Nets needed to keep feeding dominant Lopez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    ***

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

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    Deron hits game-winner in possible season finale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    ***

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

     

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    Nets battled back, but Heat too strong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    ***

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

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    Nets need to show up for Heat visit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    ***

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

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    Battered Nets playing like a beaten bunch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    ***

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

     

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    Williams' return lifts Nets, but not past Knicks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    ***

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

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    Nets have come too far to flop now

    Tuesday, March 29, 2011, 11:09 PM [General]

    NEWARK, N.J. -- The Nets keep talking about wanting to get better and finishing strong, but in their last two games, they’ve looked like they can’t wait for the offseason to start.

    Unfortunately, they still have nine games left, and if the Nets continue to play this way, it will spoil some of the good things they’ve done this season.

    I'm not saying this because the Nets need four more wins to get to my predicted total of 27. With young teams or rebuilding teams or teams in transition, it’s about consistency of effort, but in good effort. The Nets’ effort these last two games has been consistent, but it’s also been poor.

    “Disappointed,” coach Avery Johnson said after his team was throttled, 112-87, by the Rockets Tuesday night. “Disappointed. You can’t keep writing it off as a bad game. I’m a competitor. We expect more. We don’t make any excuses. We just didn’t get it done.”

    You don’t expect the Nets to win every game, not with Deron Williams showing off his collection of suits instead of his deft passing. But Johnson and other members of the organization should expect better effort. Many of these guys are playing for their jobs, but you wouldn’t know it by how they played these past two games. The Nets were down 19-2 against the Hawks on Saturday and were staring at a 30-point hole with five minutes left in the third period. They at least showed a little heart by getting within 10 with five minutes left in the fourth, but it’s a hard to overcome a 30-point deficit at all, let alone in 17 minutes.

    We heard about yesterday’s good practice and the Nets' focus, and everyone thinking about bouncing back. But after the Nets got off to a 6-2 start, the Rockets decided they weren’t going to lose to New Jersey.

    “We’ve been getting off to really poor starts,” Johnson said. “We were cooking good for a minute. I think the score was [6-2] and then we made three defensive errors in a row, two of which I think led to 3-pointers, and then the onslaught began.”

    “I don’t know what happened,” Sasha Vujacic said. “I don’t know what the purpose was of us playing like that. We tried, we wanted to win, obviously, but we’ve got to flush that one down the toilet.”

    The Nets have to move on and turn their attention to tonight’s game against Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks. The Nets should be well rested since they hardly exerted any effort after the latter part of the first period.

    This matchup with New York is a big game, and not just to get this terrible performance against Houston out of their system. The Nets are on ESPN and will in all likelihood will have Williams in the lineup for the first time in seven games, not to mention the rivalry between the two organizations. Admittedly, it’s more a rivalry in the executive offices than on the court, but it exists nonetheless, and it’s important enough to the Nets for Vujacic to call it “the biggest game of the year.”

    But if the Nets play with the same effort they did against Houston and against Atlanta, they will be humiliated on national television. That’s not something anyone in the organization from ownership to the executive offices to the coaching staff wants. But really it comes down to the players at this point. The likely return of Williams will make a difference, but it’s going to take more than that.

    ***

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

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    Avery has been the leader the Nets needed

    Monday, March 28, 2011, 4:59 PM [General]

    EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Through all the losses, through all the rumors, through all the injuries and trades, there has been one constant for the Nets: Avery Johnson.

    In his first year as head coach, Johnson has been what the Nets have needed: a leader, a voice and someone who holds everyone accountable.

    Johnson was the spokesperson during all the Carmelo Anthony trade rumors and the one keeping his team focused on the games and playing as hard as possible. It wasn’t always easy with guys drifting, looking over their shoulders, wondering whether they would soon be on an airplane to Denver or some other NBA city. But Johnson never stopped doing his job, never stopped trying to remain positive and keep his players committed.

    If you want to nitpick, you can question some of his moves or rotations. But the bottom line is this: the team and many of its players have improved. For the most part, they play hard, and Johnson will make sure they do until the end.

