Nets prove no match for the Spurs

    Monday, February 14, 2011, 11:51 PM [General]

    Avery Johnson hopes to build a team the way his mentor and former coach Gregg Popovich has in San Antonio. But the Nets are eons away from the Spurs.

    You knew it before the two teams played each other last night, and the Nets didn’t do anything to make you believe they’re one or two players away. Maybe they are if those two players are Dwight Howard and Chris Paul.

    The Spurs dominated the Nets inside and out, trouncing them, 102-85, in a game that had San Antonio’s greatness and New Jersey’s shortcomings on full display.

    It’s a credit to Popovich and the Spurs’ stars that they didn’t take this game lightly when they could have. They have the NBA’s best record, are near the end of a long Rodeo road trip and are playing one of the worst teams in the league.

    But the Spurs played a professional game, led by Tim Duncan and Tony Parker early on and Manu Ginobili in the second half. They took turns beating down the Nets.

    The trio combined Parker’s quickness and gift of getting into the paint and making plays with Duncan’s presence on both ends and Ginobili’s shot-making ability to thwart any hope the Nets had of winning their final home game before the All-Star break.

    The Nets had no answer for the Spurs’ size, desire, execution and star power.

    They couldn’t stop Parker in the halfcourt or transition, couldn’t compete with the Spurs on the glass and couldn’t hit shots. They needed more from Devin Harris against Tony Parker and more from Brook Lopez and power forwards Kris Humphries and Derrick Favors against the Spurs’ bigs.

    The Nets needed more from everyone if they were to beat the Spurs, or even stay close with them. But even if the Nets somehow beat San Antonio, it wouldn’t mean they turned the corner and have a bright future.

    It’s about doing it consistently: coming to play every night, following the defensive game plan and having an identity. But it also comes down to having stars, players who can lift you in tough times, and who make everyone around them better. The Spurs have all those things.

    “They’ve been doing it for years,” Harris said. “They’ve been playing together for years. They know one another extremely well. They’re battle tested. What makes them so impressive is they don’t really care who scores. They move the ball and whoever gets the open shot so be it.”

    George Hill, Gary Neal and DeJuan Blair are great finds by the Spurs, but they’re probably not as effective if not for Popovich’s system and playing with Duncan, Parker and Ginobili.

    They have the All-Star appearances, championship rings and all the cred in the world. It’s easy to follow the leads of those players.

    The Nets don’t have any of that and are a long way from having that.

    They have five draft picks in the next two years, salary-cap flexibility and a young roster that Johnson surprisingly said reminds him of the Spurs in the early years of David Robinson.

    “There are some similarities there,” Johnson said.

    He wants to believe that, but Johnson can’t really believe that. He played on those teams that had Robinson and Sean Elliott.

    The Spurs had defensive stoppers inside and outside and had someone who they could count on Robinson for 20, 10 and a few blocks every night. They won 56 games in Robinson’s first year. The Nets have won 56 of their last 206.

    That Spurs team was one player away. The Nets aren’t one or two players away. Maybe they are if their names are Howard and Paul.


    ***

    Coach’s Corner

    “We’ve got to do a better job of moving the ball. Sometimes our passes weren’t on time and on target. We’ve got to do a better job of holding our position, breaking down the defense -- a combination of things. And then l when we are open, we’ve got to make our shots. In the NBA if you can get one wide-open shot, you’re in great shape. But if you can get 10 or 15, you’re in beautiful shape and you’ve really got to make the defense pay in that situation.”

    - Johnson on what went wrong

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

     

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    Nets have Texas-sized challenge against Spurs

    Sunday, February 13, 2011, 6:48 PM [General]

    ...And the Nets just got out to Landry Fields.

    It could have been Sally Field, the Nets probably still would have been late on their rotations and contesting shots. That’s how far away the Nets were from the shooters in their 10-point loss to the Amar’e Stoudemire-less Knicks.

    The Nets won’t be as lucky tomorrow night when the Spurs come in healthy and well rested, sporting an NBA-best 45-9 mark.

    The Spurs enjoyed such a laugher in Washington that Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker played 39:16 – combined. But these are the games you have seen the Nets get up to play.

    I’m not saying the Nets are going to win, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it’s competitive based on some of their performances against the Lakers, Celtics, Magic and Mavs. The Nets either play up to their level of competition or those good teams coast against New Jersey and wait until the fourth quarter to turn it on and pull out the victory.

    “With a team like that you’ve got to push the pace,” Devin Harris said of the Spurs. “You don’t want to go against their halfcourt defense. It’s solid. We have similarities in what we do as far as where they like to go so we should know how to attack it. But with a team like that we have to push the ball and try to score in the first six, seven seconds. We don’t want to spend a lot of time in the halfcourt.”

    The Nets may have similarities because Avery Johnson is a Gregg Popovich disciple, but they don’t have the players the Spurs have. It’s always going to be more effective if you have one of the best interior and low post defenders in NBA history in Duncan.

