have Josh Boone, who has had his moments filling in at power forward for Yi.

    The latest setback wasn’t Yi’s fault. Really, all three significant injuries he suffered with the Nets haven’t. But they have kept him on the bench more than on the court.

    In January, he broke a bone in his hand slapping down on the ball trying to make a defensive play in Milwaukee. That cost him 16 games. In November, he sprained his right MCL after Gerald Wallace fell on Yi’s leg going for a loose ball, and on Saturday needed 50 – Five-OH! – in his upper lip after taking an inadvertent elbow from Sean Williams. It required so many stitches because the underlying muscle was torn.

    You can’t help but feel for Yi, who is a nice young man and, in talking to him the past few days, was really excited to return to action. He worked hard to get back in position to play.

    He was possibly going to play yesterday against the Knicks and definitely tomorrow against the Bulls. Now it probably won’t be until next Friday at Toronto or Saturday against the Lakers.

    Yi will be re-evaluated Monday and then it will be determined when he can play. He can’t practice at all right now. He can’t sweat because that could cause an infection, and the lip needs to heal.

    With practices minimal because of the Nets’ schedule, he may have to get in after a shootaround or a post-shoot three-on-three. The Nets should keep Sean Williams off the court if that’s the case.

    As of now, Yi has missed 32 of the 102 games the Nets have played since he came here due to injury. In the calendar year 2009, it’s 32 of 70. And he’s out until at least the middle of next week, if not longer, so you can add at least six more games to that list.

    This was supposed to be Yi’s breakout season after he spent the summer working out in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, East Rutherford and China. He returned to the Nets stronger and with more confidence.

    Depending on when he returns, the Nets should have 50-55 games left so he could make something of this season.

    All the Nets can hope is that Yi doesn't lose that confidence from the multiple injuries and from the rust of not playing –- though interim coach Kiki Vandeweghe will give him more room for error than Lawrence Frank and certainly will call more plays. They also hope Yi won't get hurt again.

    ***

    Yi’s latest injury and the fact a quarter of the season has passed reminded us of something we did with the website The Nets are Scorching. It was a pre-season over/under, and some of our picks aren’t looking good.

    Total Nets Victories – 34
    My pick: Under
    Genius

    Devin Harris points per game – 21
    My pick: Over
    Still time, but maybe not

    Brook Lopez rebounds per game – 10
    My pick: Under
    Could be close

    Yi Jianlian points per game – 14
    My pick: Under
    Looks good

    Terrence Williams total starts – 40
    My pick: Under
    Looks great

    Courtney Lee points per game – 12
    My pick: Over
    Still possible

    Starts by a point guard other than Devin Harris – 10
    My pick: Under
    Bad pick

    Starts by a power forward other than Yi - 15
    My pick: Under
    Awful pick ... what was I thinking?

    Chris Douglas-Roberts minutes per game – 18
    My pick: Over
    I'm the smartest man alive

    Nets Team Defense, points allowed – 101
    My pick: Under
    Still possible

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

     

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    Nets Zone Out At Worst Time

    Sunday, December 6, 2009, 4:33 PM [General]

    Kiki Vandeweghe stood in front of the Nets’ bench, clapped and told his team to “Focus, guys. Focus.” It was the second half and you could tell the Nets were losing it.

    The Knicks had the Nets rattled throughout the second half of a game the visitors had a good chance of winning.

    For so much of the game, the Nets looked as if they might be on their way to turning the proverbial corner and building off their first win Friday against Charlotte. But in the end, they looked like the team that lost 18 in a row to start the season.

    No, it wasn’t as bad as some of those games and the Nets will get better, but they buckled under when the Knicks turned up their defense and dropped a 106-97 decision in Madison Square Garden.

    Put it on the Knicks’ going to a zone defense, which the new regime of interim coach Vandeweghe and lead assistant Del Harris hasn’t covered much, but also on the Nets crumbling when they were hit with adversity.

    They rolled out to a 57-44 lead with just under four minutes left in the first half. That’s not a misprint and it wasn’t the third period. The Nets were in the 50s in the opening half and actually put up 61 points at the break.

    You could feel the confidence coming from the Nets, the belief that they could do what they wanted and get whatever they wanted. Playing the often-defenseless Knicks will help you feel that way.

    But the way everyone was moving and the ball was moving and Devin Harris was getting to the cup and hitting tough shots made it seem like a modest yet major -- considering their start -- two-game winning streak was in the offing. Then the third quarter came.

    When the third quarter started, the Nets couldn’t shoot straight and couldn’t stop anyone.

    The numbers were 33-18 Knicks. Every stat went in favor of the Knicks in the third -- shooting percentage (61.8 to 36.4); free throws (9-of-10; 0-0); rebounds (13-7), assists (7-5) and turnovers (3-2).

    Larry Hughes abused them. Also, Chris Douglas-Roberts had 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting. The rest of the Nets were 3-for-14 with seven points in the third.

    That’s your ballgame.

