Why the Nets are where they are today

    Sunday, November 22, 2009, 4:28 PM [General]

    Thirteen games, 13 losses. Here are 13 reasons the Nets are in the position they are:

    1. Bruce Ratner: Nice man, but his interests were in real estate opportunities and buildings, not building a championship team. He bought a contender and kept cutting payroll instead of letting Rod Thorn add quality pieces that could Nets over the top.

    2. 2001 Draft-day Deal: This might be nitpicking because the Nets got Richard Jefferson and Jason Collins for Eddie Griffin, but the other player they chose from that trade was Brandon Armstrong when Gilbert Arenas was available.

    3. Kidd’s input: The Nets always tried to make Jason Kidd happy, which isn’t a bad thing, but let management and coaches make the decisions. They traded Keith Van Horn and Todd MacCulloch for Dikembe Mutombo, went and got Rodney Rogers, who did hit a huge shot in 2003 against the Bucks, and signed Alonzo Mourning to keep Kidd happy.

    4. Kenyon Martin trade: It’s been more than five years, but that started the demise of the Nets because Kidd was never really happy after that. Had they received Nene or at least something other than picks from Denver maybe things would have been different.

    5. Failed physicals: The Nets put so much time into trying to sign Shareef Abdur-Rahim and later Robert “Tractor” Traylor and both failed physicals. They wound up with Marc Jackson -- they had a trade exception they had to use and he was the only person they could get -- Scott Padgett and Lamond Murray.

    6. Not Mr. Wright: The Nets could have had Danny Granger in 2005. They kick themselves every day for not taking him and instead going with the man former GM Ed Stefanski said this about: “He could be a good shooter similar to Allan Houston. And he can defend. We wanted Wright all the way.”

    7. Carter’s deal: When Ratner said over lunch with beat writers in 2007 the Nets will be a luxury-tax team if they have to be in order to re-sign Vince Carter he gave Carter all the bargaining power. We agreed the Nets should have kept Carter, but his four-year, $62 million deal with a fifth-year team option would have been easier to move if smaller, or maybe they could have gotten more for him or he would still be here. The deal he received also led to Kidd being upset he couldn’t get an extension near Carter’s base. All of the above -- and the losing -- pushed Kidd over the edge.

    8. The Big Three’s replacements: It would be hard to replace Kidd, Carter and Jefferson -- even harder when their replacements can’t stay on the floor. Not including playoffs, Kidd played 92.8 percent of his games as a Net (506-of-545), Carter 96.4 percent (374-of-378) and Jefferson 82.7 (407-of-492). Their respective replacements: Devin Harris 78.2 (97-of-124), Courtney Lee 46.2 (6-of-13) and Yi Jianlian 68.4 (65-of-95).

    9. More drafts: Every team overlooks someone, but 2005 was memorable because after Wright they took Mile Ilic when Marcin Gortat, Andray Blatche and Ryan Gomes were available. They passed on Paul Millsap --  like 29 other teams -- in 2006 and in 2007 they grabbed Sean Williams over Carl Landry and Glen “Big Baby” Davis. They felt Davis’ health and weight were bigger risks than Williams checkered past. Fortunately the Nets have been much better the past two years.

    10. The sale: Ratner was looking for investors over the summer and didn’t want to add payroll. After draft day, when the Nets took Terrence Williams and acquired Lee, Rafer Alston and Tony Battie for Carter they did nothing. They added no one else, didn't make a single move. It’s not like they won 55 games. They lost 48.

    11. Injuries: Maybe the Nets would have made the playoffs last season if Harris wasn’t so banged up and maybe they would have won a game this season if they hadn’t had just six guys available for all 13 games this season. Yes, other teams can win with guys hurt -- we believe the Nets should have won a game or two or four -- but when the Lakers missed Pau Gasol, they still had Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest or when the Magic were without Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis and Ryan Anderson they still had Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson and with Cleveland minus Shaq, they still have LeBron James. Then again, the Rockets are winning without Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. Rick Adelman is doing a great job in Houston.

    12. Small ball: You can win a game or two by playing small, but you won’t win regularly unless you have the perfect mix. The Nets don’t and the past two years have gone small too much. This season, coach Lawrence Frank has been forced to play that way at times because of the injuries, but the Nets aren’t a good rebounding team. They need their best rebounders on the floor late in games because they give up too many late offensive boards. That’s all about heart and will and the Nets just have to keep guys off the boards.

    13. Not playing to win: They’re playing not to lose instead of playing to win. They don’t know how to win yet. The Knicks were picking-and-rolling them to death yesterday and then after a timeout late, the Nets knew it was coming and yet David Lee made the pick, rolled and scored to put the Knicks up four with 1:44 left. The Nets also gave up two big offensive boards late. They come out slow every third quarter and it seems to set them back mentally. When Dwyane Wade fumbled the ball on Nov. 14, Trenton Hassell should have grabbed it but was afraid he would be called for a reach against a superstar. All of that and not getting a shot off in both games against the Sixers when the Nets lost both by three are marks of a team that can’t get out of its own way.