    Between the start of the season and now, Brook Lopez has gotten better, Kris Humphries has gotten much better, Jordan Farmar has gotten better, Anthony Morrow has gotten better and Sasha Vujacic has gotten better. Ben Uzoh, too. You can say some of it is because of opportunity, but part of a big coach’s job is making sure he puts his players in position to succeed, and Johnson has done that.

    The results haven’t always been there, but the Nets have had 18 different starting lineups. Some of the results recently might have been a little different if the Nets had their new superstar and playmaker healthy. But Deron Williams is going to miss his sixth straight game Tuesday due to a strained right wrist. He may return Wednesday against the Knicks, but his status after that is uncertain, which is par for the course this season. Only Lopez, Humphries and Travis Outlaw have been available every game in this injury-riddled Nets’ campaign that will end in a little more than two weeks.

    “I’ve tried not to get frustrated,” Johnson said. “When this season is over with, I don’t think that’s a word to describe my mood. I think we’ve been pretty diligent every day. We’ve preached pretty much the same old song. This is not the season or the time of the season to get frustrated. It is what it is.”

    There are times when you expect Johnson to be more outspoken after a bad performance, but he picks and chooses his spots. He has taken it easy on them at times because they were a young team, but this is a different time. And Saturday night was the right time for Johnson to speak out, and he did it the right way. The Nets didn’t show up the first 30 minutes and were down 30, but they came back and made it a game in the fourth quarter. Johnson said he was proud of the comeback on the road but concerned about the start. In other words, at the end of a long road trip and at this point in the season, he didn’t give his team a pass. Nor shouldn’t he.

    “Not at all,” Johnson said. “That’s not my nature. I think we’re going to take it to the very end. There are no free passes. If we’re going to ever get to a level where we want to go, it’s [through] hard work, okay? It’s hard work. We’re not in a situation where we barely missed the playoffs last year by one game, okay? It’s hard work. And guess what? I’m embracing it every day.”

    Before Johnson held practice today, he held a little meeting in his office with Lopez. Johnson has been very critical of Lopez, but not as much lately. As the season has progressed, there's been a different Lopez. But in the last two games of the trip -- back-to-back losses at Orlando and Atlanta -- he shot 7-for-16, scored 16 points and grabbed two rebounds. Part of the conversation was about what went wrong and how Lopez could “bounce back and have a big week.” It apparently was a good conversation as Lopez came out of it and had what was described as a good practice. He also spoke frankly about his conversation with Johnson, saying, “I think we’re really ready to go.”

    “We just talked about what I need to get back to doing, what I was doing right during that recent stretch, and what happened those two games, what didn’t go right,” Lopez said. “Just take the positives and go on from there.”

    That's how Johnson has been all season. He's tried to focus on the positives, but also has let his team know when certain things are unacceptable. He's been doing all of the things that the Nets have needed.


    ***

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

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    Nets show fight late after laying down early

    Saturday, March 26, 2011, 10:43 PM [General]

    ATLANTA – One night after putting a scare into the Orlando Magic in their building, the Nets let the Atlanta Hawks feel right at home in their house – for a little more of a half.

    Then the Nets had the Hawks sweating and their fans booing when they ran 20 points off of a 30-point second-half lead.

    But the Nets just didn’t have enough time, couldn’t make enough shots and couldn’t get enough stops to really spoil the night for the Hawks and the announced crowd of 17,093.

    The final score, 98-87, was much more respectable than it appeared it was going to be, and the comeback allowed the Nets to escape coach Avery Johnson’s wrath – at least publicly.

    Johnson wasn’t happy, and he let the players know it. He let the media know it, too, but it probably would have been much worse if the Nets hadn’t made that furious comeback led by Anthony Morrow, who finished with 25 points.

    “They never quit, boy,” Johnson said. “If you watched the Nets and our effort in the second half, it’s something to behold. We battled. To come way back like we did on the road. …

    “There are no moral victories but I like what I saw in the second half. Now I explained to our team what we did in the first half was unacceptable in every facet of basketball 101.”

