As Williams sits, Nets fall flat

    Sunday, March 20, 2011, 5:43 PM [General]

    WASHINGTON, D.C. – Deron Williams and the Nets' season have something in common: they may be just about over.

    It was doubtful the Nets would play beyond the April 13th regular-season finale anyway. Now there’s question as to whether Williams will play in April. He may already have played his last game.

    Before the Nets’ crushing 98-92 loss to the Wizards on Sunday afternoon they announced Williams would miss “a minimum of” three games due to his strained right wrist. ‘A minimum of’ are the key words.

    Williams is a fierce competitor who wants to play and help his team win games. But if the Nets continue to lose the way they have the last couple of games, there really is no reason for Williams to play again, not with his wrist bothering him physically and affecting him mentally.

    This was the Nets' third straight loss and dropped them seven games behind eighth-place Indiana with 14 to go. Their odds of making the playoffs are very slim. They need a near miracle as they have to jump over four teams to make it and need to get out of their own way to do that.

    The Nets have reverted back to some of their old ways lately. They followed up a really bad defensive performance in Milwaukee with perhaps their worst loss of the season in D.C.

    That’s a tough call because the Nets have had plenty of bad defeats, including their previous one in this building and a 30-point lambasting to the Pacers.

    But the Nets were up in this game 59-43 early in the second half. They were rolling against one of the worst teams in the NBA and they completely and utterly fell apart.

    “I guess we just got complacent,” Brook Lopez said. “I did a little. Once we realized what was going on, it was definitely too late.”

    “We went from playing some of our best basketball we’ve played in a long time to some of our worst basketball we’ve played in a long time,” said Jordan Farmar, who fit both descriptions himself.

    Farmar had a career-high 17-assist night, but struggled containing John Wall, made a couple of costly turnovers and couldn’t get the Nets in their offense or a good shot when they needed to stop Washington’s runs.

    It wasn’t just Farmar. It was a collectively bad effort, as you would expect when a team is outscored 32-9 over a 12:28 stretch between the third and fourth quarters.

    “We just couldn’t execute,” Nets coach Avery Johnson said. “We couldn’t even get into our plays. I told our players this loss was really painful. That’s the one word I used with our team, just painful. I’m really disappointed with our effort especially in the second half.”

    The Nets made a run themselves, erasing a seven-point Wizards’ lead and taking an 83-81 lead on a Farmar layup. After falling behind by six, they came back again to tie it 90-90 on a Farmar-to-Kris Humphries’ alley-oop dunk with 1:44 left.

    From there, Wall and the Wizards executed much better than the Nets.

    Wall sandwiched a steal between two jump shots that gave the Wizards a 94-90 lead with 46.8 seconds left. Then, the final insult came when former Net Yi Jianlian stole the ball from Farmar, was fouled and made both free throws to make it a six-point game and another stinging loss for New Jersey.

    “It’s definitely very frustrating,” Farmar said. “We’re not happy right now. It’s not a good feeling for the guys in the locker room.”

    Williams isn’t feeling great either – for many reasons.

    He hates losing. He hates watching games and not being able to play. But when he plays he hates not playing up to his usual superstar level. He hasn’t been lately because of his wrist.

    The Nets don’t want to make any final calls on Williams at this point and say he’s done for the season. He said he could play again but he isn’t sure.

    “I don’t know,” Williams said. “I’m going to see how it feels and who knows? I hate sitting out. It’s a strong possibility.”

    Williams is going to be re-evaluated before the Nets play Friday in Orlando. It’s hard to imagine much will change in that time because he needs at least four weeks for it to get better.

    One thing that could change is the Nets’ place in the standings. If they dip further, not even Williams could save them. It’s looking bleak as it is. The same may be said for Williams playing again this season.


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

     

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    Williams' wrist taking a toll on his game, frame of mind

    Saturday, March 19, 2011, 12:17 AM [General]

    MILWAUKEE – Deron Williams sat at his locker with his right wrist wrapped in ice, but that wasn’t the only thing hurting him.

    Williams’ pride is bothering him almost as much as his strained right wrist.

    Both have taken a hit lately and both were leveled in the Nets’ 110-95 loss to the Bucks here last night.

    Williams fell hard on a third-quarter drive and braced his fall with both hands, aggravating his wrist. He missed a foul shot, committed a turnover and couldn’t finish on a drive to the basket after that.

    The Nets’ point guard was beyond frustrated and motioned that he wanted to come out of the game. He went to the bench, punched the seat with his left hand and screamed an expletive.

    Williams came back to finish the game, but you have to wonder how many more games he has left in him.

    His wrist has been bothering him since January and it’s affecting him mentally as well as physically. On Thursday, he was 1-for-12, scored five points and had four turnovers against Chicago and was outplayed by MVP frontrunner Derrick Rose. Last night, he was 4-for-13 with 18 points, nine assists and five turnovers and said he heard chants of “over-rated” from Bucks fans.

