Nets continue to meet major bumps on the road

    Sunday, January 30, 2011, 12:42 AM [General]

    MILWAUKEE – You could tell the Nets had vivid memories, if not nightmares, of what happened the night before in Indiana. It’s hard to forget something like being beaten by 32 points.

    But those memories weren’t enough for the Nets to shake their road cobwebs no matter how hard they worked last night against the Bucks.

    The Nets definitely played with more urgency and passion than in Indiana – they couldn’t play with less – but weren’t efficient enough and didn’t make nearly enough shots to beat Andrew Bogut and the Bucks.

    So another road game and another loss, this one a 91-81 defeat that dropped the Nets 20 games below .500.

    Eventually, they’re going to have to figure out how to win some road games. At this point it could be as much mental as it is physical. This was the Nets 11th in a row away from the Prudential Center and their 21st loss in 22 games on the road.

    The Nets never really hung their heads the way they did in Indiana. They tried to come back but were doomed by a 12-point second period and just not having the muscle and presence to keep Bogut from controlling the middle.

    Few teams do.

    Brook Lopez played well again, scoring a game-high 26 points. But he didn’t match up with Bogut’s line of 17 points, 18 rebounds and seven rejections.

    “He changes things,” coach Avery Johnson said, “but Brook held his own. Brook got a couple of fouls there in the first half. For the most part Brook held his own. I thought he showed a lot of passion and emotion, which I’m really excited about.”

    Lopez did, but Kris Humphries needed to do a better job of riding out Bogut and trying to keep him off the glass. But this is a problem most teams have. Bogut came in averaging 11.5 rebounds.

    The Bucks, defensively, also funnel everything inside to Bogut because he’s a great last line of defense. He seemed to have more than seven blocks and he altered countless other shots.

    “He’s a great player,” Lopez said. “He’s a big challenge for [me] and I just tried to give my best effort.”

    But it wasn’t just Bogut that killed the Nets. It was their own offensive struggles that included a 2-for-11 night by Devin Harris, 3-for-8 performance by Sasha Vujacic and 0-for-6 effort from Kris Humphries.

    Credit Bogut with some of those misses, but the Nets aren’t as patient and don’t move the ball as well on the road as they do in the Prudential Center. There is no question it’s a confidence thing, which makes it a mental thing.

    They all were looking forward to going home, where they recently completed a 4-1 homestand. The Nets play four of their next five at home, starting with a visit from Carmelo Anthony and the Nuggets on Monday.

    That should be an emotional and important game for both teams, but more so the Nets.

    They need to continue their strong play at home and get these two defeats out of their system, not to mention the significance of Anthony being in their building.

    Nearly half the team was set to leave in order for the Nets to get Anthony. It weighed on their heads, but now the Nets say it’s out of their system. Eventually, they hope to get the road woes out of their system, too.

    ***

    Harris left the game in the fourth with a shin injury, returned, but then left for good. The Nets expect him to play Monday.

    They also hope to have Jordan Farmar back. He missed the past two games with a back injury.

    ***

    Coach's Corner

    "The first half they really banged us on the boards. They had nine offensive rebounds. We just had a tough second quarter. We tried to get Devin a little two-minute break and it hasn’t really worked well for us both nights. We were a little bit better with him game in the fourth quarter when he kind of tweaked his leg a little bit. When we lost Devin both nights on this road trip we’re going to have to find a solution for that unless we’re going to have to play him 48 minutes."

    - Johnson after the game.

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

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    Pacer beating should send message to the Nets

    Friday, January 28, 2011, 11:11 PM [General]

    The only good thing for the Nets is they can move on to the next one pretty quickly, while this putrid performance still is fresh and still stings a little.

    And if it’s not, coach Avery Johnson will show them film of the Nets missing a defensive assignment, not closing out on a shooter or just not moving their feet and letting the offensive player blow past them.

    Since that happened on most of the possessions of the 124-92 beating the Pacers laid on the Nets, it could be the longest video session of the year. Shame on the Nets if they don’t come out and play with a different mentality and effort level Saturday in Milwaukee.

    “Nobody likes to get their butts kicked like we did tonight so hopefully tomorrow we’ll come out with a lot more enthusiasm and a lot more to play for,” Devin Harris said.

    It’s hard to imagine they would have less enthusiasm. This had to rank as their worst game of the season all the way around.

    They’ve been blown out before, against the Heat and Celtics to name a couple of teams. You don’t want to accept that, but you can understand those teams having an easy time against the Nets. But the Indiana loss was worse than the one against the Bucks two weeks ago when the Nets lost by 22.