    “We stopped what we were doing,” Vandeweghe said. “We lost a little bit of focus.”
     
    The Nets were in it in the fourth, down 93-90 with around seven minutes left and a chance to make it one or less. But Douglas-Roberts missed a jumper.

    The next several possessions went like this: Keyon Dooling offensive foul, Rafer Alston double-dribble (bad call), Alston missed three, Douglas-Roberts bad pass, Harris bad pass and suddenly the Nets are down nine with about 4:20 left.

    “We had a couple of mental errors down the stretch,” Courtney Lee said. “We just turned the ball over. We were doing plays we shouldn’t have been doing at the time. We were trying to come back. We have to just find our chemistry, find our flow that we had in the first half and continue to play like that in the second half.”

    The Nets are still finding themselves, still learning a new offense and didn’t have a counter for the zone, so there’s going to be some hiccups. It’s odd to be saying this 20 games into the season, but they’re still getting injured players back and have had a coaching change.

    They need some time to grow, but can’t continue to be a team that gets rattled easily. They knew the zone was coming. If they didn’t compound the situation by lagging defensively they might have had a second straight win.

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

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    New Regime Takes Over With Another Record In Sight

    Thursday, December 3, 2009, 4:54 PM [General]

    There were more players and coaches on the Nets’ practice floor today than there have been at any point this season.

    Kiki Vandeweghe and Del Harris ran their first practice as the Nets’ new head coach and assistant, respectively. The Nets’ opening-night starting five was out there together for the first time since Oct. 30. There was a little bit of old and a little bit of new.

    But this time is more about out with the old and in with the new.

    The Nets made a coaching change. They’re turning the page on everything that happened leading up to this point and trying to build something starting now. The 0-18 record still stands, but under Vandeweghe’s and Harris’ watch, they’re 0-0. So Vandeweghe said he tried to simplify things today and make things fun for the players.

    Losing isn’t fun, and the Nets have been losing at a record clip. The all-time mark for consecutive losses in a season is 23, and the Nets have a shot at that. I can’t see them getting there, but I also thought the Nets would beat the Wolves in the opener, the Bobcats in Game 4 and win at least one of the Sixers’ games

    In this space, I declared the Nov. 11 game against Philly as the streak-ender. But I’m fearless: the streak will end in the next eight days, if not tomorrow night. It has to, or else the Nets’ first win may not come until Dec. 23 against Minnesota in their 29th game.

    The Nets play host to the Bobcats tomorrow, are at the Knicks on Sunday, are at Chicago on Tuesday, play the Warriors on Wednesday and then are in Indiana on Friday. These aren’t elite NBA teams, so the Nets have chances against each of them.

    After that, they’re at the Hawks and Cavaliers, home for Utah, at Toronto and home for the Lakers. That has the potential for a five-game losing streak.

    We’re just going to focus on the next five games and try to figure out how far the record can go.

    Tomorrow vs. Bobcats
    It’s Vandeweghe’s debut with Harris by his side, and some of the pressure is off the Nets now. They own the record.

    Some of the fans who came last night wanted to see history. The press room was more crowded than it had been in years, probably since the Nets last hosted a playoff game, which happened to be against LeBron James in 2007.

    Expect a change in the starting lineup with Courtney Lee joining Devin Harris back there. That should give the Nets more scoring, athleticism and quickness.

    Vandeweghe and Harris will tell the players to exhale, relax and try not to think about anything but playing basketball, having fun and not to get discouraged when they’re hit with a run. The Bobcats play hard and their coach, Larry Brown, took them to task after losing last night, so they will come out ready. The Nets have to as well. There could well be celebrating in the Meadowlands.

    Sunday at Knicks
    Noon games for players are tough, but both teams will be in the same boat. The one thing on the Nets’ side is there will be no travel involved. The Knicks return from an Orlando-Atlanta trip in the wee hours Saturday morning and will play their fourth game in five-and-a-half days. For the Nets, it's just their third game in about a week.

    Harris and Lee should have better rhythm and timing. They just need to keep the Knicks off the boards and get out to shooters once in a while and they could have an afternoon delight. 

    Tuesday at Bulls
    The Bulls have had their struggles and have been banged up, but they’re 5-1 at home and the only loss came to the Nuggets.

    Harris knows them well from being an assistant under Vinny Del Negro last season, but that may not make much of a difference. This is a talented team with a future stud in Derrick Rose, effort players like Joakim Noah and capable scorers in Luol Deng and John Salmons.

    If it’s close heading into the fourth, the Nets have a chance since the Bulls no longer have Ben Gordon to light them up late. But it’s going to take a 48-minute game on both ends. The Nets especially will need a superior defensive effort and gameplan on the perimeter to stop the Bulls.

    Wednesday vs. Golden State
    Let’s get some excuses out of the way: it’s a back-to-back for the Nets and not Golden State. The Nets lose an hour from playing in Chicago and probably won’t land until after 1 a.m.