    “This is affecting me so much mentally now,” Williams said. “It’s frustrating. I like going up against top point guards. I like match ups. I like to do well in those match ups. I’ve had a tough time doing that because I can’t play my game.

    “It’s frustrating but I’m ready to get healthy and get back to being me.”

    In other words, Williams and the Nets have something serious to talk about and consider. Nets coach Avery Johnson said they’re “going to have to have a deep discussion” about Williams’ future.

    Williams doesn’t need surgery, but he needs rest. He said 3-4 weeks. Johnson said 4-6 weeks. Everyone hoped he could make it through the end of the regular season, especially after the Nets acquired him last month from Utah. But that may not be realistic at this point.

    They know their season is all but over. They’re seven games behind Indiana for the East’s last playoff spot and have 15 games to play. They have to jump over four teams so they need everything to break right for them to make the playoffs.

    Johnson never made the postseason the goal as much as he did having the team continue to improve, get used to playing with Williams, enjoy some success and end on a positive note. But the reality is they may have to remove Williams from the equation.

    Johnson said he’s “very, very concerned,” about Williams and asked what the options are.

    “You probably know the answer to that question,” he said. “But right now, we’ll see how he comes back tomorrow.”

    The Nets play Sunday in Washington and Monday against Indiana, ending a stretch of four games in five nights. After an off-day, they play three games in four nights. Williams’ wrist is going to continue to take a beating and unless he plays well so is his pride.

    “I need to rest,” he said. “Until I do that, it’s going to hurt and I’m going to continue to be frustrated.”

    What’s going to happen? You probably know the answer to that question. But first the Nets have to have a deep discussion.

    ***

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

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    Nets run out luck, win streak ends against Bulls

    Friday, March 18, 2011, 12:06 AM [General]

    NEWARK – The Nets ran out of luck on St. Patrick’s Day. The team wearing Shamrock Green took it from them.

    Even if the Bulls were wearing their normal road colors they probably would have made the necessary plays down the stretch, the ones the Nets didn’t. Chicago was the aggressor and in control most of the time and when it came to crunch time you expected Derrick Rose to show why he’s the leading candidate for MVP.

    He did and the Bulls showed why they’re the East’s top team right now in an 84-73 victory that halted the Nets’ five-game winning streak.

    You expected it to happen at some point. The Nets were the better executing team down the stretch in the previous five games. But after erasing a 14-point lead and putting themselves in position to win for the sixth straight time, the Nets couldn’t close this one.

    We’ve seen this before, but not much since Deron Williams arrived and not at all this month.

    They were the better late-game team in both games against the Raptors in London. They beat the Warriors here with Brook Lopez carrying them late. They came back from 20 down to beat Blake Griffin and the Clippers in overtime. And the Nets played smarter, harder and with more energy than the Celtics.

    But against the Bulls, the Nets didn’t have that late-game magic. They couldn’t get the stops they needed and couldn’t make shots against the Bulls’ stingy defense.

    “We could have played a lot better,” Williams said. “We could have shot a lot better; 35 percent from the field, it’s tough to win. They’re a good defensive team. That’s what they pride themselves on. They’re No. 1 in the league. It’s no surprise they were able to hold us to that.”

    Some were surprised because of how the Nets have played lately. But it is hard to win when your All-Star point guard is 1-for-12 and as a team, you shoot 23-for-72 over the final 42:34.

    It is a wonder the Nets were in the game with those kind of numbers overall. Yet they were because they played good defense, too. Both sides missed plenty of open shots, too, including Rose, who was just 8-for-23, 0-for-5 from three.

    Their struggles aside, the Nets were tied 69-69 with under four minutes to go. They were down two with the ball, but Lopez missed a jump-hook.

    Then after Williams stole the ball from Rose, the Prudential Center crowd rose, hoping they were going to see another tie or the Nets take the lead for the first time since a minute was left in the first quarter.

    Williams saw Anthony Morrow open for a second in the corner for a three. But by the time Williams got the ball back and threw it to Morrow, Rose had recovered and made his way to the Nets’ sharpshooter.

    Rose stole the Williams pass and went in for the layup that made it 73-69 and made it seem like the Nets were running out of luck. They proved to be as they missed their next two shots and fell behind 76-69 after a free throw and a Joakim Noah tip in with the clock approaching two minutes.

    “I like the way we came back,” Nets coach Avery Johnson said. “We could’ve put our heads down, but we came back. Guys fought hard, got the game tied, and then we were down by two and just couldn’t keep it going, couldn’t sustain it.”

    They ran out of luck, out of magic, but Rose and the Bulls played a big part in the Nets’ first loss this month.

    ***

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

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    Jersey Sure: Confidence critical to Nets' sudden surge

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011, 10:21 PM [General]

    Brook Lopez hasn’t experienced a win streak like this since college, and he’s right smack in the middle of it all.