    This is no disrespect to the Pacers, but they’re not a recent playoff team and didn’t have their fifth and sixth top scorers (Brandon Rush and Tyler Hansbrough). But they had more than enough with Mike Dunleavy, Jr, burying 6-of-7 from three en route to 30 points and Roy Hibbert and Danny Granger each hitting 7-of-12 from the field and scoring 20 and 18, respectively.

    The Pacers just ran over the Nets, beating them in every way possible.

    I’m not saying the Nets should have won this game. They’re a bad road team. But after winning four of their last five and knowing the Pacers would be desperate because they dropped six straight, the Nets should have shown a little more than they did.

    The Pacers had three quarters of at least 32 points and two with 36 points. They shot 62.5 percent from the field, 54.5 percent from three, outrebounded the Nets by five, grabbed one more offensive board, had 10 more assists, five fewer turnovers and four more blocks.

    Even with all their perimeter makes, the Pacers held a 58-24 edge in points in the paint, a staggering discrepancy for a team that doesn’t really have a top post player.

    “Hopefully when we keep getting our faces smashed in we’ll get it,” Johnson said. “You get your face smashed in enough, sometime you’re going to have to learn to fight back.

    “So it’s the growing pains of this year with our team and the one thing I know about our team we will get in our video session tomorrow and we’ll come out and strap them up again and give ourselves a chance to win hopefully much better than what we did tonight.”

    The Nets can’t be much worse.

    That’s why they need to remember this game and remember what happened against the Bucks two weeks ago.

    The talk before the Indiana game and afterward was how the Nets need to play with a chip on their shoulders all the time. If they don’t have one after this, they may never.

    ***

    Coach’s Corner

    “We just couldn’t get back and get our defense set. Their small lineup really hurt us and this was a desperate basketball team. They’d lost six in a row and they didn’t feel like they were playing that well. They’re a really good offensive team and tonight they made all of their shots.”

    - 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' winning ways provide a boost all the way around

    Thursday, January 27, 2011, 4:38 PM [General]

    The Nets were within a stop and/or a make in the closing seconds against Dallas of taking a five-game winning streak into Indianapolis tomorrow. They’re probably kicking themselves now for that, but there is nothing wrong with a 4-1 homestand.

    Not for this team that usually needs a few weeks to register four wins.

    They got their fourth win of the season in their 10th game. Their eighth win came in their 28th game and their 12th win came in Game 43. So four-in-five and almost five-in-five is definitely an indication that the Nets believe in each other, their coach, the system and, more than anything, they’re finally executing.

    “Right now the spirit of our team is at an all-time high, just in terms of all the things we're trying to implement and change this culture,” coach Avery Johnson said. “We're seeing some of the product of some of our hard work, on and off the floor.”

    The timing couldn’t be better.

    A couple of days ago it said in this space that the timing was right for the Nets to win some games – between their schedule, Mikhail Prokhorov making his bold announcement regarding the Carmelo Anthony talks and the return of Anthony Morrow.

    All remain true and with their confidence at an all-time high, the Nets may actually be able to continue their winning ways when they play at Indianapolis and Milwaukee this weekend.

    But let’s look past these two games for a minute and look ahead to who’s coming to Newark on Monday. The very Anthony that Prokhorov said the Nets should not engage in talks for will be in Newark.

    If the Nets have won four straight and six-of-seven games or even five-of-seven and the Nets beat the Nuggets, you never know what kind of impact it would have on Anthony and Denver.

    The Nuggets are better than the Nets and have a real chance of making the playoffs in the West with Anthony and Chauncey Billups. But if Anthony wants out and doesn’t want to re-sign with Denver, Nuggets officials are going to have to do something.

    Regardless of what has been written or what Prokhorov or GM Billy King said, no deal is dead until the player and/or players involved are traded. The Nets probably will hear from the Nuggets again if they haven’t already.

    The Nets may still present the best offer, although it should and probably will be much different since Prokhorov made them pull out. (The Nets should try to hold onto Morrow as much as they can).

    Of course, some of the players wouldn’t be around in order to get Anthony, but every win helps the Nets on so many levels.

    First, they don’t look as desperate as they might have during some of their previous talks for Anthony. Second, it raises some of their players’ trade value. Third, first and second applies for the rest of the NBA if the Nets can’t get Anthony.

    The Nets will make moves before the trading deadline. I’m convinced of it and not just moving Troy Murphy.

    This is a nice run and definitely one the Nets needed. You need to experience some success. After last year, Brook Lopez and Devin Harris, especially, need their hard work to lead to positive results. You need to develop winning habits and know how to win.