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

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    Devin Can't Deliver First Win For Nets

    Saturday, November 21, 2009, 5:36 PM [General]

    Devin Harris was back bouncing around, getting into the lane, crossing over, freezing defenders, setting up teammates and even threw down a driving dunk for good measure.

    The groin that kept him out 10 games was fine. His legs were a little tired, but they should come around.

    The Nets' first win –- that’s still on hold.

    Harris’ impressive return wasn’t enough to end the Nets’ 12-game season-opening losing streak. It became an unlucky 13 after a 98-91 loss to the almost equally lowly Knicks today, another game that was winnable for the Nets.

    You at least see how the offense can be different with Harris, how they can get easier baskets. He wore down a little, but his 12 points and seven assists in 26 minutes helped put the Nets in position to snap the skid. You wonder how many more losses coach Lawrence Frank can take.

    Maybe things will be different when the Nets get more players back, but they just don’t know how to win yet. After being down 15 in the third, they forged back. Six times in the fourth, it was a one-possession game. But the Nets never tied the score or took the lead.

    They tried too hard to hit the home run. Three times they took threes -- two by rookie Terrence Williams and one by Rafer Alston -- and twice it would have given the Nets the lead. You like their aggressiveness, but an easier shot would have better. They were 4-of-18 for the game and 2-of-7 in the fourth period.

    “As a team, we have to learn how to win those close games,” Harris said. “It looks like we’re going to play in a lot of them. We’re young but we’ve got to find a way to win it whether it be [on] defense or scoring the ball. We’re not doing both right now. We’re not scoring late in the game, and we’re giving up shots. Something’s got to give in that department.”

    When Harris talked to the media yesterday after practice, he discussed the moment of truth, the last six minutes of the game and how hopefully he would help the Nets get over the hump.

    You couldn’t expect everything from him, but he did hit a jumper just before the 6-minute mark that brought the Nets within two. But the Nets couldn’t finish the game.

    They were 5-of-11 from the field and 1-of-2 from the line. The Knicks were 4-of-6 from the line and 6-of-9 from the floor. Two of the three misses resulted in put-backs –- another game where offensive rebounds crushed the Nets.

    “Nobody wants to start 0-and-whatever-it-is,” Harris said. “What hurts more is so many close games we’re losing. If we were getting blown out every game, I think everybody would be like, ‘OK, we need to change something up.’ But we’re right there each and every game. We’ve just got to find a way to overcome the last six minutes.

    “We have to look at that period of time at what we’re doing, what we can change and how we can get better.”

    When Harris gets better, he should be able to help the Nets in those situations. But these losses are taking their toll on everyone. Harris was asked what it’s going to take the Nets to get out of this mess.

    “Persistence,” he said. “Learn from our mistakes. Try not to turn the ball over. Get some healthy bodies back.”

    Harris is the first. Courtney Lee should be next. Down the line, maybe the Nets won’t make the same mistakes. Maybe they’ll win some of these close games with a full complement of players or at least once Harris can play more, do more and rebuild chemistry with his teammates.

    In the meantime, the Nets remain the only winless team, four losses shy of tying the NBA’s record for futility, and are embarking on a four-game West Coast trip on Monday. That mark seems to be in trouble.


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

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    Nets still ahead of Knicks

    Friday, November 20, 2009, 4:12 PM [General]

    Too bad the Nets lost Wednesday night in Milwaukee, especially after the Knicks won in Indiana, or Saturday’s game could have been a battle for the basement. Instead, as we wrote in today's Record, it’s a battle to avoid further embarrassment.

    It’s a bad time for area basketball -- has been for a few years now. Earlier this decade, the Nets were on top of the Tri-State area. Now they’re at the bottom of the NBA with 12 losses in 12 games, and they’re looking up at everyone, including the Knicks.

    It’s early, but not since the 2000-01 season, the pre-Kidd era, have the Nets finished below the Knicks in the standings. The Nets may surpass them at some point this season -- the Knicks only have two more victories than the winless Nets and they've been healthy. But right now the Knicks have the better record.

    Who’s in better shape for next year, though? We say the Nets.

    The Nets are committed to Devin Harris, who returns from a 10-game absence due to a groin injury tomorrow, Brook Lopez, Courtney Lee, Yi Jianlian, Terrence Williams and Eduardo Najera. They have a team option on Chris Douglas-Roberts for under $900,000. If they waive Keyon Dooling, another $2.8 million comes off their cap.

    They have three picks -- two No. 1s, theirs and Dallas from the Jason Kidd trade, and a second rounder. They could have three the next year as well -– two No. 1s, theirs and Golden State’s from the Marcus Williams’ trade – and a second rounder.

    The Knicks are committed to Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Toney Douglas, Jordan Hill, Jared Jeffries and Eddy Curry for next season. They have no first-round pick –- it goes to Utah through Phoenix from the Stephon Marbury deal -– and a second rounder. The next year, the Knicks have a No. 1, but the second-round choice goes to the Lakers.

    The Nets have better young players -– an All-Star point guard in Harris and a potentially dominant big man in Lopez. They will have a couple million more in free agency, have more draft picks and a billionaire owner that financed the best team in Russia and has no problem spending.