    If the Nets had someone like Duncan, they could have guarded the perimeter more closely against the Knicks and not worried about anyone getting inside. Then again, if the Nets had a player like Duncan they wouldn’t be 17-38 and have all the troubles they do.

    There are only so many Duncans. Johnson was fortunate enough to play with him and win the 1999 NBA title with Duncan as the focal point offensively.

    It’s a tribute to him and Popovich that 12 years later, the Spurs have the NBA’s best record and a chance at winning another NBA championship.

    The only two people who come to mind who have enjoyed that type of long-standing success are Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson. They won their first title together in 2000 and 11 years later are going for their second three-peat.

    With both teams, the faces have changed over the years and to a certain extent the styles are different, especially the Spurs. They’re more of an offensive team this season, and for the first time in Duncan’s career he’s not averaging a double-double.

    But in the playoffs, when things slow down they still have the players and system to win close, hard-fought, halfcourt games.

    There is something to be said for longevity, too. Popovich, Duncan, Ginobili and Parker were part of the team that beat the Nets in the 2003 NBA Finals. No one remains on the Nets, except for assistant coach Tom Barrise.

    One other familiar face will be there – Richard Jefferson. But he’s with the Spurs now, enjoying his best chance at winning an NBA title, eight years after the Nets lost to San Antonio in six games.

    In that sixth game, it was Speedy Claxton, Steve Kerr and Stephen Jackson that killed the Nets from the outside. The Nets were much better defensively, then. But the Nets had to pay more attention to Duncan and David Robinson inside.

    The Knicks had no inside presence and the Nets still gave them look after look after look.

    ...And they just got out to Wilson Chandler.


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

     

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    Knicks treated like Rock stars in win at Nets

    Sunday, February 13, 2011, 12:00 AM [General]

    NEWARK, N.J. - The Nets will tell you this game is one of the reasons they’re moving out of New Jersey. They had their first full house of the season and most of the fans were cheering for the opposing team.

    Naturally, there were more Knicks fans at The Rock. The Knicks fans always come out in droves in New Jersey. The Nets think it’s going to change when they move to Brooklyn, but that’s in the heart of Knicks’ country.

    The only way, if there is a way, for the Nets to beat the Knicks is by beating them off the court. In other words, the Nets have to do whatever they can to make sure the Knicks don’t get Carmelo Anthony.

    The Knicks didn’t have Amar’e Stoudemire last night and they handed the Nets a 105-95 loss at the Prudential Center that has to rank as one of the worst of the season.

    The Nets have played worse games. A couple against Indiana, one against Milwaukee and one against Boston come to mind. But it was how the Nets lost and how they were humiliated that made this one so bad.

    Without Stoudemire, who had a sprained right big toe, the Nets should have been the aggressors, should have had the Knicks chasing them and quieted the fans in their own building.

    But the Nets let the Knicks get whatever they wanted, en route to 59 – FIFTY-NINE first-half points - and let their fans have the loudest voices in the building. In the fourth quarter, the Nets were booed when they stepped to the foul line – in their building.

    “I’ve been here four, four and a half years,” Devin Harris said. “I’m used to the home crowd turning on us a little bit. That’s natural for us. I love the enthusiasm with the way we came out and obviously didn’t like the way the game ended.”

    It’s wrong that Harris is used to the home crowd turning on the Nets. But it has happened to them over and over. The Lakers, Mavericks, Heat, and Celtics have loud fans come to their games here, but nothing like the Knicks.

    That’s why I’ve brought up Anthony again. He may not want to join them, but the Nets’ pursuit can’t be finished. They say it is, but the trade deadline is Feb. 24 and the Nuggets still could call the Nets, since they have made the best offer.

    You have to believe Anthony would help the Nets garner more support in the short-term here and in the long-term in Brooklyn. He’s not nearly as exciting or able to do the things Jason Kidd and Vince Carter did during their time here, but Anthony seems to be more popular.

    It’s easy to say this is a game that shows the Nets need a star. But they could have and should have won this game without a star.

    The Knicks didn’t have Stoudemire, their best scorer, rebounder and shot blocker. The Nets should have taken advantage of this good fortune, recorded their first three-game winning streak since the 2008-09 season.

    But the Nets only held a four-rebound edge overall, a two-board advantage on the offensive glass and a three-point advantage on second-chance points. They also gave the Knicks limitless open shots and the Knicks made them pay.

    Even without Stoudemire, the Knicks spread the floor and the Nets were scrambling. Say whatever you want about Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni, but his system works. Of course it looks better if players knock down shots.

    But he went small, his players were open all night and 16 three-pointers later, the Nets were humbled by 10 points.

    You can point to all the Nets’ missed layups and dunks, nine bricked free throws and 19 turnovers, but as much as any it was their breakdowns in their defense that cost them this game.

    The Nets could have won this game and should have won this game without a star. But if they really want to compete in New York and thrive on the Knicks’ turf, the Nets need one.