    The Nets definitely have over this homestand, coming back from 16 against the Grizzlies last night and closing out some of the close games, except against Dallas. If they had a real star they might have.

    ***

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

     

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    The time was right for the Nets to win some games

    Tuesday, January 25, 2011, 5:26 PM [General]

    Sometimes it can be just a matter of timing.

    Nets principal owner Mikhail Prokhorov flew to New Jersey to attend Russian Culture Night and dropped a bombshell on his team and the NBA, instructing management to pull out of the talks for Carmelo Anthony.

    For the Nets, the Jazz coming to town with Russian Andrei Kirilenko couldn't have come at a better time. Prokhorov might not have delivered that same message from his desk in Moscow or while he was heli-skiing somewhere or space jumping or crocodile wrestling or whatever he does for fun.

    There are more than four weeks to go until the trade deadline, so we’ll wait and see if Prokhorov’s words hold water. But his words definitely lifted a tremendous weight off of a locker room that was feeling the tension and stress of not knowing where they would play tomorrow and not feeling wanted by the Nets.

    After Prokhorov spoke, you could feel the collective sigh of relief breathed by the Nets, and it has led to some of their most inspired ball of the season. The timing was perfect, as the announcement coincided with the Nets coming home from a tough four-game West Coast trip on a six-game losing streak. The Nets fought hard, but you could see that they were a little dazed and confused by all the reports that a huge three-team deal was imminent.

    Good timing has benefited the Nets at other times this season, like in December when a time management issue led to a good trade. The Nets acquired Sasha Vujacic when they grew tired of Terrence Williams’ tardiness and excuses. Then, the game before Vujacic was eligible to make his debut, starting shooting guard Anthony Morrow injured his hamstring. The Nets were fortunate to have Vujacic to step in and help ease some of the pain of Morrow’s loss, providing a spark and hitting big shots off the bench.

    But while Vujacic was a solid acquisition, the Nets definitely missed Morrow, easily their best pickup in the offseason. Now Morrow is back and showing what the Nets missed when he was sitting for 17 games. In the three games since Morrow's return, the sharpshooter has made big shots and has helped spread the floor for Brook Lopez, who made the game-winner last night against the Cavaliers and has put up some gaudy yet long-overdue numbers lately. The Nets may not have beaten the Pistons last week if not for Morrow, and they definitely wouldn't have beat the Cavs.

    Avery Johnson referred to Morrow as the team's Mariano Rivera, brought in to close the game. Morrow did that with 10 points in the fourth quarter Monday, including a tough running bankshot that put the Nets up with three with 13.2 seconds left. He also scored 10 straight points over the third and fourth quarters to help the Nets beat the Pistons in his return Friday.

    If Morrow could have knocked down a couple of shots last Saturday, the Nets may have beaten the Mavericks instead of losing by one, and the Nets might be taking a four-game winning streak into tomorrow’s homestand-closing contest against the Grizzlies. Either way, 3-1 looks good for a team that had won just three of their previous 14 games.

    Devin Harris was probably the Net most affected by all the trade talk. He’ll never admit it, but it’s true. Since Prokhorov spoke up, Harris has regained focus and elevated his play. As much as the Nets have benefited from the lift Morrow has provided and from Lopez scoring at least 20 in six of the last seven games, Harris has been the catalyst, running the team, making big defensive plays and just playing with a much-needed sense of urgency. You can say he screwed up the final play against the Mavericks, but overall on this homestand, he’s been terrific. Monday night, he had 14 points, 10 assists and no turnovers. Against the Mavericks, he had 15, 10 and one. The last three games he has 30 assists and three turnovers, a few critical drawn charges and five steals.

    None of this means Harris or any of the Nets are safe with a little more than four weeks remaining until the trade deadline. But maybe the timing will be right for the Nets then, too.

    *** 

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

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    Lopez delivers winner as Nets move past last year

    Tuesday, January 25, 2011, 12:16 AM [General]

    The Nets know exactly how the Cavaliers feel.

    The 2010-11 Cavaliers are the closest thing to the 2009-10 Nets. The Nets can empathize, but they didn’t want to be the ones to lift the Cavaliers’ spirits.

    It was close to happening, but the Nets executed down the stretch and Brook Lopez’s short turnaround with 1.4 seconds to go carried them to a 103-101 victory last night.

    Lopez was to the Cavaliers last night what Damien Wilkins and Dwyane Wade have been to the Nets. They delivered dagger baskets that contributed mightily to the Nets’ 0-18 start. Lopez’s score extended the Cavaliers losing streak to 17 consecutive games.