    Taking that all into account, the Nets are in better position to improve quicker. How they go about it is another story.

    Everyone knows both teams, who should have more than $20 million for free agents, are planning to make LeBron James their first choice when July 1, 2010 rolls around. But it may not be realistic for either team, if they lose 60 games, that they’re going to get a player of James’ caliber, or Dwyane Wade’s or Amare Stoudemire’s or Chris Bosh’s.

    Logic still suggests they will stay where they are, go to a ready made contender or try and team up somewhere and make them a contender. That, of course, is the hope for the Nets and the Knicks.

    Let’s get this out of the way, too: the New York cache no longer exists, not in basketball. Kidd and Grant Hill turned down the Knicks this summer. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if James and Wade and company said no to Newark, Brooklyn, Manhattan, wherever.

    With all that money, the Nets have to sign someone. But the reality is they may have to aim lower in free agency and try and rebuild the way they did in 2004 after losing Kenyon Martin. Expiring contracts and draft picks landed Vince Carter.

    That might be the way to go, and if so they have more to offer than the Knicks in the way of serviceable players with expiring contracts, young players with or without expiring contracts and draft picks.

    So no matter who suffers more embarrassment tomorrow, the Nets are in better long-term shape than the Knicks.

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

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    Harris' Return Devin-Sent For Nets

    Thursday, November 19, 2009, 4:12 PM [General]

    Devin Harris went through a lengthy individual workout yesterday that all but green-lit his return. He has to go through practice tomorrow and if he clears that hurdle, the Nets should have their point guard back playing in Saturday’s game against the Knicks.

    That could be the streak buster. We’re not going to say it’s 'The win,' because we’ve been wrong before.

    Honestly, even with all the injuries it’s shocking the Nets haven’t won yet. The Minnesota and Charlotte games, when they were relatively healthy, were the games they had to have and should have had. Others were winnable but either players ran out of steam, they didn’t have enough talent, were buzzer-beaten or couldn’t score enough points.

    Man, have the Nets missed Harris. They’re 0-2 with him and 0-10 without him.

    The Nets never seem to play well without their point guards. Then again, the previous point guard was Jason Kidd. He made the Nets relevant, made them contenders, gave them a chance to win every game so just know their record without him isn’t good.

    Never mind injuries -- before Kidd arrived, the Nets were 847-1283 and since he left they’re 45-79. His time here, they were 303-241 with four Atlantic Division titles.

    The Nets have a losing record with Harris (38-48) and without him (7-20); different teams, different players. But they will be happy to see him back out there.

    Though it’s hard to gauge because of all the injuries, Harris has proven his worth to the Nets on the offensive end in his absence. In the 10 games without him, they’re averaging 83.5 points and have scored under 80 four times.

    The droughts have been terrible, like last night’s 12-point third quarter in Milwaukee, on 4-of-23 shooting, that ended the Nets’ chances for getting their first win.

    No one is saying that the Nets will suddenly score 100 nightly with Harris back, but things should run a little differently.

    With Harris back in the fold, Brook Lopez can play inside a little more and not worry about as many double teams. The Nets can get some easy baskets because Harris is one of the quickest guards in the league and likes to get out and run. Harris can put pressure on the opposing team’s smalls and bigs -- as well as put them in foul trouble -- because he likes to get into the lane and draw contact.

    That being said, you must be realistic about what Harris can do after not playing since Oct. 30 with a strained right groin and having gone through just two practices in that time.

    And those aren’t the same practices as in training camp when the Nets had a full complement. The most recent practices have consisted of eight or nine guys playing on tired legs because of all the minutes they’re logging. They’re also not as intense and hard-driving.

    You have to expect Harris to be a little rusty and to get used to playing with some of his teammates again. He didn’t play with them all that much in camp due to ankle and groin injuries. There’s going to be some adjusting there, too.

    There will continue to be adjusting over the next few weeks as the Nets welcome back Courtney Lee and Yi Jianlian and Keyon Dooling and Jarvis Hayes. It’s always more when it’s the point guard, main ball-handler and someone everyone expects to change the direction of the season.

    Harris can’t try to do too much but he has to make sure he plays with the intensity on the defensive end the eight guys who have been battling every night have, and he has to make sure the offense doesn’t stall and the Nets get good shots.

    It’s not Kidd coming back, but Harris is just as important to these Nets and they have missed him.

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

     

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    Nets Can't Buck Third-Quarter Trend, Losing Ways

    Thursday, November 19, 2009, 12:16 AM [General]

    The Nets can’t help themselves. They just don’t know how to win. They’ve had much more experience losing.

    They’re an imperfect 12 after last night’s 99-85 loss to the Bucks. In case you’re wondering, the all-time mark for losses to start a season is 0-17.

    The Nets could set that mark out West and break it at home against Jason Kidd. Now that would be the ultimate insult in an early season that’s been filled with them.

    And last night was just another one. It was different than Tuesday’s when the Nets started the game down 9-0 and it expanded to 28-12. But there was something similar about this game, about most games involving the Nets.