    But they still have to come out and play and they better defend or this game can get away. The Warriors have scoring and quickness in the backcourt with Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry. They play fast and sometimes out of control, and if the Nets show any weariness, they could be in trouble.

    Friday at Indiana
    If the Nets haven’t won at this point, they really are in trouble.

    They already have lost to the Pacers this year, playing a listless game. If they drop the prior four and fall in Indiana, this will tie the mark, and with road games at Atlanta and Cleveland upcoming, the Nets could rewrite the NBA record books for futility.

    But we don’t see that happening. They can’t really drop that many. Or can they?

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

     

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    A Historically Bad Night for Nets

    Wednesday, December 2, 2009, 11:41 PM [General]

    The Nets were supposed to be insignificant this season, but they did something significant last night. Forgive them for not popping any champagne.

    But it sounds like one of their players wants to pop someone.

    Maybe the Nets will uncork the bubbly when they finally win a game, whenever that is. Thus far they’re 0-for-18. No team in NBA history has lost that many games in a row to start a season. Not the Clippers, a perennial doormat or even the 1972-73 Sixers, who won just nine games in that fateful and forgettable season.

    No, the Nets stand alone after their 117-101 loss last night to the Mavericks. An 0-18 record is the new standard and dare we say 18 and counting.

    This was going to be a tough game to get against Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd and the Mavericks, but the Nets laid down after a second-period onslaught that had beat writers and team PR staffers combing the record books.

    The Mavericks missed two shots in the second, scored 49 points in the period and sizzled at an 80.6-percent shooting clip in the first half. The game and the record were history. The anger and embarrassment were just beginning.

    Chris Douglas-Roberts took everyone on his team to task after the game for not being tougher.

    “You have to have heart,” he said. “You have to have the heart to overcome something like this. It’s simple. We’re the only team without a win. Okay. There’s other teams who aren’t good teams but they’re winning, some games.”

    Publicly – and probably privately - Douglas-Roberts takes losing worse than anyone on the Nets. It eats at him and he showed the effect it has on him during his post-game interview session.

    Will it do any good? Probably not. Douglas-Roberts makes some valid points and his teammates should listen. But it’s nothing new. He said it a little more forcefully last night, but he has said it before.

    At this point, it’s not going to take a coaching change, which the Nets already have undergone with the dismissal of Lawrence Frank. It’s going to take a collective, “We’re not going to take it anymore” attitude.

    Everyone has been waiting for the Nets to show that. But instead, they’re showing little passion and fire.

    There’s a big-time talent difference in some of the teams they’ve played lately but against the Nuggets, Blazers, Kings, Lakers and Mavericks, the Nets have led by as many as 23, 16, 22, 34 and 31, respectively. Embarrassing.

    When Kiki Vandeweghe takes over the coaching reins today from acting coach Tom Barrise, and with his new lead assistant Del Harris on board the tact they may try is to say it’s a new day, forget about what happened, we’re going to do things differently, practice differently, play differently and we’re going to win games.

    Nets president Rod Thorn talked about the team needing a new voice. Now they have two in the soft-spoken Vandeweghe and Harris, the sage who has seen it all. But this has to be a new experience even for him. It’s a new experience for everyone.

    But now the Nets have the record. They no longer share it with the expansion 1988-89 Heat and the lowly Clippers of the lockout shortened 1999 season. The only significance of the next game is it’s Vandeweghe’s coaching debut Friday against the Bobcats.

    Oh-and-19 only extends the record and makes it harder for the next team. The next loss that matters is if the Nets drop their 23rd or 24th straight, which would tie and set the all-time marks for consecutive defeats. 

    The Nets don’t want to get there. They didn’t want to get here, but they did for a litany of reasons. They’ve made changes, coaching changes, style changes. The new regime takes over today and may try to say forget about the record and just look forward.

    But the players have to look inside themselves too and say enough is enough. Douglas-Roberts words shouldn’t just be nice quotes for a newspaper or blog. They should be heeded.

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

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    It's Kiki's job to develop Nets into something good

    Tuesday, December 1, 2009, 6:31 PM [General]

    Rod Thorn had a serious look on his face as he made his way to the podium Tuesday and Kiki Vandeweghe was smiling. One man probably was hiding his real emotions, and it wasn’t the Nets president.

    Vandeweghe is a pleasant man. He smiles often. So maybe he was in a good mood and just generally happy. But he really didn’t want to be the Nets head coach. He needed Thorn to convince him and the inclusion of NBA lifer and former co-worker Del Harris before Vandeweghe agreed to replace Lawrence Frank.

    “Let me just say, Rod is a very persuasive guy,” Vandeweghe said Tuesday morning.

    Maybe Vandeweghe was smiling because he doesn’t have to take part in the Nets’ potential -- and probable -- record-setting performance Wednesday night. If they lose to the Mavericks, the Nets will be 0-18, and establish a new futility mark to start a season.

    Vandeweghe won’t coach that game. His debut is Friday night against the Bobcats. Maybe he doesn’t want to be a part of that record, but Vandeweghe is. Everyone associated with the Nets is.