    The Cavaliers had a chance to win, but Daniel Gibson back-rimmed a corner three at the buzzer. If this was 2009-10, Gibson would have hit that shot and the Nets would have been the ones crushed and deflated instead of the ones laughing and feeling good about themselves in the visiting locker room.

    As coincidence would have it, the Nets recorded their 13th win here. That gives them one more than all of last season.

    It’s a mini-accomplishment considering where the Nets were a year ago. But the bigger thing here is this game needs to be a reminder and a lesson to the Nets: they can’t take any team for granted. There is no question they did last night.

    The Nets can play up to their competition and down to their opponent. You could have predicted that was going to happen here after the Nets lost a heartbreaker to the Mavericks by one on Saturday.

    Many of the questions we asked coach Avery Johnson and the players before the game was about how do you make sure you don’t exhale. You could see it coming, but it couldn’t be stopped.

    At some point, the Nets will realize the games they can win and should win are the ones they have to seize early. This is a team that came in on a 20-game road losing skid. The Cavaliers’ last road victory was here.

    The Nets needed to jump on them instead of letting the Cavaliers take a lead in the first quarter that they wouldn’t relinquish until the second half of the fourth quarter.

    But at least the Nets fought to the end against a mostly unrecognizable team and found a way to win. Johnson kept pushing them and found some mismatches they could exploit. The biggest one was inside where the Cavaliers play two power forwards.

    The Nets went to Lopez early and often in the second half and the big man delivered with 28 points, including 18 in the second half, eight in the fourth, and the game-winner. Lopez also had two assists in the fourth. One, a nice shovel pass to a cutting Kris Humphries that gave the Nets a one-point lead with 55 seconds to go.

    “Coach did a great job of drawing up plays,” Johnson said.

    That’s one of the biggest differences from last season. Johnson knows what plays to call and when. It always comes down to execution and when the Nets execute as they did last night, Johnson looks like a genius.

    On the last play, he made sure the Nets did what they didn’t do in Saturday’s loss to Dallas. The ball was supposed to go to Lopez, but didn’t. Not this time.

    It was something they went over repeatedly at the morning shootaround and when it came time to run the play it worked.

    “It was good,” Lopez said. “We ran the play exactly the way we wanted.”

    If this was last year, Lopez probably doesn’t make that shot. Or if he did, Gibson would have made his. But this isn’t last year.

    The Nets know Cleveland’s pain.

    ***

    Anthony Morrow off the bench was huge, as he scored 10 of his 16 in the fourth, prompting Johnson to call him Mariano Rivera.

    “We brought Anthony Morrow out of the bullpen to close this game,” Johnson said.

    ***

    Coach’s Corner

    “He’s been on a tear. We just want to keep him focused. The guys also are doing a better job spacing the floor, because now, you don’t see two or three guys on Brook. We have Morrow back, and [Sasha] Vujacic is out there, that’s a shooter. Jordan [Farmar’s] a shooter, [Travis] Outlaw. So Brook has more room to operate, and he’s also trusting his teammates, that if he gets double teamed he can find those guys, and those guys are knocking down threes.”

    - Johnson on Lopez’s play

    ***

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

     

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    Nets can't close out Mavs

    Saturday, January 22, 2011, 11:51 PM [General]

    This would have been a nice sendoff for Nets principal owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who flew back to Russia last night.

    He already was seen as a conquering hero by the NBA community for swooping in Wednesday and announcing the Nets were done playing by Denver’s rules, done with the protracted trade talks for Carmelo Anthony that were played out in the public and taking back control of the Nets.

    All of that may have had something to do with how the Nets have played on this five-game home stand. They played relaxed and carefree. They won the first two games on Prokhorov’s stay and came within six seconds of their first three-game winning streak since late January/early February 2009. But the Nets couldn’t close out the Mavericks and suffered a seemingly gut-wrenching 87-86 loss to a legitimate Western Conference power.

    Dirk Nowitzki scored the game-winner on a vintage pump-fake, high-arching jumper that hit the rim, bounced up in the air, hit the rim again and rolled around before falling through the net.

    It was a crushing play, one of many down the stretch for the Nets, who weren’t as crushed because of how hard they’ve played the past three games, and how close they came to beating a very good team.

    But the Nets are kicking themselves for not finishing off the Mavericks. Yes, you read that correctly. The Nets had a chance to finish off Dirk, Jason Kidd, Mark Cuban and the mighty Mavericks even when it appeared with about five minutes left in the game that they were done.