    You can tell if they’re going to be in it and really have a chance to win by the way they come out in the third quarter. The old line about the first four minutes of the third will tell you all you need to know about the teams, and the game was right on in this case.

    In the first four minutes of the third, the Nets were outscored 12-0. Let’s take it to the first 4:20 of the third, it was 15-0, erasing everything the Nets did in the first half to build an 11-point lead.

    There was still plenty of game left when the Nets went behind 56-48 on Brandon Jennings’ three, but the game essentially was over. The Nets are resilient, but this was an avalanche that’s hard to climb out of for a team that has just eight guys, especially on the second game of a back-to-back.

    The Nets didn’t necessarily run out of gas. Chris Douglas-Roberts is playing 40-something minutes, and he’s competing hard, less than one week after returning from the H1N1 virus. They just don’t have the right players to go on big runs.

    Maybe if it was a different eight guys, maybe if Devin Harris was one of them and Courtney Lee another it would be realistic. The Nets could run more and Harris has shown he can score points in a hurry.

    But the Nets go through some serious scoring droughts with the group they have. They don’t really have proven scorers. They shot 4-of-23 in the third and scored just 12 points and were beaten 58-37 after halftime.

    "Right now we have a tendency where things pile on for us a little bit and we got to be able to try to snap out of it quicker because we know we’re going to be offensively challenged," coach Lawrence Frank said. "We know we can’t give up, whatever it was, 58 points in the second half. And obviously that third quarter was accentuated."

    It seems to happen in just about every game. Against Indiana, the Nets started the third just like they did the first, giving up nine consecutive points. This game, as Trenton Hassell said, “It killed us.”

    The Nets can take solace in two things now. The first is they play the Knicks on Saturday, so they have a chance to get a win, although New York came back to beat Indiana last night and won all three exhibition games against New Jersey.

    The second is Harris appears to be ready to return in that Knicks’ game. Lee also could return, but that’s more iffy than Harris at this point.

    But it really won’t matter, though, if the Nets don’t come out ready in the third quarter against the Knicks and match their play. They can put points up in a hurry. The Nets can’t.

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

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    Nets take step backward

    Tuesday, November 17, 2009, 11:52 PM [General]

    Lawrence Frank spent most of pregame talking about how encouraged he was with everything he was seeing from his depleted team. Less than two hours later, Frank probably wished he could close his eyes or at least cover them.

    The team that fought Miami to the final seconds before losing on a Dwyane Wade three with one-tenth of a second left on Saturday wasn’t the same one that played the Pacers last night.

    These Nets battled but after it was too late and dropped to 0-11 after a 91-83 loss to the Indiana Pacers that wasn’t as close as the score would seem.

    It wasn’t a lack of effort. The Nets played hard. We’ve seen many games where they fall behind early and never come back.

    The Nets came back, despite having just eight guys. But they can’t afford to fall behind early, not with so few guys, not when the same eight guys have to play tonight in Milwaukee. Three guys played at least 42 minutes and now they have to come back and try and stop Brandon Jennings.

    Everyone is expecting the Nets to be gassed and for Jennings’ fast, fresh legs to wear out their tired wheels. But this is the type of game the Nets could win or at least stay in because you’re already thinking they’re going to lose.

    The night after they fell apart late against Orlando no one expected much from them in Miami, and they played one of their best games of the year and came so close to that first win. So give them at least a shot to be in the game and then see what happens.

    There were some unhappy people in the Nets’ locker room after this game, a different unhappy than the other night in Miami and a few of the other close losses. This was a fed-up unhappy, which is another reason they should come out differently than last night.

    This game was over early, despite the score. The Nets' defense was bad early. It was 9-0 less than two minutes in, they were down 28-12 with 3:11 left in the first period and after allowing 13 consecutive points over the second and third periods trailed, 63-46.

    They came back with a 14-2 run. They gave their fans hope. They got within five in the third and six in the fourth. But when it came to making that big shot or consecutive big shots and getting multiple stops when they had to they couldn’t.

    “There were stretches,” Rafer Alston said. “We're playing very hard with who we have. We had a stretch where we were playing well and coming up short. Now it's here one night, there one night.

    “Those stretches were disheartening. There’s no call for that to come out and start that way. When you've got seven, eight guys there’s no room for that. We should be coming out flying around the court.”

    The Nets weren’t flying around the court, or playing “[all] out” as Alston said they should be. The Nets put themselves in a hole quickly and spent the whole time trying to dig themselves out of it.

    With eight or nine guys -- the number they’ve played with the past six games -- the Nets have started fine and stayed in the game. Not this game, not when everyone thought they would finally end their skid, especially after the way they fought in Miami. That’s why they were unhappy and they should be.

    But they have a chance to do something about it. In a few hours, we’ll see how they respond.


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

     

     

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    Unlucky Nets Shot Down By Wade

    Sunday, November 15, 2009, 12:16 AM [General]

    MIAMI -- You could feel the Nets' pain after this crushing defeat. They'll get over it before the fans do, but you know this one hurt.

    It hurt more than the three-point loss in Philadelphia when the Nets didn't get a last shot off. And more than the three-point loss at home against Philadelphia when the Nets didn't get a last shot off.