    It could be another concession Thorn made -- in addition to hiring an assistant Vandeweghe wanted and trusted -- because Vandeweghe never wanted to be the coach. He likes being in the front office. By many accounts, Vandeweghe wanted to continue being the Nets general manager, evaluating players and trying to find ways to upgrade the roster. Everyone knows he’s not shy when it comes to making deals.

    Since he joined the Nets, they have traded Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter. Those three deals involved 16 players and two draft picks.

    Those deals have played a part in the Nets being in this predicament, so now Vandeweghe gets a chance to see if he can make something with what he had a major hand in creating.

    Vandeweghe will remain general manager, but he has a dual title now. His job going forward isn’t improving the club from the outside. It’s developing them from within. I believe that he's looking forward to it and will try his best.

    That is a strength of Vandeweghe. He likes working with players, working on their game, giving them suggestions and advice that could help their development. He did it in Dallas with Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki and he believes he can with Yi Jianlian.

    Everyone expects Yi to be his pet project because of his affinity for him. That’s the deal that will hang over Vandeweghe’s head more than the Kidd or Carter trade. That one appears to be the most lopsided because Yi has been a disappointment and been injured since getting here.

    But Vandeweghe wants to develop all his guys. That was the crux of Tuesday's press conference. Reading between the lines that means Devin Harris, Brook Lopez, Lee, Yi, Terrence Williams and Chris Douglas-Roberts.

    Once the Nets are healthy, it’s not likely you will see much of Trenton Hassell or Bobby Simmons or guys of that ilk. They weren’t in the original plans anyway, but you can expect guys like Lee, Yi and Williams to play maybe until they drop.

    That’s not necessarily a bad thing. They need to get better. Everyone on the Nets does.

    Those three, plus Harris, Lopez and Douglas-Roberts are the six the organization right now sees as the future of the franchise and the ones that are supposed entice the big free agents -- LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Amare -- to consider coming to the Nets.

    The irony of it all is no one knows who will be calling the shots after this season.

    Thorn is in the final year of his contract. Vandeweghe is, too. All the Nets assistants’ deals are up after this season. And the Nets will be under new ownership.

    An educated guess is that Thorn survives longer than anyone. He is a good man, a well-respected basketball man who Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov should lean on heavily to run the day-to-day operations.

    In the meantime, the Nets have some work to do to make something out of this year. If Vandeweghe does what he’s best at and works with and develops players, gets more out of Yi than any coach has, the Nets will consider it a successful season. Wins and losses don’t matter really.

    It’s about the future, even if some of the people calling the shots and running the team now may not be here if and when things potentially turn around.

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

     

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    No Quick Fixing These Nets

    Monday, November 30, 2009, 3:36 PM [General]

    Anyone hoping for the same type of reaction from the Nets after their last coaching change had to be disappointed last night. But there are some major differences.

    When Byron Scott was fired in 2004, the players wanted him out. They had stopped playing for him. They knew they were good and could turn it on at any moment, and that’s what Jason Kidd and company did for Lawrence Frank, reeling off 13 consecutive wins after he took over.

    After Frank was ousted yesterday, the Nets had to play the reigning champion Lakers in their building at the end of a long, dreary trip. They didn’t have a day or so to catch their breaths. And there are no Hall of Famers on this team, no one to lead them the way Kidd did. At this point, the Nets would be happy to win 13 games this season.

    For the most part, these guys were playing hard for themselves more so than the coach. They were trying to win to prove they could and to avoid being the team that shared or held the record for the worst start to a season.

    There were some genuinely upset players after Frank was fired because so much of what’s happened to the Nets this season was not his fault.

    Nets president Rod Thorn said the team “needed a different voice,” before the team fell to 0-17. Yes, in the end, it seemed like some of the players had tuned out Frank because the team got worse as they worked cornerstones Devin Harris and Courtney Lee back into things.

    But there was going to be an adjustment period –- still is -– and we said all along that the players coming back had to play with the same effort and defensive intensity the great eight had been. Let’s be real: they haven’t.

    There will be adjustments galore now. Players will have to get used to a new voice and different philosophies or schemes. The new coach –- who probably will come from within –- will have to adjust as key players continue to come back.

    Harris and Lee are getting their legs back and then it will be Yi Jianlian and then Jarvis Hayes and Keyon Dooling. Yet whoever takes over will have a better chance of winning than Frank because he will have a full complement of players at some point.

    You can second-guess and Monday-morning quarterback so many things, but if Harris hadn’t missed 10 games, the Nets would not be 0-17 right.

    They probably would have won in Charlotte –- a game they should have won anyway -– and would have taken one of the two three-point losses to the Sixers. If Chris Douglas-Roberts had been healthy for those two games, the Nets would have had one of them.

    Yes, the games would have gone differently, and who knows if the Nets would have played as strong defensively. But they would have had better chances to score. In those three in particular, the Nets scored 68, 94 and 79 points, respectively.