    It’s not only because he’s the Nets' center, but also because he’s making the plays he didn’t make earlier in the season and carrying himself much differently. Nets coach Avery Johnson keeps talking about how Lopez is doing things he hasn’t seen him do before, such as asking to go back in games, talking during huddles and demanding the ball more.

    Success breeds confidence, and Lopez and the Nets’ confidence is at an all-time high together. After his seventh straight game with at least 20 points -- the Nets’ fifth consecutive win -- Lopez was asked if anyone should be surprised that they just beat the Celtics.

    “We’re improving every game,” he said. “We’ll just continue.”

    So we shouldn’t be surprised?

    “I think we’re rolling,” Lopez said. “I wasn’t surprised.”

    There you have it. That’s the difference between Lopez and the Nets now as opposed to earlier this season, pre-Deron Williams. There’s a belief that wasn’t there, a swagger, and it’s legitimate.

    Earlier this season, after a good win or a good performance, some Nets talked about having a swagger and making a playoff run, but then would be crushed the next game or play with no energy. Reality slapped them hard in the face. Now, the Nets are talking and playing the part, starting with Lopez, but everyone is contributing in a major way, and they have to be taken seriously.

    This is a huge stretch for the Nets coming up. How they do here will determine whether they have a real shot at the postseason. Of course, they need help from other teams, and the Knicks did themselves or the Nets no favors by dropping the last two games to the Pacers. The Nets sit six games out with 17 to play.

    But you know the Nets are going to say they can only worry about themselves. It's true, too, because if they don’t win, it doesn’t matter what the Pacers, Bobcats, Bucks or Pistons do.

    The Nets have a tough game against the Chicago Bulls, who have been rolling themselves with 20 wins in their last 24 games. After that, the Nets are in Milwaukee and Washington, home for Indiana and at Cleveland. Those four (in five nights) are gettable games. With Williams on board and the Nets playing the way they are, you know they and their fans expect to win.

    Several Nets were asked if this streak means they’re turning the corner.

    “I think it shows we’re growing every game,” Lopez said.

    “I think so,” said Kris Humphries, another huge member of the surge with averages of 16.8 points and 16.8 rebounds during the five-game winning streak. “It’s five in a row, my man. Five in a row. It’s definitely something we haven’t done this year, so it says something. Whatever you guys want to say, it says. Run with it.”

    You can’t necessarily argue with either, but Johnson’s answer to the question was very good and true.

    “We’re approaching the corner,” Johnson said.

    He’s right. The Nets haven’t turned the corner. They’re still just a 22-win team, still 21 games below .500. But you definitely see improvement in all areas, including the endgame, which is a major step for them. Over this five-game winning streak -- and remember, Williams missed two of them for the birth of his son last week -- the Nets have outscored the opposition 127-106 in the fourth quarter and 35-30 in overtime. Against Boston, Lopez put the Nets up four with 64 seconds left and Williams hit a 3-pointer thirty seconds later to ice the game.

    “Brook is closing games better compared to the first half of the year,” Johnson said. “Deron is a closer. That’s two areas we’ve made significant improvements.”

    The Nets have made significant improvements in other areas, too. Execution is huge, but so is confidence. They believe in themselves, and it shows.

    ***

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

     

     

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    In Deron's return, Nets stun Celtics for fifth straight win

    Monday, March 14, 2011, 11:52 PM [General]

    NEWARK, N.J. – Deron Williams made a triumphant return to the Nets Monday night and showed once again what they’ve been missing since Jason Kidd left the team.

    The Nets have a superstar, a closer with a will to win that’s impressive, and his teammates have no other choice but to follow him.

    They did it in what was easily the Nets’ best win in a few years as they leveled the East’s top team, the Boston Celtics, 88-79, before the second consecutive sellout at The Rock.

    It wasn’t just Williams, just like it wasn’t just Kidd back then. But their presence lifts everyone around them. This was the Nets’ fifth straight win -- their most since the 2007-08 season -- when Kidd was still steering the ship.

    It says a lot that the Nets won two of the games with Williams in Dallas for the birth of his son. But it says so much more that they beat the Celtics in a game where defense and heart and toughness were needed to win, a game that had a playoff-type of atmosphere. It’s been a long time since something like that has been said about a Nets game.

    “It was a big win for us, especially the way we played,” Williams said. “We battled. It was a playoff-type game, a defensive game, a grind-it-out game.”

    Williams had 16 points and nine assists. His step-back three with about 36 seconds left put the Nets up seven and sent them to the unexpected victory.

    It was a game the Nets likely lose pre-Williams. But there is a different feeling around this team, a belief that wasn’t here earlier in the season, and it’s trickled down to everyone, including a maligned player and a guy on a 10-day contract who you have to believe will be signed for the rest of the season.