    They probably hoped the same fate that had befallen them would do in the Heat. But the Nets have neither that luck nor someone by the name of Dwyane Wade on their team.

    Wade almost didn't get a shot off as he fumbled the ball, but he picked it up and shot and made a 26-foot three from the right wing with one-tenth of a second left that handed the Nets an absolutely suffocating 81-80 defeat last night.

    Chris Douglas-Roberts, who was under the basket and saw the ball fall through the net, said this was the most disappointing loss he's ever experienced, considering the situation. We asked again, because he played on the Memphis team that came this-close to winning the National Title two years ago, and he said ever.

    The reason it was so tough is because the Nets are playing with just eight guys. They're fighting and battling and coming so close to winning and they just can't pull out these games.

    "I just feel so bad for our guys," coach Lawrence Frank said. "Our guys were battling their tails off. I just feel horrible for our guys."

    Frank also said he's sick to his heart after this. He doesn't feel bad for himself at 0-10. He feels bad for his team because of what they're doing without reaping any rewards.

    But if you sit back and think about everything that happened in this game, it's almost fitting that the game went this way because of all the Nets have experienced.

    They lost their backup swingman (Jarvis Hayes) in the first game, their lone All-Star and starting point guard (Devin Harris) after the second game, their starting power forward (Yi Jianlian) in the fourth game, their starting small forward (Chris Douglas-Roberts) after the fifth game, their starting shooting guard (Courtney Lee) in their sixth game.

    In that sixth game, they had the ball knocked away when they were going for the game-tying three. Then in the eighth game, the Nets threw the ball away before they could take the game-tying three and lost. Then before the tenth game, their current starting small forward (Bobby Simmons) left the team for personal reasons.

    Then you get to this game, and the Nets got an unexpected and much-needed boost from Sean Williams, who has been persona non grata even with all these injuries, and he nearly leads them to the win with 12 points and a huge blocked shot with about 35 seconds left and the Nets up three.

    But this is where you know the basketball gods don't want the Nets to win, that they wouldn't have any luck if not for bad luck.

    Quentin Richardson banked in a left-wing three that tied the game. He banked it in. Douglas-Roberts, who was guarding Richardson, called it "ridiculous."

    Then, after Brook Lopez tips in the go-ahead bucket with 4.1 seconds left, Wade delivers the shot on a broken play after losing the ball.

    "Yeah, it's something we did, somebody did," Douglas-Roberts said about the basketball gods frowning upon the Nets. "We've got to look in a mirror and figure what we did. But in all seriousness, I've played a lot of games and the situation we're in and the outcome of this game is probably the worst feeling I've had playing basketball from little league to now."
     
    "As much as we're getting better it feels like we're building up," Lopez said. "We're right there. It's brimming over and we're going to break through soon."

    The Nets couldn't have played any better defense, and they couldn't have played a harder, more complete game against a quality team. They held Wade without a basket for the entire second half until the game-winning three.

    Great players make great plays. But the Nets gave up too many second-chance points -- nine in the last 4:05, including the Richardson three. Those are killers. The Nets win if not for that.

    But that's the way this season is going for them. They can't afford any mistakes, but they also need to have a little luck shine down upon them once in a while, something other than bad.

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

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Disappearing act: Nets can't close Magic game

    Friday, November 13, 2009, 11:39 PM [General]

    ORLANDO -- The fans inside the Amway Arena were stunned, but not silent. They booed the home team because they couldn't believe the Magic were down 10 points to the Nets in the second period.

    It was almost as if the Magic couldn't believe it either. The 10-point deficit became a two-point Orlando lead quickly. The Nets never led again and the crowd never booed again as they watched the Magic bury New Jersey, 88-72.

    The Nets' ninth loss in nine games this season went pretty much like their last three when they were decimated, yet seemed to be on their way to defying the odds and winning.

    But this game was very different because they weren't in it for the last nine minutes. As beat up as the Nets are this wasn't a night to praise their effort or defense or fight. They battled, yes, but they stopped defending and after the Magic went up 10 in the fourth it was over.

    "We got enough," coach Lawrence Frank said. "They were just better than us.

    "I just think we're capable of doing better."

    It was the first time since the Nets have been rolling out eight or nine guys -- many of them who started the season as their 10th, 11th and 12th men -- that Frank was disappointed. It was the first time the Nets really weren't competitive down the stretch.

    This was going to happen eventually. There was going to be a game where the Nets weren't going to have the bodies or talent to stay in the game until the final seconds.

    It shouldn't be surprising that it came against the defending Eastern Conference champs in their house, with Dwight Howard dominating and Vince Carter coming to life in the quarter period. That doesn't make it any less disappointing.

    "I think we're capable of more," Frank said.

    The Nets had nine guys as Chris Douglas-Roberts returned from his H1N1 respite, but were without Devin Harris, Courtney Lee and Yi Jianlian again. They say they didn't wear down, but it looked like they did. They weren't moving defensively, weren't getting in the paint, weren't drawing fouls.

    The Magic were doing all those things, but it helps when you have Howard manning the middle, and he manhandled Nets' center Brook Lopez.