    The Nets were down seven with under five minutes left. On most nights that’s the ball game and against the Mavericks you figured it was. But the Nets kept battling, kept coming at the Mavericks, using Brook Lopez inside.

    Seven was gone pretty quickly and the Nets were leading by one after a Sasha Vujacic three-pointer with 2:34 remaining. No, that’s not a big enough lead, but it’s what the Nets did after that.

    They made no more field goals. They scored just three points. They had two air balls, an offensive goal-tending turnover and a missed free throw.

    In all, the Nets missed three foul shots in the last 4:28. And after making a great defensive stand with a two-point lead with about 38 seconds left, they couldn’t corral the rebound, leading to a Tyson Chandler foul shot.

    The Nets didn’t get the play or shot they wanted on the very last play as Devin Harris was supposed to run screen-roll with Brook Lopez. Instead, Harris passed the ball to Jordan Farmar, whose contested three didn’t hit the rim.

    “We’ll learn from this,” coach Avery Johnson said. “I like to be in games like this home or away. We’ll learn much quicker now than what we did earlier in the season.

    “We hung in there and battled back. [I’m] just proud of our guys. This is three straight games where we’ve played some pretty good basketball. You’re down by one point against the Mavericks at home and you got the last possession on another possession before where we didn’t come up with the loose ball, we’ll take it.”

    The real test will be how the Nets do Monday when Cleveland comes to town. Prokhorov won’t be here but will the Nets still feel the effect of his presence and more importantly his press conference.

    The Nets played with chips on their shoulders in the last three games for different reasons. They have to be able to do it on the last two games of this homestand against teams they’ve already beaten -– lowly Cleveland and Memphis.

    The Nets felt good about their performance last night. Even Harris said the Nets “got our swagger back.” Not sure if a 12-win team should have any swagger, but if it works for the Nets they should roll with it. But then they can’t feel overconfident just because the Cavaliers are coming to town.

    They have to continue to show the same fight and urgency as they have in the past three games and just make a few more plays at the end or this narrow loss to Dallas will mean nothing.

    ***

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

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    Prokhorov watches Harris, Nets match last year's win total

    Friday, January 21, 2011, 11:19 PM [General]

    Mikhail Prokhorov’s impact on the Nets hasn’t been felt entirely yet. By now, many thought he would have been able to use his money to attract a top-flight NBA player, but he still has time and Carmelo Anthony is still out there.

    Anyway, for some reason the Nets seem to like when Prokhorov is in the Prudential Center, sitting above the court in his luxury box and looking down upon them. He was up there last night for the sixth time this season and the Nets won for the fifth time.

    More importantly, their 89-74 victory over the Pistons gave the Nets 12 wins. Some teams had that before Thanksgiving. But the fact that the Nets reached that mark while snow still is on the ground and some people still have their Christmas lights is a reason to believe this team is heading in a direction that has shown signs of there being an incline.

    I can’t say things are looking all the way up because the Nets still are 19 games under .500, they have no star players and won’t sniff the playoffs as constituted. But anyone who saw this team last season knows the significance of 12 wins and what 13 will mean to some of them.

    Devin Harris was asked if he knew how many wins the Nets. A huge smile appeared and he said, “Twelve. Sweet.” Later he pumped his fist.

    Harris has been through his own personal struggles this season as someone who thought he was going to be a part of the franchise’s rebirth only to be prominently mentioned in Anthony trade rumors. But it couldn’t match last season. Very little could.

    That was a dysfunctional team that had talented players and started the season with a good NBA coach. But Lawrence Frank couldn’t withstand all the injuries and was let go after 16 consecutive losses.

    By the time everyone was back healthy and playing near their capabilities, Kiki Vandeweghe was the coach. Many players said it was a situation where they were winning games (occasionally) in spite of him.

    The 12th win came in the 79th game. The Nets reached it this year in Game 43. They’re nine games ahead of last year’s pace as they were 3-40 at this stage.

    Prokhorov thinks the Nets could have some more wins if the trade stories hadn’t been hanging over the players’ heads as long as they were. It was one of the reasons he pulled the Nets back from the negotiating table.

    It was the right move on so many levels. The players can exhale (a little) and the Nuggets know they’re not going to be able to get as much as they want if/when they decide to call back the Nets to see if they can talk.

    But for now the Nets are playing a little freer, not looking over their shoulders as much. You see it particularly in Harris these days.

    He knows he can’t feel entirely safe, but he has played the past two games as if his only thought was trying to help the Nets get a win. He has shown tremendous professionalism and these past two games great leadership.