    Make no mistake, we still think the Nets should have won some of those games, several of the 17 they have played thus far, and had they, Frank would still be coaching. If the Nets close out Minnesota -– when they’re starting five was whole -- and protect their 19-point second-half lead, the whole season might be different. Maybe they win the Charlotte game even without Harris.

    But as much as this is a resilient team, it seems to be a fragile one, too. If a team makes a run, the Nets seem to have a “here-we-go-again” mind frame and have trouble stopping the surge or gathering themselves.

    Everyone knows the job of his successor will be what Frank’s job was when season started: to develop the young players. Frank had to do that and still try to win some games. The new coach has to play Harris, Lee, Brook Lopez, Yi, and Douglas-Roberts the bulk of the minutes. It’s about next season and beyond, and they have to see what they have and show prospective free agents what they can be.

    They may be scared off by 0-17. Maybe the next coach can make those numbers more attractive. Eventually, he should have a better team than Frank did.


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

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    Nets Lose Coach, Game, But Gain Infamy

    Monday, November 30, 2009, 12:10 AM [General]

    The Nets have had many regrettable days, forgettable moments and embarrassing times in their star-crossed history. You can add the events of Sunday, Nov. 29, 2009 to their annals.

    Early in the day, the Nets made hard-working head coach Lawrence Frank the fall guy for their struggles this injury-plagued season. Then the Nets were absolutely throttled by the Lakers as they trailed by 34 points and matched the 1988-89 Heat and 1998-99 Clippers for the worst start in NBA history by dropping to 0-17.

    The Nets have seen worse days -– like when they traded Julius Erving and lost Drazen Petrovic to a fatal car wreck. But this day, culminating with a 106-87 defeat at Staples Center in longtime assistant Tom Barrise’s head coaching debut, has to rank high on the list of all-encompassing bad days for this franchise.

    Nothing that happened is surprising. Frank was out. It was not a matter of if, but when. All along the belief was it would happen after the Nets returned. But mercifully, over the phone from New York, team president Rod Thorn put Frank out of his misery in the California morning.

    At least Frank didn’t have to be there to endure further humiliation and watch the Nets grab a share of perhaps the most embarrassing record in pro basketball. They could set the standard Wednesday when they play host to Jason Kidd and the Mavericks.

    But Frank probably would have wanted to be there, to try and be part of the solution. He did everything he could with this team. Many fans wished he would have been fired and they got their wish. But he deserved a better fate than this.

    Putting aside that he earned more money than many of us will see in our lifetimes, Frank worked very hard, put everything he had into the job he's had since 2004 and this season was fighting a no-win battle, literally. Even before the injuries, the Nets were going to be bad. Then they lose nearly 50 percent of their team at one point and have lost 100 percent of their games.

    But this is what happens. People get fired when a team loses 16 in a row and goes from being competitive to being out of most games early. The Nets were out of the Lakers’ game in the first period, despite an 8-5 start. The quarter ended 27-12 and ballooned to 49-24 midway through the second.

    Barrise said the Nets were affected by the loss. Devin Harris said the team was scattered. The Nets had little chance of winning this game anyway.

    It’s the end of a long trip. They’re tired of hearing and reading about how bad they are, about how they need to win to save the coach’s job and then had to answer questions Sunday about the coach losing his job and of course the likelihood of reaching the record no player, coach, executive or owner wants on his resume.

    Making matters worse was that these were the reigning champs the Nets were playing, and they came off a laugher against Golden State so their legs were rested. They’re basically in a different league than the Nets and there is no way Phil Jackson or Kobe Bryant would let the Lakers lose to this team.

    At least Harris and Courtney Lee, still fighting through rust and getting their game legs back after long layoffs due to injury, played heavy minutes that should help them get their rhythm and timing back.

    Now it’s about moving on because there are some important days upcoming for the Nets. The first is Tuesday when Thorn announces who will replace Frank for the rest of the season.

    Barrise was the coach for the night. He’s a candidate and probably will be interviewed by Thorn today along with assistants John Loyer, Doug Overton and general manager Kiki Vandeweghe.

    Whomever Thorn picks will run practice Tuesday and be on the bench Wednesday when the Nets try to avoid further humiliation by having the record all unto themselves.

    Let me make this prediction here: Jason Kidd will be fired up for that game, especially after hearing the chants of “Thank You, Cuban” when he made his Meadowlands return last December.

    The fans were happy with Harris then. But after everything that has happened since as well as how this season has gone, many of them probably long for the Kidd days. For the most part they were memorable in a very good way.

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

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    Misery about to get company: Nets near futility mark

    Saturday, November 28, 2009, 12:46 AM [General]

    Black Friday was another dark day for the Nets.

    This was supposed to be the winnable game on the trip, but the Nets are showing no game is winnable. The way they played the first half Friday night against the Sacramento Kings it was as if they didn’t care about perhaps the NBA’s most dubious record or their coach. Neither is safe.