    Travis Outlaw and Sundiata Gaines had big second halves, combining for 16 points. They sparked a 14-1 run with 11 points between them that gave the Nets a 12-point fourth-quarter lead.

    Outlaw also helped the Nets beat the Clippers in their prior game. Gaines, who seems to play with a chip on his shoulder, has now played big in three wins during this winning streak.

    But the guys who have been carrying the Nets have been Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries, and that continued.

    Lopez is playing better than he has at any point in his NBA career, and he’s making big shots late. He had another one last night, taking a Williams dish and scoring on a baseline hook to put the Nets up four.

    Humphries continues to be a beast. He had 16 points and 15 rebounds. It’s not a streak like Kevin Love's, but that’s seven straight double-doubles for Humphries.

    And the Nets have lifted their defensive intensity. They held the Celtics to 15 points in the second period and 18 points in the fourth. The Nets gave up six points in the final 5:44 and none over the last 3:08.

    “Our defense kept up,” Lopez said. “We just kept telling each other ‘One stop. One stop’ with like a minute and a half left. We needed one stop.

    “We’re playing with a lot of confidence right now.”

    It’s amazing what one player can do, and this is why the Nets have to do everything to keep Williams beyond next season, which is when his current contract expires.

    There is no denying Williams has changed the whole mood around the Nets. The trade deadline passing and the Nets knowing this is the team they’re going to have for the remainder of the season is important too, but not nearly as impactful as Williams’ presence.

    You have to look at how the Nets have won each of these last five games. They’ve played no defense and won twice with their shot-making against Toronto, including a triple-overtime affair.

    They played defense against the Warriors and won with Lopez carrying them late. They came back from 20 down to beat the Clippers with Lopez, Humphries and Jordan Farmar playing stellar games.

    And then the Nets beat the Celtics in a defensive struggle, and when it came down to execution, they made the big plays when it counted against the best team in the East.

    “I think we’re playing good right now,” Williams said. “I think we’re jelling pretty well for having such a short time together, and having fun: having fun winning.

    “These games are important right now, not only because we have a chance for the playoffs, but just for the future, and going forward next year.”

    ***

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

     

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    Nets need more than Deron's help to make playoffs

    Sunday, March 13, 2011, 4:27 PM [General]

    As crazy as it may seem, the Nets still have an outside chance at the playoffs thank to their current four-game winning streak. Even crazier, Nets fans are going to have to root for the Knicks in some games, starting today.

    Before fans get too hyped, the Nets are in 11th place, six games out of eighth as of this writing, and have to jump over four teams to earn an improbable postseason berth.

    They have to do it with home games against the Celtics, Bulls, Knicks and Heat and road games at Orlando, Atlanta, New York and Chicago over the last 18 games.

    But just as I’ve said a trade isn’t dead until the main player involved is traded, the Nets are not eliminated until they’re eliminated. It’s just going to take a lot of work and wins, and a lot of help from some rivals.

    The Knicks play one game against the Bobcats, who took a half-game lead on Indiana for eighth with today’s win at Toronto. The Knicks also have three games – starting with tonight - against Indiana; play the Bucks twice and the Pistons once. Those are the four teams the Nets are chasing.

    They all have pretty rough schedules, too.

    The Bobcats have road games at Houston, Oklahoma City and San Antonio this week and also play at Boston, Orlando and Miami before the season is out. In addition to the three games against the Knicks, the Pacers play Boston twice, the Bulls once and they’re at Orlando. The Bucks are at Boston, Orlando, Miami and Oklahoma City and the Pistons are at the Hawks and Celtics and play the Heat.

    That’s what makes it not out of the question, but with 21 wins, the Nets clearly have to get all the games they should get and beat some teams they’re not expected to beat.

    Only four of the Nets’ remaining 18 games are against teams with worse records than they have, so they’re going to have to win a bunch of games they’re not expected to win.
    We’ve seen it happen before and we all remember when.

    In 2004-05, the Nets seemingly were dead and buried several times that season. They were nine games under .500, at 27-36, after a 25-point loss at Miami on March 12. For the Record, we deemed the Nets’ season over, which didn’t go over well with their coach at the time, Lawrence Frank.

    But Vince Carter went off over the last 19 games and Jason Kidd was the consummate leader on both ends of the court. They led a group of players – many of whom were not in the NBA a couple of years later – to a 15-4 finish and a playoff berth on the last day of the season with a 42-40 record.

    Although they are different players, the Nets hope Deron Williams can play the Kidd role, but they don’t have a Carter on the roster and he was just unstoppable over that stretch. He helped lift Kidd’s level of play because Kidd loves to prove people wrong and he was driven to get to the playoffs.

    These Nets don’t have the stars that team had, but they have a better all around cast. They just need to win as many games as possible and for some teams you may not like very much to do the Nets some favors.