    Harris had 12 points, nine assists last night and in the fourth quarter, he registered three steals, a block and a charge. He has handled this season as well as anyone could and he had a big game in the Nets’ 12th win. It would be fitting if he has another big one in win 13 whenever that is.

    But Prokhorov will be in the house again Saturday night when the Nets play Harris’ old team, the Mavericks. You never know.

    ***

    Coach’s Corner

    “It’s good having him in the building and getting a chance to spend some time with him and talk about our vision and where we want to go. It’s good to have him around. Guys understand he’s made a significant investment and we want to see that his investment brings a good return. But we know it’s going to be a long road. But this is another step in the right direction, back-to-back wins for us at home with just some really good defense.”

    - Avery Johnson on Prokhorov’s presence


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

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    Deconstructing Prokhorov

    Thursday, January 20, 2011, 5:04 PM [General]

    Mikhail Prokhorov hasn’t spoken much since taking over as Nets owner last May, but when he has, the Russian billionaire has gotten everyone’s attention.

    In his first comments, he said the Nets would make the playoffs in his first season as owner and win a championship in a maximum of five years. He also said he could convince the best of the best to join the Nets.

    Even though the Nets didn’t get any of the best of the best free agents, Prokhorov still said the goal was to be a playoff team this season.

    Now, he’s backtracked from that and obviously to this point he hasn’t delivered the best of the best, but he is still saying championship within five years and has everyone’s attention.

    Everyone is talking about what he said yesterday, about him telling the Nets to “walk away” from the Carmelo Anthony trade talks.

    The man is bold and confident. No question. Here are three different ways to look at yesterday’s statement:

    Prokhorov is bluffing
    It’s hard to read the big man, who really showed no emotion other than looking and sounding as if he had had enough of this Melo-drama. But you could see how Prokhorov’s pronouncement puts the onus on the Nuggets to make the next move.

    To this point, for the most part, the Nets and Nuggets have been playing by Denver’s rules. Prokhorov put an end to that. He did it more emphatically than general manager Billy King did in September when he pulled back. That move was more for the mental health of the team, to get the guys names out of the papers, blogs and web sites, than it was putting Denver on alert.

    As he was talking, I believed Prokhorov was serious. But he hasn’t always been entirely honest. Over the summer, he said the Nets only went after the big three in free agency and no one else. They did offer Carlos Boozer more than $70 million. That would constitute going after him. 

    Anyway, the Nets have come this far with Denver and have the best package to offer the Nuggets. Many sources believed Denver would agree eventually on a trade and could still come back to the Nets and say they’re in.

    What happens then? We’ll see.

    Prokhorov is serious
    He certainly seemed to be seriously annoyed and frustrated with how this whole situation has gone and been handled and everyone has to take blame for that.

    The Nets are under new ownership and it’s fair to say the Russians don’t want everything played out in the press or in public. Prokhorov made a point of saying that in his opening remarks.

    With Twitter, blogs and all the other media outlets, things are going to get out. You can’t control the media. But things may have gone differently if the Nets were able to dispel some myths because there were so many reports, many contradictory, and there was no one speaking to separate fact from fiction.

    The Nets are running by different rules with a new regime, but the prior one made sure they limited varying, contradictory reports.

    That said, this is Prokhorov’s team now and he runs it how he wants to run it. He probably was bothered by all the reports, by how the Nuggets continued to up the ante every time the trade talks got close, by the way the Nets were being perceived and portrayed as a team no star wanted to join and by how it affected the players.

    Prokhorov is a business man who sometimes knows the best move is to walk away from a deal. Remember what he said, “There comes a time when the prize is simply too expensive.”

    Prokhorov is trying to save further embarrassment
    No one knows for sure whether Anthony would have agreed to sign a three-year, $65 million extension with the Nets. There also were rumblings that he didn’t want to meet with the Nets -- Antony said as much Sunday night. But Prokhorov and King said a meeting was set for Thursday and Anthony concurred after last night’s game.

    But Prokhorov said all the information he received was “mixed,” that there was no “direct information,” that everything was “complicated.” All along, it had been reported that the Knicks were the team he wanted to play for the most.

    Imagine the embarrassment it would have caused if Prokhorov, King and company met with Anthony and he still said he didn’t want to sign with them.

    ***

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    ***

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

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    Prokhorov calls off Carmelo talks

    Wednesday, January 19, 2011, 11:26 PM [General]

    On Russian Culture Night, Mikhail Prokhorov came to Newark and emphatically said, “Nyet” to the Denver Nuggets.

    The Nets principal owner stunned members of his organization and the media when he announced before last night’s 103-95 victory over the Jazz that he instructed management to back out of talks for Carmelo Anthony.