    ***

    Coach’s Corner

    “I was really concerned. In a way I wanted him to play because everything was geared around what he does. We told the guys before the pregame meeting and I tried to tell them we’re still underdogs, we’re not the favorites. But we just didn’t get off to quite the start that I thought we should.


    - Avery Johnson upon learning Stoudemire was out

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

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    Rare Lopez double-double leads Nets to rare road win

    Friday, February 11, 2011, 11:53 PM [General]

    CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Many people around the Nets and around the NBA were waiting for Brook Lopez to have a night like this.

    It’s been a long time coming. How long? Nearly a year.

    Lopez hadn’t had a double-double in a regulation game since last season. But that streak ended here last night as the Nets’ third-year center had the kind of performance that was expected of him on a consistent basis, leading the Nets to a 94-89 victory over the Bobcats with a 31-point, 11-rebound night.

    Another streak ended here last night. The Nets are no longer winless on the road in 2011. They actually hadn’t won an away game since Dec. 21 at Memphis. They came close a few times since then, but recently they have been so bad on the road that coach Avery Johnson took them out of their comfort zone.

    The Nets practiced in Charlotte instead of New Jersey on Thursday, had a good practice by all accounts, and then came out determined to end this 12-game road losing skid.

    “I think we had the right focus going into this game,” Kris Humphries said. “We had a great start to the game. … .It just feels good to kind of have control of the game."

    “We started strong and tonight we finished strong,” Johnson said. “That’s the key for our team. We hadn’t started or finished strong on the road here recently. For us this was a victory in a lot of different areas.”

    It was a victory in so many areas. The Nets last three road losses were by a combined 52 points. They jumped on Charlotte, leading by 10 less than four minutes into the game and 15 at the break.

    They won the rebounding battle 48-42, including 13-5 on the offensive glass. That led to a 20-7 advantage on second-chance points. They also committed just five turnovers to 13 for the Bobcats.

    More than anything, though, the Nets and Lopez came into this game wanting to end their streaks. They were dialed in from the start.

    Lopez’s last double-double was in the Nets’ Dec. 1 triple-overtime loss to Oklahoma City. Johnson has been talking about how much better Lopez has played lately and has gone to the boards. He said he thought Lopez was going to get 10 rebounds the last game when he grabbed his seventh in the third period. But he ended up with seven.

    Lopez heard Johnson talking about it at the morning shootaround with reporters and threw his hands in the air and smiled. Later that night, the Nets got more out of Lopez – on both ends – than they had in any game this season.

    Remember the last time the Nets played in Charlotte – ironically, the game after his last double-double - Lopez didn’t have a defensive rebound in a game that featured 55 missed field-goals by the Bobcats. Lopez left the building without talking to the media and was roasted by Johnson in the locker room and to the media.

    Johnson was upset with many things that night, but especially the fact that Lopez didn’t grab a critical free-throw rebound and that was the second time it happened to his center in two weeks.

    That’s why when he started creeping up to eight and nine boards, I started hoping the 10th rebound would be a free-throw rebound. It wasn’t, but it’s a story nonetheless.

    “I just tried to crash a lot more and I felt active on the glass,” Lopez said.

    This was how Lopez played many nights last year and his coach recognized him and his performance in a much different way than the last time the Nets were here.

    “It wasn’t just his offense,” Johnson said. “Anytime he gets a double-double for us we feel good about it. He played 41 minutes. Maybe that’s the secret, playing him 41 minutes.

    “He was active. He was alert. He was on balance. Kwame Brown and Nazr Mohammed are physical and they’re strong guys. The one thing I like, he was on balance even when he took his jump shot.”

    Lopez played the way he did last year, the way many expected him to play more often this season. It came in the place of one of his worst nights and helped end a long streak for the Nets. They certainly hope it’s the start of something.

    ***

    Coach's Corner

    "I liked the way they looked yesterday in our little session. They got after it hard. We totally changed up our whole routine. Nobody complained about it because we really didn’t have another choice to try something else. We’ll do the same thing in Boston next week, believe me."

    - Johnson on changing the practice routine.

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

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    Nets work hard, do just enough to end skid

    Thursday, February 10, 2011, 12:12 AM [General]

    The Nets haven’t been in this kind of game in a long time, one that could have gone either way, and one that came down to late-game execution.

    The Nets made just enough plays to beat the Hornets 103-101 in overtime and end a three-game losing streak. Just enough.

    The past six Nets’ games were lopsided; all of them decided by double-digits. But this was a nail-biter last night. They looked like they were going to win early in the fourth quarter and then appeared they were going to lose in the final minute.

    Then they got it to overtime and looked like they were going to pull away, but had some lapses and almost let it slip away. In the end, the Nets breathed a huge and collective sigh of relief after this bench-led victory.

    “Nobody really got rattled tonight, which is good,” Nets coach Avery Johnson said. “Nobody lost their composure. Our team, tonight, we were men the whole 48 minutes of the game and overtime. Everybody was really confident and the physicality was good.”