    The Nets were down double-digits less than seven minutes into the game and trailed by 20 with about 6:30 left in the second period. They made the game interesting in the second half but ultimately lost, 109-96, to the Kings and now the Nets are one loss from tying the all-time mark for losses to start a season and two from breaking the mark.

    The next two games are at the Lakers and at home against Jason Kidd, Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks. So much for this Nets’ team not accomplishing anything this season: They’re headed for history.

    The 1988-89 Heat and the 1998-99 Clippers almost certainly will have company, if not have their names stricken from the record books for the worst start. They were 0-17 and the Nets sit at a dismal 0-16 now, just the fourth team to lose as many as 16 in a row. Sixteen matched the longest losing skid in franchise history.

    You would have thought the Nets would have come out hungry, desperate, trying to get that huge monkey off their backs. Yes, the Kings probably didn’t want to be the team that the Nets finally beat.

    But these are the Kings. Not the Chris Webber, Vlade Divac, Jason Williams/Mike Bibby Kings. These are the Kings of Tyreke Evans, Spencer Hawes, Beno Udrih and Omri Casspi. They’re an improvement from last season’s 17-65 squad, but they’re also without leading scorer Kevin Martin and Francisco Rodriguez, their No. 3 scorer last season.

    These aren't the Kidd, Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter Nets, but they have to come out with more against a team like the Kings, especially on the defensive end. The Nets are going to miss shots -- you expect that. They began Friday night last in scoring, shooting, three-point shooting and next-to-last in assists.

    But there’s no excuse for defensive breakdowns like they showed against the Kings.

    "We cheated the game in the first half," coach Lawrence Frank said.

    Fourteen of the Kings’ 24 first-half field goals were layups or dunks. The worst may have been Evans driving to the basket uncontested for a layup with 1.1 seconds left in the half after the Nets discussed how to defend the final play during a timeout that made it 59-42. Overall, the Kings shot 54.9 percent from the field.

    If the Nets aren’t going to defend, Frank probably should play his best offensive players and see if they can do something. The problem there is after Brook Lopez and Chris Douglas-Roberts, the Nets’ next best offensive player had been Trenton Hassell.

    Devin Harris
    , playing his fourth game since returning from a groin injury, returned to the starting lineup, but didn’t hit his first basket until 2:48 was left in the half. Courtney Lee, playing in his third game since returning from a groin injury, played just three minutes and missed his only two shots.

    Just like Wednesday night in Portland, if Lopez and Douglas-Roberts weren’t scoring the Nets weren’t scoring. They combined for 50 that night. Last night, they had 12 of the Nets’ 18 first-half field goals.

    Harris came out determined in the third period and on the attack and the Nets finally wanted to show a presence inside after being outrebounded, 27-11, in the first half. That combination helped the Nets get within 67-61 in the third. But it was a 15-point game heading into the fourth.

    They had it within six and seven a few times in the fourth. But, when things are going bad, nothing works. Frank tried to play the percentages and intentionally fouled Casspi, a 46.4 percent shooter, on back-to-back trips. He hit 3-of-4 to make it a 10-point game.

    At least Harris came to life and looked a little like the Harris of last season. The Nets need that. It could cure a lot of ills. He scored 22 of his 25 after halftime, but shot just 6-of-22 and missed easy layups. He’s still getting his rhythm back, though. It will come.

    The way Harris and the Nets played the third -- usually their trouble quarter -- and really the entire second half was how they should have played from the start. Maybe they would have ended the misery.

    The trip ends Sunday at the Lakers, but the misery probably will live on.

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



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    Nets Battle Blazers But Still Can't Shake Skid

    Thursday, November 26, 2009, 12:54 AM [General]

    The only carryover the Nets had from Tuesday night’s loss in Denver was making sure they didn’t play that way a second straight night.

    They took care of the ball. They didn’t allow all those layups and dunks and actually committed some fouls to avoid easy scores inside against Portland.

    More purposeful performances like this and the Nets may actually win a game. But for now they’re still searching for that first victory, still keeping alive the possibility of breaking the NBA’s record for most losses to start a season.

    Their 15th straight defeat, 93-83 to Portland, should at least give the Nets a little hope. If the Nets play this way Friday at Sacramento, and get a little more from Devin Harris and Courtney Lee, the streak could end there.

    If not, the Nets’ next game is at the Lakers. So the record –- 0-17 -- could be tied that night and Lawrence Frank could be coaching his final game.

    "You walk into that locker room, it’s like a morgue because guys are laying it all out there," Frank said after the game. "It’s disheartening to lose. But if we put efforts like this together we’ll break through. Those words might ring hollow."

    The Nets have to turn their attention to the Sacramento game now that this one is over.  It's the most winnable game on the trip. They have to build on what they did in Portland -- at least for most of the game -- and they could snap their skid.

    The Blazers are a good team, at 12-5, and a really good team at home, where they won for the sixth consecutive time. They lead the NBA in field-goal defense and points allowed. The Nets are the lowest-scoring team and have the lowest shooting percentage.

    Good defense always beats bad offense.