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    The Nets go for their fifth straight win tomorrow against the Celtics and first on U.S. soil with Williams.

    He missed their past two games – and Nets’ wins – because he was in Dallas for the birth of his son. The Nets’ previous two victories with Williams came in London.

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

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    Nets treat fans to fantastic finish

    Saturday, March 12, 2011, 12:04 AM [General]

    The Nets appeared to be on their way to what would have been one of their most disappointing nights of the season and it turned into one of their best.

    They had a full house and the Knicks weren’t in town. The fans were at Prudential Center to see Blake Griffin, so they wanted dunks, but they also wanted the Nets to win.

    It was clear by the way they booed the Nets when they fell behind by 20 to the Clippers in the first half and then booed Griffin late in what turned into an exciting back-and-forth game, won by New Jersey, 102-98, in overtime.

    In the end, the fans got everything they wanted. They got dunks early. The Clippers’ first five baskets were slams and two were from Griffin that created quite a buzz in The Rock.

    In the end, the Nets got everything they wanted too – a big win in front of a big crowd and buzz at the end for them because of how hard they fought.

    So what if the Nets had to work a little extra for their fourth consecutive win. That should be expected now. In the four wins, the Nets have played a total of four OTs. They won a spectacular triple-overtime game against the Raptors in London.

    Many of them will say London was where they bonded and became more of a team. The arrival of Deron Williams had something to do with that, with their confidence and belief.

    But it says something about the Nets that they’re winning right now with Williams in his home in Dallas to be with his family and brand new son.

    “It just shows how much the team has bonded and how good our chemistry has become,” Brook Lopez said.

    “Our confidence is there. This was one of those games where we were down but we were confident. We made it to overtime. We were confident there.”

    These aren’t the Nets of a few months ago, let alone a few weeks ago.

    They believe in themselves and believed they could come back in this game, even with their offense sputtering and without Williams. Nets coach Avery Johnson challenged them at halftime and they responded.

    Jordan Farmar was the catalyst, scoring all 24 of his points after halftime. Lopez, once again, was tough inside, scoring 24 points. The two accounted for all of the Nets’ eight OT points.

    Kris Humphries, once again, was huge. He had 19 points and a career-high 20 rebounds and played solid defense on Griffin. He still finished with 23 points, but aside from his eye-popping dunks he had to work for his points.

    Humphries drew two consecutive charges on Griffin to set the tone in overtime. Griffin also missed a foul shot with 1.2 seconds left in regulation that could have won it for the Clippers.

    “Fortunately we had a sellout crowd,” Johnson said. “The fans, boy, that’s as loud as I heard them this year. You’ve got to give them some credit for hopefully rattling the rims and making that free throw come out. Just overall a good night for us.”

    It could have been a very bad night for the Nets, but they turned into a good night because of the belief they have in themselves now. Williams is a big reason, but it’s even more impressive that the Nets have it without him.


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    Coach’s Corner

    “We’re a pretty gutsy team. We’ve been in two triple-overtime games this year. The guys just never really quit. I just told them I was really disappointed with what I was looking at in the first half. I didn’t have a smile on my face either. They rose to the challenge. Jordan hit big shots in the second half. What a second-half performance for him. He really came through. Brook was big for us down the stretch, demanding the ball, making strong moves. What more can you say about Humphries?”

    - Johnson on the Nets’ resilience.

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

     

     

     

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    Brook playing big boosts Nets

    Thursday, March 10, 2011, 2:30 PM [General]

    Brook Lopez began elevating his game right around the time Dwight Howard’s name was mentioned as the Nets’ target to team with Deron Williams.

    Knowing Lopez it probably has more to do with Williams’ arrival than it does the expected Howard pursuit. Lopez said he doesn’t pay attention to any of that and he never followed the Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes.

    Some players just say that, but you tend to believe Lopez because he’s not your average athlete. He’s not consumed by basketball and all the drama. He has other interests and says he doesn’t like to clutter his brain with things he can’t control.

    Either way, a better Lopez helps the Nets on the court and in the trade market.

    On the court, Lopez of late has played the way most expected him to play this season, and the Nets have won three straight for the first time since his rookie season.

    Many writers and critics – present company included – have been on Lopez for not being the player and leader the Nets have needed him to be, for playing too soft at times and not mixing it up around the basket.

    Ironically, he started moving further away from the hoop after a 3-for-17 performance against Howard in early November. Lopez became more of a jump-shooter after that.

    Recently, and some of it definitely has to do with Williams, Lopez is in the paint, scoring in the paint and making his presence felt inside. It’s time to give Lopez his due because he’s playing inspired basketball and just looks like a different player, more confident and sure of himself.

    “He senses the moment more of when he needs to try to dominate and not just be a participant,” Nets coach Avery Johnson said. “He talks to his teammates about getting him the ball. He’ll even whisper to me one or two of his go-to plays that he likes or he gives me some kind of signal. I just think it’s maturity.