    This made the giant “Blueprint for Greatness” mural across from Madison Square Garden seem like a paint-by-numbers piece you frame and put in your child’s bedroom. This was Prokhorov showing he has had enough of reading and hearing about all the different things that were going on in the Anthony talks. This was a statement.

    “I am not happy with the way the deal has gone until now,” he said. “It has taken too long. It has been played out in public…. There comes a time when the price is simply too expensive. I am instructing our team to walk away from the deal.”

    Prokhorov also revealed he instructed general manager Billy King and other members of the Nets’ hierarchy that the meeting with Anthony that was scheduled for Thursday was cancelled.

    Wow.

    I’ve written that word here before when describing how bad the Nets can be. But this wow is because no one really could have seen this coming.

    Could it have been a pre-emptive strike since no one knows whether Anthony wanted to be a Net? Sure.

    Could it be a bluff? Sure. But Prokhorov looked and sounded pretty convincing.

    What if the Nuggets call back and want to do a deal? Prokhorov said Nyet again.

    “I think I was absolutely clear on this matter,” he said.

    After all the Nets put into getting Anthony – and from a straight trading partner they were the frontrunners to make a deal with Denver – this was hardly what anyone expected Prokhorov to say.

    With the Nets’ season down the tubes the way it’s been and after they finally received permission from the Nuggets to talk to Anthony, this isn’t what anyone expected Prokhorov to say.

    “I think it’s all positive,” coach Avery Johnson said. “He’s done a solid job of managing. He’s still figuring out a couple of things. He hasn’t been an NBA owner for very long. Whatever decisions he makes we stand by it. We may talk about it privately and we just stand by him 100 percent.”

    Really, who knows if talking to Anthony would have made a difference? If he didn’t want to be a Net, maybe he would have listened and said no thanks. Maybe Prokhorov was trying to save the Nets that potential embarrassment.

    But he really seemed perturbed by how this has been handled and he had seen enough, heard enough, read enough about all the different scenarios and most recently the three-team trade with the Pistons that was close to getting done.

    The media definitely contributed to the madness, but our job is report the things we know and hear. The teams could have done a better job of putting out fires by correcting things that were untrue because the stories and speculation were rampant.

    But the teams probably are thinking if they do speak that they’re admitting they’re talking to the Nuggets or the Nuggets are talking to the Nets.

    In the end, a lot of time has been wasted by so many people and the ones you really feel bad for are the Nets, their fans and their executives.

    King and assistant general manager Bobby Marks worked tirelessly on this deal, put together so many scenarios to put Denver in a difficult position to say no.

    But Prokhorov backed out before Anthony could say ‘nyet’ to the Nets.


    ***

    Coach’s Corner

    “Yeah, not so much for myself. I’m relieved for our players and I’m relieved for Billy. Just move on. We’ll keep building and we’ll keep developing.”

    - Johnson on whether he’s relieved the talks are over.


    ***

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    ***

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

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    Nets return home from trip the same way they left

    Monday, January 17, 2011, 7:36 PM [General]

    The Nets ended their four-game West Coast road trip the same way they started it: with a loss and questions about Carmelo Anthony unanswered.

    That’s how most road trips have gone for the Nets this season, most games for that matter. Their 109-100 defeat at Golden State was the Nets’ sixth loss in a row, 11th in 12 games and 19th in 20 road contests.

    Wow. The Nets are better than last season, or I should say, more competitive than last season, but this does feel a little like last year all over again.

    The truth is the Melo-drama has been overshadowing how bad the Nets are. But that's all Nets have going for them. It’s not the potential of their players; it’s the potential for the Nets to make a trade for a high-scoring small forward.

    Is there any wonder why the Nets are pushing so hard for Anthony and probably willing to give up more than what their fans want to get him? Look at this team and their record after 41 games: 10-31. They battle much more than last season, but that gets you nothing at the end of the day.

    I have been consistent in saying the Nets have to do whatever it takes -- within reason -– to work out an agreement with Denver. Fans want to hold on to most of the picks, Derrick Favors, Damion James -- whoever it is. But you don’t win consistently in the NBA with young, unproven players and by hoarding draft picks. The only way you do win is if one of those guys is Kevin Durant or maybe Blake Griffin. We’re still waiting to see what the future holds for the Clippers, but there’s no denying Griffin is a stud and Durant is one of the top players in the NBA. You cannot say that about Brook Lopez, Favors or anyone on the Nets’ roster.