    The bench carried the Nets on a night when Devin Harris had just two points on three shots. Sasha Vujacic was brilliant with 25 points. Kris Humphries had 14 and 15 rebounds and Jordan Farmar eight points and 11 assists.

    The Nets can’t expect these types of numbers from their subs all the time, but they should expect this overall effort.

    They also probably needed this type of win to help their confidence. Now they have to make sure they don’t get overconfident as they seem to do after good performances or victories over good teams.

    The Hornets will be a playoff team in the Western Conference, although they didn’t look like one last night. All-Star point guard Chris Paul just had a miserable night by his standards. He missed 11-of-15 shots, scored nine points to go with 11 assists and seven turnovers.

    He had chances to put the game away, tie it in overtime or win it for the Hornets, but he just didn’t make the plays you’ve come to expect Paul to make.

    Paul missed a 10-footer in regulation that would have put the Hornets up four, he fell down and lost the ball out of bounds with 19.5 seconds in OT with the Nets up two. Then after the Nets couldn’t convert, Paul’s three-pointer at the buzzer was in and out.

    The Nets really escaped with this victory because they had their chances to win this game too much easier.

    They were up eight in the fourth period, but made just one field goal over a 7:20 stretch. The Nets still were able to get the game into overtime with two makes and two stops in the final 41.4 seconds.

    Then in overtime, they were up five with 1:19 left and then it was tied 101-101, 33 seconds later. Brook Lopez put the Nets ahead with two foul shots with 24.3 seconds left and after Paul’s turnover they seemed to be in good shape.

    Only the Nets couldn’t inbound the ball and gave it back to New Orleans. After Willie Green missed a jumper, Humphries rebounded it but missed the two foul shots with 4.3 seconds left.

    Then Paul’s shot rimmed out and the Nets earned a win they needed and fought to get. It was their first in February and they worked overtime to get it. They key word is worked, which was fitting, considering how the Nets have been starting games lately.

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

     

     

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    Nets' sluggish starts reflect badly on everyone

    Tuesday, February 8, 2011, 5:08 PM [General]

    Mikhail Prokhorov is not walking through the Prudential Center doors to make another bold announcement, so the Nets will just have to find it from within to come out and play hard from the opening tip.

    It’s amazing that a team with 15 wins doesn’t play with energy all the time, especially at the start of games. There is no reason and no excuse for not being ready to play.

    Nets coach Avery Johnson will be around much longer than most of the players, so it doesn't help their standing with the team to start sluggishly. You can say that many of them were almost traded anyway, which is true, but you still have to be professional. You are recognized for your play.

    Devin Harris remarked that maybe guys have to change up their routines or work out differently before the game. There is the old saying that if you do the same thing over and over, you’re going to get the same results. That’s fine if the results are good. But the Nets have to do something different when they play against the Hornets on Wednesday night, because another slow start could lead to another loss.

    It was only a few weeks ago -- after the 0-4 West Coast trip when the Carmelo Anthony trade talks were hanging over their heads and after Prokhorov put an end to them with his memorable press conference -- that the Nets seemed to get how they have to play to put themselves in position to win. They enjoyed a 4-1 homestand, with the one loss being by one point to Dallas. Dirk Nowitzki hit a tough game-winning shot and the Nets couldn’t execute on the final play. On that night, the Nets weren’t outworked, but they were out-talented. You can live with that, or at least, you have to live with that. 

    In some of those other games, the Nets lifted their defensive intensity when they needed to, got the crowd into the game, drew charges in the fourth quarter. The games, for the most part, were close because the Nets came to play from the beginning.

    During this stretch of five losses in six games, it’s been all about the starts. The Nuggets definitely had more talent, but that’s the game the Nets won because of their focus and commitment to play hard all game. Plus, they made shots.

    But after that win over Denver, the Nets lost twice to Indiana and once each to the Sixers, Bucks and Pistons by a total of 85 points. The Nets were outworked and outhustled. That’s never acceptable.

    The Hornets have an advantage at point guard (Chris Paul) and power forward (David West). Those are two positions, with all due respect to Harris, where the Nets may be out-talented. But they can make up for whatever disadvantages they have by working hard and not hanging their heads.

    That’s happening too with the Nets. Rough starts sometimes lead to the here-we-go-again thought process. Kris Humphries and Sasha Vujacic usually try to change that when they enter the games and deserve all the credit for being able to lift their teammates off the bench. But then the third quarter starts, and the Nets are off to another slow start.

    For that reason, Johnson is considering changing the starting lineup. Barring an injury, Johnson said he won’t do anything until after the All-Star break, which is when Damion James is expected to be fully healthy after foot surgery. But what kind of difference James will make? The rookie small forward definitely plays with energy, but he’s not the answer, just like the return of Jordan Farmar after missing six games with a lower back injury isn’t the answer.

    James and Farmar will help the Nets, but it also has to come from within each player to be ready to play when the ball is tipped. There is no reason and no excuse not to be.


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

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    Super flop by the Nets

    Sunday, February 6, 2011, 5:54 PM [General]

    The Nets had a chance to show some pride and the ability to bounce back from some losses that as a competitor have to stick with you. Instead they just added another bad performance and outcome to a rather depressing resume.