    Howard outscored Lopez, 26-4, outrebounded him, 12-4, and had a 5-3 edge on blocks. If those numbers weren't lopsided enough: Howard took 12 foul shots. Lopez took three, and one was a technical free throw. Howard attempted 14 shots and made 10. Lopez took 12 and made one. Most of Howard's shots were layups, dunks and stick-backs.

    He was the more aggressive one, not surprisingly. But this should be another learning experience for the young Lopez and another one for the Nets.

    We'll see right away if there is any hangover from this game. The Nets are in Miami on Saturday night, playing Dwyane Wade and company. The Heat haven't played since Thursday and when they did they lost, so they should be looking to get that loss out of their system.

    Did we mention they have Wade? He was a Net killer last season. Actually, he crushed many teams, but the Nets remember well what he did to them, scoring 43 points in one game and blocking two of Lopez's offerings late.

    Getting off to a fast start won't be enough against the Heat. The Nets have to sustain it and make sure they're in the game late in the fourth quarter if not ahead.

    This type of loss was going to happen eventually. Now they have to avoid doing it twice in a row.

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

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    Reinforcements Welcome, But Not Cure-All

    Thursday, November 12, 2009, 5:23 PM [General]

    The Nets aren't the only team in the NBA that's been banged up or missing several key guys. But they're the only ones who haven't won.

    Their opponent tomorrow, the Magic, hasn't had All-Star Rashard Lewis due to league suspension. Vince Carter has missed four-and-a-half games after spraining his ankle against the Nets, and Ryan Anderson has sat three games with an ankle injury.

    Those are two starters, two of the top three options and a key contributor off the bench when everyone is healthy. But the Magic still have enough to win with, especially since Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson have been healthy. Not surprisingly, they're 6-3.

    Even if the Nets were at full strength, they probably would struggle. They could have eight players again tomorrow. Chris Douglas-Roberts returned today from swine flu and Courtney Lee tested his strained left groin. Though Douglas-Roberts was weak, he finished his workout, but Lee felt discomfort in his groin.

    Both are questionable. The Nets will welcome those guys back, but you wonder what their bodies will allow them to do.

    The amazing thing is that these Nets are so close to being 4-4. Of course, they're not, but could have beaten the Wolves, Bobcats and Sixers twice. Maybe they win a few of those games if they're healthy. Maybe not.

    There is no consolation, though. Not even the hope that, when the players come back, the Nets will reel off a string of victories. More will be expected, particularly when Devin Harris, their lone All-Star, returns and when their starting five is intact, which it has been just twice thus far. But they still could struggle unless they play with the defensive tenacity, aggressiveness and togetherness this group has.

    "Look, regardless of who we have, it's not like coming back we have [Wilt] Chamberlain," coach Lawrence Frank said. "Not to make light of the dead, but my point is we need to be the hardest working team.

    "These guys, I think, have embraced how we have to play, and when guys come back it's no different. It's not all of a sudden now you're coming back and you have more talent than the rest of the league. No, we knew coming into the season it was an uphill battle, that's why we understood how hard we have to play to give ourselves a chance."

    That's the big difference between this season and the 2004-05 season, when the Nets had assembled a team of players who would be out of the league in the not so distant future.

    They were bad, 2-11 bad, and seven of the 11 losses were by double-digits. But Jason Kidd was the one on the injured list.

    With all due respect to Harris, Yi Jianlian, Jarvis Hayes, Keyon Dooling and Tony Battie, you have something to look forward to when it's Jason Kidd coming back, especially when you have Richard Jefferson playing the best ball of his career at the time.

    There was as much anxiety as anticipation when Kidd returned. He was unhappy with all the moves the Nets made the summer before, starting with the Kenyon Martin trade, and he and Alonzo Mourning let it be known that they weren't happy and didn't want to be here.

    Mourning ultimately was traded in the deal that brought Carter. Eventually Kidd was happy, but it took Carter playing near-MVP ball for that to happen.

    The Nets don't nearly have the amount of players who will be out of the league as they did five years ago. They have guys they're hoping to build with in Brook Lopez, Harris, Lee, Terrence Williams and Yi. But they also don't have a Kidd coming back and can't count on acquiring a Carter-type player in a trade in the coming weeks or months.

    When their key players come back, the struggles may not end. They may just be different. But there should be no anxiety like in 2004-05, only anticipation.

    Some players will be unhappy when their minutes are cut, and the losing will breed frustration. But the Nets are a team of young guys still making their way in this league and veterans proving they can still play and worthy of their next contract.

    But the Nets need their young guys together, playing together and improving together. It won't save the season, but could help the future. No anxiety; just anticipation.

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

    3.7 (1 Ratings)

    Groundhog Day: Nets Loss to Sixers Looks Familiar

    Thursday, November 12, 2009, 12:02 AM [General]

    EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The Nets probably will wake up this morning hearing Sonny and Cher singing, "I got you, babe," on their clock radios because if ever there was Groundhog Day, this was it.

    Wednesday night, the Nets were down three in the closing seconds to Philadelphia and didn't get a shot off and lost 82-79. Five nights ago in Philadelphia, the Nets were down three in the final seconds and didn't get a shot off.