    It was tied 54-54 midway through the third quarter before a patented Nets third-period disappearing act. The Nets held Portland to 13 points, but scored only 12, including just two points in the final 6:12 of the third.

    But the Nets were down just five early in the fourth and in five minutes it went to 15. There were guys getting out late to shooters, giving up defensive rebounds and one Rudy Fernandez prayer from deep that contributed to things getting away from the Nets.

    But they played throughout, something they didn’t in Denver. So that’s progress. When you’re 0-for-the-season you have to look for any positives you can.

    "I thought our guys battled extremely hard," Frank said. "There’s no consolation prize, but this is a lot more indicative [of how we’ve played], regardless of the result."

    Still, you can’t overlook that because the Nets tried to go back to being a no-paint team that they gave up 53 percent shooting from three. But on most nights, you take Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, who combined to shoot 9-for-23 and score 25 points, and you have a good chance of winning.

    Brook Lopez bounced back from foul-plagued night in Denver by scoring a career-high 32 points to go with 14 rebounds. He was impressive against Greg Oden and outplayed the former No. 1 pick. Oden had 18 and 8.

    Chris Douglas-Roberts also rebounded from Denver with 18 points. But the eight other Nets who played combined for 33 points.

    Harris and Lee were invisible for the most part. They combined to shoot 2-for-7 and score six points and Lee didn’t crack the scoring column. They’re still working their way back from injuries, but the Nets aren’t going to win many games if Harris and Lee aren’t making things happen on both ends, getting steals and getting to the basket.

    Maybe today’s off day will do the two guards good, do all the Nets good. They have two games left on this trip and need two losses to match the dubious mark that the 1988-89 Heat and 1998-99 Clippers share. The Nets can avoid that in Sacramento. If not, they'll come him two records they don't want.

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

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    Rocky Start to Trip Drop Nets to 0-14

    Wednesday, November 25, 2009, 12:10 AM [General]

    This type of performance won’t help their embattled coach.

    The Nets played sloppily, were careless with the ball and had no interior presence. They were thoroughly outplayed and out-talented by the Nuggets and fell, 101-87, in the opener of their Thanksgiving Week trip.

    That makes it 14 in a row for the Nets to start this brutal season. Just six other teams have lost that many to open a campaign and now the Nets need three more to tie the all-time mark for the worst start in NBA history. This trip has three more games and that might be all Lawrence Frank has, too.

    It’s no surprise the Nuggets won. They now have won 16 straight at home dating back to last season and they were playing the Nets after all. But how easily they won is what’s disconcerting and puts more heat on Frank.

    "I’m very, very disappointed and embarrassed," Frank told the YES Network after the game. "This group by and large has competed very hard. Tonight we didn’t do what we’re capable of doing."

    Frank said yes when he was asked if it was the most frustrating loss of the season, and his response had nothing to do with the tenuous hold he has on his job.

    You can blame it on the third quarter again -- and it was a problem -- but the Nets trailed by double-digits for all but 37 seconds of the final 30 minutes or so. Turnovers, layups and dunks were a big part of the story of this game. The Nets had 24 turnovers. The Nuggets had, by my count, 26 dunks and layups.

    "Big picture: our effort, our performance was unacceptable," Frank said.

    The game started with hope for the Nets. Brook Lopez played despite a sprained ankle. Courtney Lee returned after a seven-game absence. And the Nets were set to have Devin Harris, Lopez and Lee -- the Big Three of this season, the three cornerstones that are supposed to help bring LeBron James to Jersey -- on the floor together for the first time since Oct. 30.

    But less than five minutes in, Lopez picked up two fouls and he went to the bench. His third came 32 seconds into the second period, 32 second after he re-entered the game. He played just six first-half minutes, leaving the Nets with little inside.

    When Lopez finally played in the second half, he didn’t have the same aggressiveness because he didn’t want more fouls. He grabbed his first rebound of the game with two minutes left in the third quarter.

    Lopez wasn’t the only one in foul trouble or having a disappointing night. Chris Douglas-Roberts also drew three fouls in a hurry and sat down for a long stretch of the first half.

    Lopez and Douglas-Roberts, their two leading scorers, combined for 10 fouls, nine points and six turnovers. You saw the frustration in both of them, especially.

    Harris finished with 19 points and six assists, but was just 4-of-14 from the field. Lee was 2-of-7 with seven points. Both of them are going to come around. They just need time to play together and get their legs back.

    Typically, the third quarter started atrociously for the Nets. They had five field goals and eight turnovers after halftime. The Nuggets scored eight points before the Nets scored one. You have seen this before, many times this season.

    The Nets made a run, cutting a 23-point third-quarter deficit to 10 with 4:41 left in the fourth. But back-to-back bad defensive sequences – resulting in layups – had the Nets back down 14 and well on their way to loss 14.

    The Nets played hard, but could have played harder. Mor effort was needed. They didn’t play smart and were out of sync. At times they looked like a team that hasn’t played together much, which they haven’t now that they’re starting to get some regulars back after long layoffs.