    The Pacers – not the Reggie Miller, Rik Smits, and the Davis brothers' Pacers, but the team led by Mike Dunleavy, Jr., Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert - have beaten the Nets by 51 points twice in the last 10 days.

    The Super Bowl Sunday afternoon 101-86 trouncing wasn’t as bad as the 32-point demolition Indiana put on the Nets last week. But many were left scratching their heads or hanging them and coach Avery Johnson looking for answers.

    “We’re just in a bad little cycle right now, mentally and physically,” Johnson said. “Hopefully we’ll snap out of it this week.”

    There were points this season when the Nets would show something after defeats like last week’s in Indiana or Friday’s at Detroit. But this wasn’t one of those games, inexplicably and inexcusably.

    The Nets don’t play until Wednesday so that means they should have plenty of time to put this game behind them. But really, they should remember it and Johnson should make sure they don’t forget it.

    Coaches don’t want to be too negative, but the Nets are in a really bad way right now. So Johnson should do something. He talked about changing the starting lineup, but excluded Brook Lopez and Derrick Favors from coming off the bench.

    “We’re really going to have to really address the starting team,” Johnson said.

    Johnson has had some success trying different things, such as holding shootarounds the morning after a night game or having them before afternoon games.

    He didn’t do it Sunday because this was a noon start. Something has to change, though, because since the Nets’ 4-1 homestand, they are 1-5 and have lost by an average of 17 points. The two worst ones came against the Pacers.

     After the 32-point beating and after the Detroit game everyone expected better.

    “The expectations were but it’s just our intensity level,” Devin Harris said. “We’ve got no excuses. Rebounding, it’s just about hitting guys and getting physical. We do it at some point but we don’t do it for an extended amount of time.”

    “They’re a good offensive team but defensively they’re lacking in some points but we’re not exposing that part of their defense. When they get one and two shots at the basket they shoot a pretty decent percent. So it’s hard to give up those types of rebounds and expect to win the game.”

    The Nets actually had more offensive rebounds and second-chance points but they missed more shots. Rebounding was just part of the Nets’ problem. Another major one is how they start games.

    They’re not playing with any urgency or enough energy at the outset, letting teams get out to big leads and constantly having to play catch up. That’s why Johnson is talking about changing the starting five.

    The Nets need some kind of shake up. Several players talked about the Nets needing to be tougher after the Detroit loss. They have another chance Wednesday to show they can be tough and do have pride. They showed neither against the Pacers.

    ***

    Coach’s Corner

    “Whatever it takes. I think right now, we know Favors is going to start, so let’s kill the speculation on that. He’s not coming out of the lineup. He and Brook, they’re going to stay in the starting lineup. We just have to look at where we were during the homestand and where we are now. Unfortunately, we just had a couple of guys get in a bad rut.”


    - Johnson on the possible lineup change

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

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    Nets upset after latest loss

    Friday, February 4, 2011, 11:51 PM [General]

    AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – The Nets seemed to be very upset after Friday’s 92-82 loss to the Pistons, and rightfully so. They weren’t upset with anyone but themselves, which could be a good thing if they finally do something about it.

    Many times there is indifference in the Nets’ locker room. Often times there is more smiling and laughing than there should be.

    Many times, the Nets feel they’re getting closer to putting together some wins. They feel good about how they played despite a loss. They weren’t even kicking themselves all that much after losing by 32 points last weekend in Indiana and 10 points the next night in Milwaukee.

    But after this one, you could see the disgust in some guys faces, including Brook Lopez, who hasn’t been down on himself as much this season as in past ones.

    When the Nets were terrible last season he often blamed himself. Haven’t seen it as much this season, until last night.

    Morrow and Devin Harris both said the Nets need to be tougher. Coach Avery Johnson said they have “to hit first.”

    There was plenty of blame to go around after the Nets’ twelfth consecutive road loss and 22nd defeat in their last 23 games away from Newark.

    Anthony Morrow and Lopez were the only Nets effective scoring the ball. They combined for 38 points on 15-of-26 shooting. The rest of the Nets had 44 points on 19-of-51 from the field.

    But it was more of what the Nets did on the other end of the floor, as is always the case on the road. They don’t defend. And even when they defended and caused the Pistons to miss, the Nets gave up too many offensive rebounds.

    That was in the second half. In the first half, the Pistons didn’t miss much because the Nets didn’t defend much.

    “It’s definitely contagious,” Lopez said. “I think it started with me.”

    The Pistons shot 55 percent in the first half, yet only led by four at the break. That was because of Morrow, who scored 11 of his 22 points in the second period.

    He kept the Nets in a game they didn’t deserve to win because they didn’t play with the same intensity or desire as the Pistons.

    The Nets, predictably, started sluggishly in the second half and fell behind by 12. Johnson pulled Lopez and Travis Outlaw quickly and the Nets were playing catch-up the rest of the night.