    For the first 31 minutes, the Nets showed none of the fight they did against the Magic, none of the heart.

    Yes, the Hawks have been struggling lately and struggling at home, where they lost six of their previous nine. They probably wanted to come out aggressively and jump all over the Nets and take them out of the game right away. Atlanta definitely did that.

    But the start of this game for the Nets was a typical end-of-a-road-trip, can’t-wait-to-get-home performance.

    It went something like this: the Nets scored the first basket of the game and then weren’t heard from for about the next six minutes. The score went from 19-2 to 27-9 to 46-21 to 55-27 to 65-35 to 74-44 with about five minutes left in the third quarter.

    There was no reason to keep flipping back and forth between YES and the NCAA Tournament games. This one was over, long over, long ago.

    But the Nets showed pride, and heart and fight, showed all the things Johnson wanted to see from that at the beginning of the game.

    Suddenly, 74-44 became 82-61 after three, and then 88-78 with 5:02 left in the game. Suddenly Nets fans were flipping back and forth. But the Nets couldn't finish it off.

    “We understand what we’re fighting against, but we don’t make any excuses,” Johnson said. “That’s why you saw our team put on our hard hats in the second half, play much better defense, Nets defense, not what we saw in the first half.”

    In the end, though, it’s still a loss, one more and the Nets will have 50. But as it has been said so many times in this space, it’s not about this season. It’s about the future and the Nets believe they’re in much better shape going forward because they acquired Deron Williams.

    The Nets should be in better shape in a few days because Williams said before this game that he’s going to return from the wrist injury that has kept him out of the past five games.

    Williams is expected to play against the Knicks on Wednesday, in the nationally televised ESPN game, in a meaningful game for the Nets and probably a must-win for the Knicks.

    Who knows how much more Williams will play after that game, if at all. The wrist is an ongoing issue that needs at least four weeks of rest. The Nets are on the verge of playoff elimination – a mere formality – so it doesn’t make sense to play Williams much more, if at all.

    But the Nets have 10 games left in this season and they keep saying they want to keep getting better and end on a good note. They had a good run in this game, but for the most part this was a no-show performance.

    The Nets can’t have any more of those. They shouldn’t have any more of those.

    ***

    Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone

    ***

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

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    Nets' offense vanishes against Magic

    Friday, March 25, 2011, 11:32 PM [General]

    Deron Williams was back with the Nets, but only as a spectator. He was helpless, sitting on the bench resting his strained right wrist.

    On the court, there were times the Nets looked helpless against the Magic, despite how hard they tried and worked for every shot.

    The Nets made 46 percent of their attempts, but some possessions were so bad and naturally they came at the worst times in a 95-85 loss to Dwight Howard and the Magic.

    Five times in the game, the Nets were called for a 24-second violation, accounting for five of their 19 turnovers. They had three in the third period during an impressive comeback from 13 points down.

    The Nets ultimately took a lead in the fourth period, less than two minutes in, but came up empty on their next seven trips. The bad offense carried over to the defensive end, where the Nets gave up 13 consecutive points.

    “We just missed a couple shots and they made a couple threes in a row,” Jordan Farmar said after a 15-point, 16-assist night. “We missed a couple, they made a couple, and it was tough to get back from there.”

    The Nets showed plenty of fight to come back the first time and didn’t quit after that, even though it seemed there was no way the Magic were going to give up that big lead, in front of their loud home crowd.

    They never did, but the Nets made it interesting despite all their struggles. They can thank Howard for both.

    He was a dominant force inside, finishing with 21 points, 14 rebounds, three blocks and countless alters. Howard’s presence led to Brook Lopez playing his least productive game in more than two months. But Howard’s free throw-shooting kept the Nets in the game.

    Howard missed five through three quarters and then missed his first four in the fourth. With the Nets down five and the game clock approaching 2:30, coach Avery Johnson called for intentional fouls on Howard.