    But those are excuses. Here are some more if you’re looking for them:

    The Nets are pressing and trying too hard because they just want this skid to end or the change the altitude having an effect on the players.

    The second is weak but there probably is some truth to the first. They just need to relax and play. But that's not enough. They have to work hard on the defensive end, don't give up easy scores without a hard foul, take care of the ball and work for good shots.

    They did none of that last night, which has the Nets three losses from joining some bad company. 

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

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    A Potentially Historical Trip For Nets

    Monday, November 23, 2009, 5:43 PM [General]

    Nets coach Lawrence Frank is on shaky ground, as is the NBA’s record for futility to start a season. It’s probably not the best way to go on a week-long West Coast road trip that features three games against teams that won at least 54 games last season.

    But if you’re looking for some reasons for optimism for the trip, here’s some:

    The Nets play better on the road. They held double-digit leads in four of their seven road games. Maybe with Devin Harris back and getting stronger they could close out some of those games. (Ok, two of those games were at Minnesota and Harris played that one and Charlotte. You can't have everything).

    Also, this was the trip Harris emerged into an All-Star last year, leading the Nets to three wins and ending two long streaks against the Suns and Kings. Everyone knows what he’s capable of doing when healthy and in a groove. Maybe the Nets get lucky and it happens during this trip. He said he probably needs about three games to be his old self.

    Shooting guard Courtney Lee is expected back at some point, maybe tomorrow against Denver. They’re calling him day-to-day but he went through practice before they flew to Denver.

    Teams can totally overlook the Nets. Their coaches will tell them not to fall asleep on the Nets, that they’re dangerous, a wounded animal that wants to end their slide. But you never know if teams will mark this game down as a win and not bring the same intensity as if they were playing the Celtics, Cavaliers or Lakers.

    Here are some negatives:

    Harris and Lee, if he plays, aren't 100 percent. Brook Lopez sprained his ankle today. He’s also day-to-day, although he said he doesn't think it's that serious. If he's out, the Nets are in trouble.

    These teams are pretty good and it's a safe bet that none of them want to be the team that loses to the Nets.

    Anyway, here’s the trip

    At Denver (9-4; 5-0 home)

    The Nuggets, like the Nets, haven’t played since Saturday. But Denver isn’t flying across the country. They have been home for two days and are as confident as can be – not to mention talented – and they’re just waiting for that winless team.

    Denver has destroyed its last three opponents at the Pepsi Center, including a 26-point romp of the Lakers. The average margin of victory at home is 16.4 points so this will be a tough one to get.

    Harris should be able to play more minutes and the possible return of Lee should provide a boost. But the Nets have to try and slow down the game, keep the score manageable and make sure they get out to Denver’s shooters.

    On a night when Carmelo Anthony was off – he shot 8-of-24 against the Nets on Nov. 4 – the Nuggets still scored 122 points, including 72 in the second half. He’s shooting 83-of-170 since (48.8 percent)

    At Portland (10-5; 5-2 home)

    People tend to forget about the Blazers because of where they play, but they matched Denver with 54 wins last season and should continue to get better. The numbers for Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge are down from last season. It could be because Greg Oden is healthy and playing well (10.5 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.33 blocks) and Andre Miller is providing some scoring off the bench.

    The Blazers are extremely talented yet beatable despite winning four straight at home. They’ve lost to Atlanta twice, Houston, Denver and Golden State. But the flip side is they’ve beaten most of the teams they should have – Minnesota three times, Memphis, Charlotte.

    Either way, it’s going to take some effort for the Nets, especially if Lopez is banged up.

    At Sacramento (5-7; 4-2 home)

    The most winnable game, but the Kings are doing much better than expected, especially considering they lost Kevin Martin to a broken wrist in the fifth game of the season and then won four straight.

    No way the Kings’ roster is better than the Nets' roster either, which won’t help the argument to keep Lawrence Frank. The Kings have Tyreke Evans, Donte Green, Beno Udrih, Jason Thompson, Andres Nocioni and Omri Casspi playing the bulk of the minutes with Kenny Thomas and Sergio Rodriguez getting time. Credit coach Paul Westphal for stepping back in after a long absence and getting his guys to play and win when no one thought they would.

    Still, this is the game the Nets have to have and provided they’re not stuffed from Thanksgiving or don’t overlook the Kings – lord knows they shouldn’t overlook NJIT – they should get this one. They have better players and should be desperate to get that win.

    At Lakers (9-3; 7-2 home)

    We have just closed the cabin door. We hope you have enjoyed your stay in the Los Angeles area. Sit back, relax and enjoy your 5-hour and 20-minute flight home.

    COMMENTARY: The Nets don't want to tie the all-time mark of 0-17. They can win at Sacramento and maybe Portland. Our guess is they at least get Sacramento. A 2-2 trip would be a great trip all things considered, 1-3 means the record and Frank are safe for now. If the Nets drop all four Frank probably will be unemployed.

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

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