    You can do that and overcome the deficit if you can get consecutive stops, but the Nets couldn’t get the defensive rebounds, letting rookie Greg Monroe grab five and Tracy McGrady four.

    “Everybody’s got to rise up and want to play and make the tough plays at the end of games,” Morrow said. “It just can’t be a couple of people. Everybody, including myself, we just got to dig down and be tougher.”

    “We’ve got to figure out how to bring the same type of intensity, the same type of effort on the road,” Harris said. “This is everybody, collectively. Myself, as well as everybody else. We’ve got to continue to try to figure that out as we move forward.”

    These have been recurring issues for the Nets all season. But it actually seemed like this one bothered them. Everyone will find out Sunday when they play the Pacers and again next weekend when they’re in Charlotte.

    ***

    Coach’s Corner


    “We got off to another slow start. It’s been coming consistently with our performance especially on the road. They had more energy. We beat them twice this year. They had that look in their eye that they wanted to get this series to 2-1. We just didn’t respond. We’re just not a team that responds well to adversity yet. Hopefully when a little bit more maturation set in we’ll be able to respond.”

    - Johnson on the game

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    Big letdown follows big win - again

    Wednesday, February 2, 2011, 11:51 PM [General]

    Avery Johnson couldn’t answer the question before the game and couldn’t stick around for the whole game.

    The Nets coach lost his cool and was thrown out of Wednesday’s 106-92 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers for arguing. But his team’s performance contributed mightily to Johnson’s first technicals and ejection as Nets coach.

    If it was a tight game, Johnson may not have run onto the court and right at young official Brent Barnaky after Devin Harris didn’t get a call in the third quarter. But Johnson wanted to incite his team because for stretches of this game they looked as if they were running in mud. Other stretches they appeared to be running in concrete.

    The Nets’ lackluster performance was predictable, which was why Johnson was asked about it pregame. This team cannot handle whatever prosperity they enjoy.

    Look at their season and look at how they’ve played the Sixers.

    There are at least six instances now when the Nets either challenge one of the NBA’s best teams or beat them and then don’t play with the same passion the next game against a lesser team. In other words, the Nets can get up for the big games and not games against sub-.500 teams.

    In November, they played Boston close in Boston and the next game were crushed by the Sixers. In December, the Nets lost a triple-OT game to Oklahoma City that they should have won. Their next game, they couldn’t score and lost in Charlotte.

    Later in December, they were in the game against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers down the stretch. The next game they scored 77 points in a half-hearted performance against the Sixers and lost.

    In early January, the Nets beat the Bulls. The next game the Nets were trounced by 20 by the Wizards. During their prior homestand, they lost to Dallas by one. The next game, Cleveland led them for most of the game, but the Nets finally played hard and smart in the fourth period and pulled out the win.

    On Monday, the Nets scored a significant win over Carmelo Anthony and the Nuggets. Who’s next on the Nets schedule? The Sixers again.

    With all of this a part of their past, we asked Johnson if the Nets’ recent home success gave him the belief that they would play differently this game.

    “I’ll let you know at 10,” Johnson said.

    He said he was concerned, but obviously he was hoping the trend wouldn’t continue. 

    Johnson or anyone else didn’t need until 10 to learn the answer to that question.

    The Nets were down 15-5 and other than three one-point leads in the second quarter, this game was all Philadelphia.

    They led by as many as 21. They had 35 fastbreak points. They were up double-digits for 22:13 of the 24 second-half minutes.

    "It is surprising,” Brook Lopez said. “We’ll play against Denver, Dallas, L.A. give them all good games and come out and we have to fight for games against these other teams.

    “We’ve got to come in like we’re the underdogs every game. Avery has said that constantly. We’re not entitled to anything. We’ve got to fight for every win.”

    You would think the Nets would know this by now. This was Game 50 in their season and they’ve lost 35 times. There is no excuse for not playing to win from the opening tap or feeling overconfident or being complacent.

    You also would think Johnson would have blown his stack much sooner this season. There are a couple of games we can think of where he probably should have drawn a technical. The Wizards’ loss was one he probably should have gotten himself yanked from. The Nets were down 20 in the first quarter that night.

    But Johnson had seen enough after Harris was taken down by Elton Brand in the third quarter and didn’t get a call. It turned into -– what else? –- a Sixers fastbreak layup and a 15-point deficit.

    “In the first half I thought Devin made one or two drives and just didn’t get rewarded for his hard effort,” Johnson said. “The same thing happened in the third quarter and it was the same situation, same person, and just had a difference in opinion.

    “Just on my way out I told the guys we needed to pick it up. Just pick it up and play with more energy and passion.”

    The Nets didn’t for most of the night, predictably.

    By the way, they play the Sixers one more time. The game is April 1, two days after facing the Knicks. Philadelphia is hoping for a close game or a Nets win against New York.

    ***

    Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone

    ***

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

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    With 'Melo gone, Nets need to keep focus

    Tuesday, February 1, 2011, 6:06 PM [General]

    There were plenty of interesting -- to use Carmelo Anthony’s words -- sights last night when the Nets scored a 16-point victory over the Nuggets.