    “I think he’s taken a step forward. We just need him to continue to improve. For him it’s just his focus. He doesn’t nearly get rattled with officials in the fourth quarter anymore. He doesn’t beg for calls. I think that has a lot to do with the growth of a personality and maturity.”
     
    Since Williams joined the Nets, Lopez is averaging 24.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in six games. The last five, Lopez has scored 26.8 on 56.7 percent shooting and 8.6 boards. After registering three double-doubles in the Nets’ first 58 games, Lopez has had three in his last five. He had 34, 14 and eight blocks in last week’s triple-OT win over the Raptors in London, but what he did in Wednesday’s victory over the Warriors might have been more impressive.

    The Nets were playing solid defense all around, but couldn’t score. They went more than four minutes without a basket. They needed someone to carry them, especially with Williams away from the team for the birth of his son, Desmond.

    Lopez came through Wednesday the way many in the Nets believed, or at least hoped, he would when the season started. He scored the Nets’ last nine points, including the last seven of the game to lift them to the victory.

    “I was just trying to be more aggressive and get a few more rebounds,” Lopez said with a smile.

    He knows everyone has been on him about his lack of double-doubles this season. But also, this is who Lopez is. It’s very difficult to get him to talk about himself when it comes to basketball.

    Lopez will talk about his interests, but questions to Lopez about Lopez when he plays well usually turns into what the team was doing well. It’s not necessarily a bad thing because it shows Lopez is a team-oriented guy, and no one questions that. He’s never been called selfish.

    The Nets have wanted him to be more assertive, demand the ball more, and Lopez is finally doing that. It doesn’t mean the Nets won’t see whether Howard is available if they can get him. But they like what they’re seeing from Lopez lately and hope it continues.

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

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    Lopez leads Deron-less Nets to third straight win

    Wednesday, March 9, 2011, 11:59 PM [General]

    Brook Lopez didn’t remember the last time the Nets won three straight games, which isn’t surprising. Most players don’t recall numbers like that.

    But if anyone should have remembered it was Lopez. He’s the only player left from the franchise’s last three-game winning streak, which came during his rookie season in late January/early February 2009.

    The Nets matched that elusive feat last night with a Lopez-led 94-90 victory over the Golden State Warriors at The Rock that was impressive for many reasons.

    * They did it without their new All-Star point guard Deron Williams. He was back in Dallas to be with his wife Amy, who gave birth to their fourth child, Desmond, yesterday.

    * Lopez was dominant, scoring 26 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. He scored the last seven points of the game as he put the Nets on his shoulders and carried them to the victory.

    * Kris Humphries was terrific with 11 points, 15 boards and four blocked shots. The biggest one came with 2:47 left and Dorell Wright about to give the Warriors a five-point lead. Humphries, whose blocks usually are emphatic, brought everyone to his feet with this rejection.

    * Anthony Morrow scored 22, but his defense was solid, too. He blocked a Stephen Curry layup right before the Humphries’ denial and was all over Reggie Williams on the next-to-last Warriors’ possession and the Nets up two.

    * Sundiata Gaines, on a 10-day contract, played good defense on Monta Ellis and finished with eight assists and four steals. Gaines was on the floor for more than eight minutes of the fourth, including the final 3:23.

    * The Nets’ overall defense was stifling. They held the Warriors to 13 points in the fourth, on 5-for-19 shooting. Golden State had one field goal in the last 6:38 and scored just one point in the final 4:50. 

    “We just got stops,” coach Avery Johnson said. “Guys communicated. They were physical inside.

    “Monta Ellis, he’s been averaging about 20 points in each of his last (few) second halves of his ball games so we had to do something to try to defuse him and so we put Gaines on him and Gaines did a nice job for us down the stretch. Brook and Hump did a nice job for us helping our perimeter guys out, especially on Monta Ellis.”

    All of these things were huge. But you can’t discount the importance of hanging tough through everything, including going more than four minutes of the fourth without a basket. That was something the Nets displayed in winning both games against Toronto over the weekend in London and it definitely carried over to the States.
     
    That confidence and belief that can be attributed to Williams’ arrival is a major part of the first three-game winning streak since Lawrence Frank was the Nets coach and Vince Carter and Devin Harris were the two best players on the team.

    When Lopez was told this was the Nets’ first three-game surge since his rookie season, he said, “Probably. We just want to keep it going.”

    Do you remember it?

    “No, I have no idea. I don’t even remember. We were 19-19 before the All-Star break. How many games did we win that year? Thirty something.”

    It was 34, but the fact Lopez remembered the Nets were 19-19 at one point was impressive.

    Now the Nets have a chance for their first four-game winning streak in more than two years. It came during the same stretch. They won four in a row from Jan. 31-Feb. 7. We didn’t have the heart to bring it up to Lopez and ask if he remembered when that happened.