    It worked, somewhat.

    Howard missed the first, but made the second. Then after a Farmar floater, it was time to hack Howard again. This time, he made the first and missed the second and the ball was rebounded by Kris Humprhies – or so it seemed.

    Kris Humphries, who usually gobbles up rebounds, the man you want with his hands on the ball in that position, lost it. It popped out of his hands. Another free-throw rebound cost the Nets. Seconds later, Chris Duhon buried a three-pointer to put the Magic up eight with 1:58 left.

    Game over.

    “We intentionally foul Howard,” Johnson said. “We get him to do what we want him to do and then we don’t get the rebound and it kind of shoots us in the foot the rest of the night. But our guys battled.”

    To be clear, the Nets didn’t lose the game because Humphries couldn’t hold onto the ball. It just could have made for a more interesting finish if he had. Then again, the Magic could have tightened up their defense and made sure the Nets didn’t score. 

    That’s why you would like to see what the Nets could do with Williams, how differently they would play, how differently Lopez would play.

    He has been much better lately, more assertive and able to carry the Nets. But he still has trouble against the more physical Howard, as Lopez finished with 10 points, five in the final 46:24. Lopez didn’t get as deep position against Howard.

    You don’t want to take anything away from Farmar, who is putting up big numbers filling in for Williams. But Williams is a top point guard and one of the reasons the Nets have a chance of getting Howard if he leaves the Magic.

    With Williams, maybe the Nets’ offense would run a little smoother at times; their droughts wouldn’t last as long.

    “They make everybody have breakdowns with their defense,” Johnson said. “We just got to find a way to score more points. If we can do that we’ll be in good shape.”

    Some of it is the Magic. They’re one of the best defensive teams. Bad possessions and scoring isn’t a new Nets’ problem, though.

    ***

    Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone

    ***

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

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    Extra work pays off for Nets

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011, 11:39 PM [General]

    CLEVELAND – Kris Humphries was in the locker room talking to his teammates and said nothing ever comes easy for the Nets.

    He’s right.

    The Nets were shorthanded, missing Deron Williams and then lost backup Sundiata Gaines in the first quarter with a hip injury and nearly lost the game to the NBA’s worst team, the Cavaliers, who were without arguably their three best players.

    But the Nets found a way to outlast Cleveland, winning 98-94 in overtime in an ugly game that wound up being very rewarding for New Jersey.

    “Hump was just saying nothing comes easy for us,” Brook Lopez said. “It makes it that much better. We’re definitely working for everyone one of these.”

    This was the Nets’ ninth game that went to at least one overtime – remember they also have played two three-OT games. And it was their fourth overtime game in their last 11.

    The Nets definitely worked and worked overtime to get this win that ended their four-game losing streak. They got big games from many players, led by Humphries’ ridiculous performance.

    He finished with 18 points, a career-best 23 rebounds, four assists, two blocks and two steals. Afterward, he was so tired he thought the Nets won in double overtime.

    Lopez and Sasha Vajucic each had 18 and Travis Outlaw played big off the bench with 17 points and six rebounds.

    It probably shouldn’t have been as difficult as it turned out being because the Cavaliers are not known for their defense and certainly not known for winning anymore. But the Nets had trouble converting all game long.

    They shot 32-for-94 (34 percent), and went nearly three minutes in the fourth period without a basket, But they converted when they absolutely had to convert.

    Lopez got a shot off in the lane that missed, but he tapped it in with 4.3 seconds left in regulation to help force the overtime.

    “Brook getting us to overtime – that was a big time move that he made,” Nets coach Avery Johnson said. “Our guys battled. They showed a lot of guts. We didn’t have anything going offensively, shot another low percentage from the field. But we battled. I thought, if we could get it into overtime, because we’ve had two triple overtime games this year, maybe we’d have a chance to win.”

    The way the game was going it wouldn’t have been surprising if Lopez missed his tip or if he would have been called for an over-the-back loose-ball foul. Lopez was whistled for a couple of fouls that didn’t appear to be fouls on him.