    Far and away, the two best were the Barclays Center poster boards laid out in the hallway on the way to the locker rooms, and the dining room scene where Nets executives and Nuggets executives were a couple of tables apart and facing each other. The difference was that Nets general manager Billy King and assistant GM Bobby Marks looked comfortable, and Nuggets owner Josh Kroenke and GM Masai Ujiri didn't.

    But it drew a good laugh from here because of all that has gone on and been written and said about the trade talks and negotiations, and ultimately because of Mikhail Prokhorov pulling the Nets back from the trade talks.

    The Barclays Center display drew laughs because, despite the fact that the Nets had already played 22 games in Newark, the posters just happened to be laid out last night for Anthony to see. It showed where the new arena is in its construction and what it will look like from the inside and outside when completed. The fourth board simply said, “Opening in Brooklyn 2012.”

    “That was interesting,” Anthony said as he laughed. “That was interesting.”

    The whole night was interesting, from the reception Anthony received to how he was booed when he touched the ball to how much pleasure he took scoring amidst the boos. But the Nets took the most pleasure by beating Anthony and continuing their run of good play at home.

    There is no denying the Nets are a much different team at home than anywhere else. You should be a good home team, but the drop off on the road shouldn’t be as extreme. The Nets have lost 11 straight away games and 21 of their last 22. At home, they have won three straight and five of six. That makes it good for the Nets that the next game, Wednesday night, is at the Rock. But the opponent could be a problem.

    The Sixers give the Nets trouble. New Jersey hasn't been able to beat the 76ers in the last six meetings between the two teams, and often the Nets come out flat or go through lulls where energy is nowhere to be found.

    The Nets are going to have to generate that energy themselves because the Sixers are a tough draw and won’t bring the fans and the atmosphere Anthony did. With the weather being what it is, there may not be a large crowd anyway.

    None of that should matter to the Nets, who should be playing every game like it’s against Anthony or the Mavericks or the Lakers.

    Of course, the players had extra juice for the Anthony game since nearly the entire team was involved in the now-off trade talks. It’s human nature. But when you’re 15-34, there can’t be nights off. You have to come ready to play every night, with that “chip on your shoulder,” that Avery Johnson keeps talking about.

    It will be a different scene tomorrow, and it will be interesting to see how the players respond, whether there is an emotional letdown. It also will be interesting to see whether the Barclays Center boards still will be up in the hallway. The guess here is that they will because of all the publicity received. The Nets love publicity, and they’re going to want to make it seem like they just put them out because they just came in and not because Melo was in town. Yeah, right.

    But things also will be different because of the different history between the team executives. The Sixers’ bosses, Rod Thorn and Ed Stefanski, used to be the Nets’ bosses. They probably will engage in conversations and laugh with King and Marks. They may even sit together, comfortably.

    ***

    The Nets announced the signing of Orien Greene to a 10-day contract. Greene was playing for the Utah Flash of the NBA Development League.

    ***

    Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone

    ***

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

     

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    Nets were motivated to beat Melo

    Tuesday, February 1, 2011, 12:12 AM [General]

    Carmelo Anthony came, saw placards of what the new arena in Brooklyn will look like, and the Nets conquered.

    This was easily their most significant win of the season and how they beat Anthony and the Nuggets, 115-99 last night at the Rock, made it even more significant.

    Brook Lopez, the only untouchable, had a strong game with 27 points. But it was everyone else, many of them involved or affected by the Anthony talks, that showed tremendous pride and desire and put forth some of the better efforts of the season.

    It started with Devin Harris. The Nets’ captain was nearly traded to Denver twice and it definitely had an impact on him. After Mikhail Prokhorov said the Nets were out of trade talks for Anthony and cancelled a meeting with the Nuggets star, Harris’ game and focus changed.

    He didn’t finish the last game because of a shin injury and it seemed to tighten up a little during this game. But Harris followed up a career-high 16-assist night Saturday with a new personal best 18-assist performance against Melo and the Nuggets.

    Anthony Morrow, who was injured when talks heated up and never wanted to leave the Nets, was almost perfect. He shot 6-for-6 from the field, including 4-for-4 from three, but afterward lamented about missing one of his four foul shots. No matter, 18 points on six shots is about as efficient and effective as you can be.

    Travis Outlaw, the starting small forward who would become a part-time player off the bench if Anthony came to the Nets, had one of his best scoring performances of the season. He scored 18 of his 21 in the first half, leading the Nets to a 63-50 advantage at the break.

    And Ben Uzoh, a throw-in to make the salaries work, bounced back from two poor games on the road over the weekend. He struggled so much coach Avery Johnson used shooting guard Sasha Vujacic at the end of the Milwaukee game when Harris couldn’t go.

    Johnson took a chance with about 6:35 left in the game and the Nets clinging to a five-point lead and took out Harris and put in Uzoh. In the third, Chauncey Billups took it to Uzoh almost every time down the floor.