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    Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone

    ***

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

     

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    Nets have to find way to win without Williams

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011, 4:52 PM [General]

    Following their successful trip to London, the Nets hope to continue this season -– and recent stretch -- of firsts when they return to playing basketball in North America tomorrow.

    With Golden State visiting the Prudential Center, the Nets will try to register their first three-game winning streak in more than two years. Their last three-game win streak came when Brook Lopez was a rookie, Devin Harris was an All-Star and Vince Carter’s presence and passing made both players better.

    In Deron Williams, the Nets have that kind of player every game now. Well, almost every game.

    For the next two games, Williams is NWT –- Not With Team.

    This has nothing to do with his strained right wrist. Williams played nearly 88 minutes in the Nets’ two wins in London last week. The All-Star point guard is fine. He went home to Dallas to be with his wife for the birth of their fourth child.

    The Nets are going to have to try and pull this off without Williams. If they do, it will be their first win on U.S. soil since the trade deadline. They’ll have to wait until next week to try for Williams’ first win as a Net in the United States.

    Williams is a big part of many of the Nets’ firsts this season and recently. He is the first superstar and Top-10 player that they have had in at least five years. And, due in large part to him, they became the first NBA team to win regular-season games in Europe, and the first to win and lose a triple-OT game in the same season since the 1997-98 Suns.

    Everything is about Williams right now for the Nets, and it will be going forward. Although the next two games are about finding ways to win without him.

    The big picture, though, is about keeping Williams happy and healthy and about what he does for his teammates mentally and physically.

    You’re seeing how Williams has elevated Lopez’s game and Kris Humphries' play. You’re seeing the Nets play with as much confidence and belief as they have all season. They easily could have lost both games against the Raptors, but they fought and gutted out the two wins, including the triple-OT victory Saturday.

    “There was one point in the mid-fourth, I was looking up at the scoreboard and we were down about eight,”  Lopez said. “To be honest I wasn’t too worried. I thought we would win the game. I was confident that we’d pull through. We had sort of a concentration that had been missing for a while that we found and it helps us late in the games. We’re very focused.”

    Our guess is there are two reasons for this: one is Williams’ presence and the other is the Nets know this is their roster for the rest of the season.

    Something like that can’t be overlooked, when you consider how much the Nets have been through this season. Other than Lopez, Humphries and maybe Jordan Farmar, every player has been mentioned in trade rumors or has been traded this season.

    The distractions were real. Guys were looking over their shoulders. This doesn’t mean the Nets suddenly are going to win their final 20 games, but you expect them to be more competitive in them because they want to end the season on a winning note and show they can be part of the future here.

    Not everyone will be, but for the most part, the players are not thinking that way at this point. They want to continue to play the way they have the last few games and see if they can continue to win some games. But for the first time since the trade deadline, they will have to do it without their new leader and best player.

    ***

    The rundown for tomorrow is no Williams, no Damion James (concussion), no Quinton Ross (back) and probably no Johan Petro (sick).

    But Anthony Morrow (concussion) will be back.

    ***

    Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone

    ***

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

     

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    Williams, Nets win big on European trip

    Sunday, March 6, 2011, 1:42 PM [General]

    Aside from concussions suffered by Anthony Morrow and Damion James, the Nets' London trip couldn’t have gone better for the team, unless they managed to get a commitment from Deron Williams that he will stay with the organization past next season.

    Overall, though, it was win-win-win for the Nets. They won both games against the Raptors and probably won over some fans in the United Kingdom. The Brits had to be impressed with Williams, of course, but also with Brook Lopez, Kris Humphries and the passion with which a 17-win team played with during the NBA’s first ever regular-season foray into Europe.

    In Saturday’s 137-136 triple-overtime thriller, the Nets showed tremendous mental toughness and resilience to come back, lose leads, claw back and do whatever needed to be done to make the long flight back to the States more enjoyable. As coach Avery Johnson said after the game in the locker room, earlier this season -– as in pre-Williams -– the Nets wouldn’t have won this game. That’s what a superstar does for you.

    You don’t want to go over the top because New Jersey's opponent was the Raptors, and they’re one of five NBA teams with a worse record than the Nets. But for the first time in a long time, the Nets have the best player on the floor in most games, and that’s going to put the Nets in better position to win on most nights. They haven’t had that on a consistent basis since Jason Kidd was a Net.

    Looking at the Nets’ final 12 games of this month, the Nets will definitely have the best player in at least eight games, presuming Williams doesn’t miss time with his hand injuries. (He could miss a few to be with his wife, who is expecting their fourth child next week). The ones that are toss-ups are games against the Celtics, Bulls, Magic and Knicks.