    The turnover last night happened with 3.9 seconds left. The turnover Friday happened with three-tenths of a second remaining.

    It would have been freaky if it was the same Net committing the turnover and same Sixer causing it and the same final score. You can't have everything, and apparently at this point the Nets can't have anything.

    Eight games in, they're 0-8, and the last three games have looked pretty similar.

    In all three, the Nets ended the game with eight players. In all three, they fought and battled and were this close to pulling out the win. It probably wasn't going to happen Saturday against Boston but these two games against the Sixers were gettable.

    Last night the Nets led by two with 1:26 remaining. They were down 16 seconds later, but had four chances in the final 1:01 to tie the game or take the lead. They missed three shots and committed the costly turnover to end the game.

    Five nights ago, the Nets had four chances in the final 2:19 to tie or take the lead. They missed three shots and committed a turnover to end the game.

    The turnover that night was Andre Iguodala making a great defensive play and knocking it away as rookie Terrence Williams rose up to shoot a three. Last night, it was a bad pass by Rafer Alston and he admitted as much afterward.

    "I threw it away," Alston said. "It was a bad read."

    The play was designed for Trenton Hassell to catch it inside and then pass it out to Bobby Simmons first and Alston second. But Alston got rid of it quickly, before anyone was open, and it went right to Thaddeus Young.

    That play, of course, is the one remembered just like the Iguodala strip from the other night. But so many big plays went into this loss.

    There were missed assignments defensively, Marreese Speights grabbing five offensive boards in the fourth period -- including two in the final 1:11 -- and the Sixers getting easy transition baskets in the third that crushed the Nets. A technical foul on coach Lawrence Frank that led to a foul shot in the third didn't help either, but he was going to bat for his team, so you can't fault that.

    "You walk into that locker room and guys are very, very disappointed and dejected," Frank said. "But it's good.

    "Look, it's very disappointing to lose but this is a prideful group. You're playing seven guys. They're busting their tails. You get yourself in a position to win the game. You attack the rim. You do the things you're supposed to do. But unfortunately it didn't come up on the positive side for us.

    "But it's a very, very early season. I give our guys a great deal of kudos. They continue to put themselves in position to win, and we'll break through."

    I thought this was the game the Nets would break through. I felt the same way when they played the Sixers last week. This is not a good team. They may sneak into the playoffs, but three of their four wins are against the Nets and Knicks. And in the two games against the Nets, the Sixers really had to sweat.

    The Nets are sweating, too. You wonder how long they will be able to play with this intensity with this few guys. They played just seven guys last night and it's unknown what they will have this weekend.

    They hope Courtney Lee will return from his groin injury and Chris Douglas-Roberts from his battle with the H1N1 virus. The Nets leave for Orlando and Miami today and will need all the help they can get against those teams.

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

    0 (0 Ratings)

    First Win Awaiting the Nets

    Tuesday, November 10, 2009, 2:17 PM [General]

    EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Here is the first win.

    Tomorrow night at the Izod Center, with people lined up to get in, the bathroom, the Nets will get their first win and beat the unimpressive Sixers. Even though the Nets practiced with eight guys yesterday, and seven guys today, and probably will only have eight for tomorrow's game, this is their chance to get that win.

    A loss tomorrow and the Nets likely will drop to 0-10 -- they're at Orlando and Miami this weekend -- before next week's favorable schedule featuring games against Indiana, Milwaukee and the Knicks.

    During the previous two games, the Nets battled and played with the attitude that they're tired of losing. They just didn't make enough plays to pull out the wins against the Sixers and Celtics.

    After three days of no games, the Nets should go into tomorrow's game with that same attitude about losing. After two days of halfcourt practice, the players should be fresh, have a better understanding about what they need to do, what positions they will be playing, how they play together and how to beat the Sixers. The Nets lost by three on Friday against the Sixers.

    This group, led by Brook Lopez, Rafer Alston, Terrence Williams, Josh Boone, Bobby Simmons and Trenton Hassell, seem to be building a chemistry that the regular team hadn't yet achieved.

    "I'm getting more and more used to playing with this group of guys, building chemistry with them," Lopez said.

    Part of that is because the Nets -- for the most part -- are playing selfless players who understand their roles and how to be professionals. This is no knock on Devin Harris or Yi Jianlian or Chris Douglas-Roberts or any of those guys who are offensive players first.

    But Hassell, Simmons and Eduardo Najera are hard-working players who don't need shots to be effective. The rub is that they need to play extended minutes to be effective, but when everyone is healthy those minutes probably won't be there for them.

    Hassell and Simmons especially have been impressive defensively. Simmons doesn't get enough credit for his defensive play. He works hard on that end of the floor. Boone also has been more aggressive the past two games and has complemented Lopez well.

    As it said here after the Celtics' loss, this veteran-laden group has now laid out how the Nets need to play as far as effort and defense. When the younger guys return, they have to show that they were watching and are willing to play the same selfless way.

    That's what it's going to take for this team to win games at full strength and as grossly undermanned as they are.