    But in the fourth, Uzoh came up with two stops and the Nets’ lead became 11 by the time Harris re-entered the game.

    “This is a team that’s been persevering all year,” Johnson said. “This is a team that doesn’t make any excuses. They just come out and play.”

    The Nets did that against Anthony, who had a huge game himself with 37 points. He thought it was "interesting" that the Nets had placards of Brooklyn strategically placed on the way to the Nuggets' locker room. A sell job was in the works.

    Then on the court, the players had only one job on the minds and that was beating Anthony as they displayed some extra emotion and motivation and made sure they closed out this game.

    “I don’t see why not they shouldn’t be extra motivated tonight, in a game like this, knowing their names have been in cohoots with the Denver nuggets the last couple months,” Anthony said. “If I was them I’d come out with extra motivation too.”

    Yes, they’re a better team at home. But this was more about trying to show management they can beat good teams, that they don’t need a big star. One game doesn’t change anything, though.

    The Nets still need a proven player who can do what Anthony did last night every night. They may be out of the talks because Prokhorov said so. But there are more than three weeks to go until the trade deadline. There’s no reason the Nets and Nuggets can’t talk again.

    The more games like this, though, the better it is for the Nets. Their players’ trade values increase.

    ***

    Coach’s Corner

    “We played awfully good. I’m awfully happy with my team tonight - their overall performance, their body language. I’m proud of our guys. I’ve been telling you I love this team through thick and thin. This team they play hard, they’re very coachable. We’re playing against a veteran team that’s really good offensively and we hung in there.”

    - Johnson on the Nets' performance

     

    ***

    Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone

    ***

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

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    Newark set to host Melo Drama

    Sunday, January 30, 2011, 7:49 PM [General]

    All eyes will be on Carmelo Anthony on Monday night and many ears will be listening to what he says pregame and to hear what kind of reaction he gets from the Prudential Center crowd.

    Anthony never came out and said he didn’t want to play for the Nets, only the Knicks. But that seems to be the belief because of things that have been written and said throughout this long, drawn-out process that many think officially came to an end when Nets principal owner Mikhail Prokhorov instructed management to back out of talks for Anthony.

    Believe what you want about whether the Nets are in or out. My feeling is they’re out until Denver brings them back in – with Prokhorov’s approval, of course.

    There remains the chance that Anthony will re-sign with the Nuggets. They have the sixth-best record in the West and 11th in the NBA and they haven’t been healthy all season.

    Other than Anthony wanting to be in a bigger city, it’s hard to understand why he would leave Denver. But one thing everyone could agree upon is it’s doubtful he will not sign an extension and look for a new deal in free agency.

    Anthony will get max money, but not the three years and $65 million that’s on the table from Denver and what the Nets were willing to give him. In the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, salaries, annual percentage increases and years of contracts are expected to go down. Anthony isn’t going to risk that. He’s going to sign an extension.

    That brings us back to the Nets’ situation. This has been misplayed by many parties from the beginning, including Anthony.

    He knows the situation the Nets have.

    They have the richest owner, are moving to Brooklyn within two years and have a quality center in Brook Lopez. They also have flexibility, cap space and draft picks that could help them make other moves and improve the roster in a hurry.

    But what Anthony wanted from the Nets was a sit down. He wanted to be treated like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and the rest of last summer’s free agents. He wanted the presentation, the wooing and the promises of the Nets’ universe revolving around him.

    That meeting is part of the reason the Nets and Nuggets are where they are in this process – not talking as I write this, but that always could change. The trade deadline is still 25 days away.

    The meeting was never firmly set.  That, and the way all of the negotiations played out in public, and Denver repeatedly asking the Nets to take more, led to Prokhorov saying enough is enough.

    From the Nuggets’ standpoint, they are doing everything they can to make sure they’re making the right deal for their franchise player. You can’t fault them for that.

    But they have pushed the envelope, seeing how much more they could squeeze out of the Nets because they knew how desperate they were to get a superstar and franchise player. They already proposed a huge, 14-to-16 player three-team deal, were willing to give up multiple draft picks, some good young players (Devin Harris, Anthony Morrow, Derrick Favors), expiring contracts and take back some multi-year deals. But the Nuggets kept asking for more.

    The Nuggets may not find as good a deal and may dial Billy King’s number before the Feb. 24 trade deadline.

    But all of this Melo-Drama has had residual effects.

    The Nets were so convinced that something was going to get done that they told Troy Murphy to stay home to await their call. Murphy remains away from the Nets as they continue to try and find a landing spot for him. The Pistons de-activated Richard Hamilton, who would have come to the Nets for Murphy and Johan Petro, because they believed a deal was close.

    It’s incredible that one man who has won just two playoff series in his seven-year career could cause all of this.

    But the time finally has arrived for Anthony to step foot in the Prudential Center, the building the Nets wished he would call home until they moved to Brooklyn. This could be his only time in Newark or maybe not.

    ***

    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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