    One player can’t win games every night, but he can make a difference, and Williams has -- measurably. Again, it’s the Raptors, but Lopez averaged 29.5 points, and Humphries put up 19 points and 17 rebounds in the two games. Staying with Lopez, everyone has been on him all season about his lack of double-doubles. Granted, it took all of regulation and three overtimes in O2 Arena, but Lopez had an oh-boy game with 34 points, 14 rebounds and eight blocks, almost his first triple-double. Since the Williams acquisition, Lopez is averaging 24.2 points and 8.2 rebounds, and Humphries is averaging 15.8 points and 13.2 boards.

    But with Williams, who is averaging 15.8 points and 15.2 assists in five games with the Nets, you have to look at the overall impact he has had. A breakdown of those five games shows the Nets are averaging 112 points on 46.2 percent shooting and 28.2 assists. Before the trade, the Nets were averaging 92.4 points on 43.8 percent shooting and 19.7 assists. Imagine what Williams would be able to do if he had two healthy hands. But just being a Net now has improved the overall health of the team.

    The Nets are going into every game now with more belief and more confidence, and it should stay like that every game for the remaining 20 of the regular season. As much as the Nets wanted to make a good impression in London, they have to make one on Williams to get him to be a franchise cornerstone. They need to get better players, of course, but in a short time, you can see how he’s made so many of the Nets' players better, as well as making the team better, and better to watch.

    Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone

    ***

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

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    London calling: Nets get Williams his first win

    Friday, March 4, 2011, 6:14 PM [General]

    In the NBA’s first-ever regular-season game in Europe, Deron Williams won for the first time as a Net. Both could be significant developments for the future of the organization.

    Owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s vision is to make the Nets a global team, but they can’t be one if they don’t have superstars and they don’t win. They finally have a legitimate superstar in Williams and they finally won a game with him, beating the Toronto Raptors 116-103 in a historic game in London on Friday.

    Now the key is keeping Williams, which is another big part of this European trip.

    They’re trying to grow their brand and connect with people in England. Remember, Barclays, which owns the naming rights to the Nets’ arena in Brooklyn, is based across the pond.  They surely made a good impression during all the events and meetings they have had, and they had to make another good one with their strong play on the court. They go for two in a row tomorrow against the Raptors.

    It’s also important for the Nets to make an impression on Williams, who can opt out of his contract after next season.

    Prokhorov is in London, and undoubtedly will speak to Williams – if he hasn’t already – extensively about the future of the team with the All-Star point guard as the centerpiece. You would expect general manager Billy King and head coach Avery Johnson also got in Williams’ ear and talked about how they’re going to improve the roster.

    That is the biggest thing the Nets need to do to have any chance of keeping Williams – they need to add players that will put him in position to win consistently. Otherwise, Williams could follow Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire to New York or Dwight Howard wherever he ends up.

    But know that the Nets are one of the teams that will pursue Howard, probably as aggressively as they did Anthony this season. Superman is the superstar of the 2012 free-agent class.

    So if there is no lengthy work stoppage and the Magic aren’t sure they can re-sign Howard, they could do next season what the Nuggets did with Anthony and Jazz with Williams this season and move him before losing him without getting anything in return.

    The Nets already have gotten major returns on their investment in Williams, even though it took four games to get him his first win.

    In the first three games, he dished for a record 47 assists, but his shot was off because of pain in his strained right wrist. He hadn’t done much since Monday, giving his right wrist and bruised left hand a little rest and found his stroke a little more against Toronto.

    Williams was 7-for-15 and scored 16 points, including a big three in the fourth that led to a four-point play. He also had 11 assists, giving him four double-doubles in four games as a Net.

    The Nets got big games from many players, which you figured they would need against a Raptors team that can spread the floor and bury you with threes. From the beginning, the Nets were aggressive, especially inside and they didn’t tighten up when Toronto made runs.

    Having Williams will do that because the Nets know they’re going to be able to get easy shots at any time because of his court vision and passing ability. But that confidence also is felt when he’s not on the floor.

    When Williams went to the bench with four fouls, the Nets got a big and unexpected lift from Sundiata Gaines, who signed a 10-day contract earlier this week. In under 8 minutes, Gaines had seven points and two assists.

    It seemed a couple of days ago that backup guard Jordan Farmar wouldn’t be able to play because of a sprained ankle. But he played and hit a pair of big threes.

    As much as the bench contributed, though, the Nets got a solid game from their starting frontcourt. Brook Lopez had 25 points. Kris Humphries had another gaudy double-double with 18 points, 17 rebounds and four blocks. And rookie Damion James, who played with energy all game, had a career-high 15 points and seven rebounds.

    “Pretty exciting win for us,” Johnson said.

    It was the Nets’ first against an Atlantic Division team this season, the first-ever in Europe during the regular season, and first with Williams steering the ship.

    The Nets hope there are many more with Williams running the team, many more beyond next season.

    Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone

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

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