    "We're working hard," coach Lawrence Frank said. "I think we got a good group of guys. There's a line: adversity really teaches you who you are. You learn more about yourself. We're going through it early in the year.

    "Our guys have come in hard to work. Your habits will eventually catch up to you. There have been many times in the history of sports, in the history of our game where teams have been 0-7 and wound up (winning) 40-plus games. The only way you get there is by having good habits every day and things eventually will start going around for you in a positive way."

    Winning 40-plus is asking a lot. The Nets just need the first one. It should come tomorrow. If I'm wrong, I'm wrong. It won't be the first or last time


    ***
    Everyone was here except Douglas-Roberts and Simmons. Douglas-Roberts is out tonight, still feeling the effects of H1N1 virus. Simmons flew to Chicago to attend to a personal matter, but the Nets expect him to play tomorrow.

    So 13 guys in the house, but only seven went through everything -- Lopez, Alston, Hassell, Terrence Williams, Boone, Najera and Sean Williams.

    Courtney Lee tried to shoot and walk-through plays, but his groin tightened up, so expect him to be out tomorrow and to return on Friday. Devin Harris shot, but he's still at least a week away. Keyon Dooling (hip) did some of practice, but he's still a few weeks away. And the list goes on.

    ***

    In honor of the Yankees beating the Phillies in the World Series, the Nets have a new promotion for the Sixers' game. Show a baseball game ticket stub at the Izod Center Box Office and you will get 50 percent off on any ticket for tomorrow's game.


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

     

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Sidelined Nets Should Play With This Heart, Effort

    Saturday, November 7, 2009, 11:52 PM [General]

    EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- You kept waiting for the Celtics to deliver the knockout blow and finish the decimated Nets.

    A big Boston third-quarter run could have done it, but didn't. Back-to-back Ray Allen jumpers in the fourth could have done it, but didn't.

    The Nets didn't win the game, still haven't won a game this season. But some of their players should have won over some fans and maybe even earned them some minutes when the cavalry returns. Everyone expected the Nets to lose by 20 and 40 the past two nights. But their guys battled and pushed the Sixers to the limit and had the Celtics, and everyone watching last night, stunned.

    The final score was 86-76 Celtics, but the 10-point margin didn't happen until 33.6 seconds were left in the game. The Nets (0-7) were in this and even led by two heading into the fourth.

    Eight guys, including just one regular starter, were all the Nets had against the Celtics, who had Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rasheed Wallace.

    No way was eight going to be enough against this team, not when the eight were Rafer Alston, Trenton Hassell, Brook Lopez, Josh Boone, Bobby Simmons, Terrence Williams, Eduardo Najera and Sean Williams.

    On the Nets' bench in jackets were starters Devin Harris, Courtney Lee, Yi Jianlian, as well as Jarvis Hayes, Keyon Dooling and Tony Battie. At home tweeting was Chris Douglas-Roberts, whom the team announced prior to the game had tested positive for the H1N1 virus.

    It was advantage Boston in a big way. Even if the teams were whole, it was advantage Boston in a big way, but you can't help but wonder whether at full strength the Nets would have stood toe-to-toe with the Celtics.

    Sure, the Celtics may have been tired from playing -- and losing -- Friday to the run-and-gun Suns. Boston has some graybeards after all. The Celtics probably overlooked the Nets a little too, especially with the team they ran out there.

    But this is where guys like Hassell and Simmons and Alston and Boone deserve credit. They took the challenge, played with pride and played like professionals. If Boone played with that heart every night, coach Lawrence Frank would have to keep him on the floor more.

    The rookie Terrence Williams showed again he's going to be good. He can be a lock-down defender, and eventually, his shots are going to fall. But he played with tremendous passion and wasn't afraid of the Celtics. No one on the Nets was.

    "I like the approach that our guys have," Frank said. "They have no fear of anyone and they're out to improve and get better and try to win the game."

    They were. Despite 23 turnovers to that point, the Nets were down 82-76 with 2:58 left. A few stops and a few makes and they win. They got three straight stops, but missed five shots over three trips and never drew closer than six, never scored again.

    Would the Nets have done better if they had their regulars? Maybe not. You have to believe the Celtics would have been more inspired. The Nets also wouldn't have as many defensive-minded players on the floor.

    But from these two bitter losses, the Nets -- especially the guys watching from the bench or their couches -- should have realized what it's going to take to win games.

    Eight guys, four starters out, whatever. They played back-to-back 48-minute games, which they hadn't really done the prior five games when they were at fuller strength.

    Everyone should take notice of that. When the regulars return, shame on them if they don't play with the same effort and defensive tenacity as some guys who probably will be out of the rotation and in suits did these two nights and probably will until they go back to being 12th, 13th or 14th men.

    ***

    Douglas-Roberts has been treated for his illness and is expected back with the team this week. It's possible he could play in Wednesday's game against the Sixers.

    Lee is day-to-day with the groin strain he suffered Friday in Philly. He said he's playing Wednesday.

    If both men are right and the Nets don't have any more setbacks, they should have 10 players available for Philly. And if they do, bet on Frank playing nine.

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

    0 (0 Ratings)

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