    In the overtime, the best thing the Nets did was hit two of their first three shots. They got an 87-84 lead that they never relinquished, despite not making another field goal.

    “It was a grind,” Humphries said. “We just stuck with it.”

    The Nets got their points from the foul line in the extra session. They were 11-for-14, including 8-for-8 in the final minute. Jordan Farmar made all four of his in that time, including two with 3.8 to make sure the Nets didn’t give the Cavaliers a chance.

    “I had to step up and do something to help the team win,” said Farmar, who shot 2-for-10 from the field. “I definitely didn’t want to let this one slip away based on my performance. Everybody was fighting and clawing and trying to make some things happen, so I wanted to do something to help.”

    The Nets needed everyone on this night to make sure they didn’t lose to the Cavaliers and didn’t extend their losing streak. They made it more difficult on themselves, but they left the arena feeling extra tired yet satisfied.

    ***

    Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone

    ***

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

     

     

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    Frenzied finish not enough to lift Nets

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011, 12:05 AM [General]

    NEWARK – The Nets’ game against Indiana Monday had some of the same characteristics as Sunday’s in Washington and the result was the same – a bad loss.

    If you’re a Nets’ fan and you’re looking for anything to hold on to - by now you probably should have given up on postseason hopes – they showed much more spirit and fight in their 102-98 loss to the Pacers.

    The bottom line, though, is it was a loss – another one. The streak is up to four, following a five-game winning streak that appeared to be the turning-the-corner moment. But coach Avery Johnson was right in saying at the time, “we are approaching the corner.”

    Now the only thing the Nets are approaching is the finish line.

    They are eight games out of the playoffs with 13 to play and will be without Deron Williams for at least one more game because of his strained right wrist – key word at least.

    There’s no question he would have made a difference. Williams is a superstar who can make plays for himself and others even when he’s not at 100 percent. And when the Nets go through droughts like they did last night and like they did the afternoon before a player like Williams could do something to stop it and turn the tides.

    In a 27-30-hour span, the Nets wasted a 17-point lead and a 12-point advantage. In both collapses, the Nets were awful in the third period.

    “The way we are coming out lately, it’s not too relaxed but just not with the right mindset on both sides of the court,” Sasha Vujacic said. “That’s what’s causing the momentum. Once the other team gets momentum it’s hard to stop them.”

    Without Williams, it’s been very hard. The Nets were outscored 32-9 during one second-half stretch in Washington. Against the Pacers, it was a 29-17 third period that included 22 misses on 29 attempts.

    The only difference was against Indiana, the Nets made a furious finish at the end of the game, nearly erasing an 11-point lead in the final 2:24.

    Vujacic was a big part of the comeback, hitting a pair of threes on trips that wound up being four-point possessions. On both, the Nets hit the first and missed the second of two foul shots and got the offensive rebound. The second Vujacic three made it 98-94 with 63 seconds left.

    The Nets couldn’t finish the comeback, though. In the last 40.5 seconds, they were 1-for-4 from the field and 1-for-2 from the foul line. The Pacers made the shots they needed to make – four free throws by Darren Collison in the final 9.6 seconds to make sure the Pacers continued their dominance over the area teams.

    They are 3-0 against the Nets this season and have beaten the Knicks twice in the last week and a half. If the Pacers make the playoffs, they certainly can thank the two teams on each side of the Hudson for that.

    But to Indiana’s credit, they are taking the games from the Nets and Knicks

    The Pacers crushed the Nets in the two prior meetings, winning by 51 points combined. They crushed them last night by fighting back and by making the necessary plays at the end to strike a blow to the Nets’ miniscule hopes of making the playoffs

    “It’s tough to accept it,” Vujacic said. “We’ve been trying hard and we’ve been [making] some progress. Mathematically it’s still there. We’ve got to go to Cleveland and win. We’ve got to win in Cleveland - then anything is possible.”

    Mathematically yes. Realistically, no.


    ***

    Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone

    ***

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

     

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