    The Nets have some good players, some talented players, but how long can they wait for Favors to develop or for Lopez to be a consistent force inside who dominates games at both ends and leads his team to victory? The Nets were done waiting before the season began, which was when they started pursuing Anthony, and rightfully so.

    Like everyone else, I think this needs to end. The story is tired. Readers, fans, viewers, editors, executives, team employees -- everyone is frustrated by the Anthony talks, negotiations, reports, rumors, information and misinformation.

    Here’s what we know for sure as of right now: the Nets are a really bad team and are on pace for 20 wins, but they have the assets and flexibility to engage the Nuggets seriously in conversations regarding Anthony. After that, there’s been some conjecture and bad information. For example: the recent stories that the Nets have been granted permission to speak to Anthony. I had heard they had been granted permission, but league sources said no permission has been granted formally.

    Who do you believe? I know who I believe. I believe an agreement on the three-team trade with Detroit and Denver was close last weekend until the Nuggets asked for more. And I believe the Nets and Nuggets are working toward an agreement now, as we speak, and will continue Monday night and Tuesday.

    The Nets want this done with Mikhail Prokhorov flying in for 'Russian Culture Night' on Wednesday. They want him to meet with Anthony if that’s what it’s going to take to get him to sign an extension. They want Prokhorov here to give Anthony the red-carpet treatment in a presentation and ultimately a press conference.

    But first the Nets and Nuggets have to reach an agreement before all of that can happen. So the Nets came home from the West Coast the same way they left last week –- on a losing streak, with Anthony hanging over their heads and everything still unsettled.

    ***

    Coach’s Corner

    “Offensively, I thought we had our moments. For a team that’s been pretty anemic offensively in certain situations, I thought we had our moments offensively on this trip and we had some good moments defensively. We just couldn’t put them all together at the same time.”

    - Avery Johnson on the trip

    ***

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    ***

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

     

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    Another familiar Net loss, but change is in the air

    Sunday, January 16, 2011, 1:09 AM [General]

    The Nets’ season has been like the movie Groundhog Day.

    Every game seems to be similar and every day there seems to be more reports and rumors about Carmelo Anthony. If you want something to look forward to, here it is: There’s just one more game to go – on this trip and probably for some Nets, too.

    That doesn’t mean the Nets won’t suffer more losses like Saturday night’s 96-89 outcome in Portland. But if the three-team trade with the Nuggets and Pistons goes through and the Nets get Anthony, Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton, you have to believe they will handle themselves better in games like this one.

    Of course, the Nets may need to convince Anthony to join them, but all signs point to an agreement being reached between the teams at some point next week. Saturday night, however, the Nets had a 13-point first-half lead on the Blazers, led by nine in the third period, gave up 17 straight points and regained the lead heading into the fourth.

    In other words, the Blazers, without Brandon Roy, had the Nets right where they want them.

    The Nets’ execution woes appear in every game, every time zone and against every opponent. This was their fifth straight loss and 10th in their last 11 games, dropping them to 10-30 on the season.

    So many of those games looked just like this one.

    In the fourth quarter, the Nets scored just 13 points. After Sasha Vujacic gave the Nets an 87-86 lead with 4:19 left, they missed their next three shots, then committed three straight turnovers, then had another miss before Devin Harris ended the misery.

    Too late. Ball game.

    The misery could continue Monday in Golden State unless the Nets somehow build an insurmountable lead in what could be the last games for this team for Harris, Derrick Favors, Stephen Graham, Quinton Ross, Ben Uzoh and Johan Petro.

    It certainly seems Troy Murphy has played his last game as a Net and it makes no sense to bring back Anthony Morrow, who is rehabbing from a hamstring injury, if he is shipped out the next day.

    The misery could continue if Anthony says no to the Nets and doesn’t sign an extension with them, but the Nets have been confident all along that Anthony wouldn’t walk away from $65 million with a potential lockout looming, or they probably wouldn’t have put as much into this deal as they have.

    Yet you also can’t blame Nets’ officials for putting everything into getting Anthony. This is a team going nowhere as is and they need a major change.

    Maybe Harris, who hasn’t been good these last two games, and Favors would be better if they didn’t have to continue to hear their names in rumors. It has to affect them.

    The guys who are expected to stick around have been good the past couple of games. Brook Lopez had 32, his second-straight 30-point night. Vujacic had 13 points and Kris Humphries grabbed double-digit rebounds again off the bench, finishing with 10 boards.

    “We just turned the ball over at the most inopportune times,” coach Avery Johnson said. “We just couldn’t get in our offense.”

    Seriously, Johnson had used those so many times this season, it’s hard to count how many. He could say them again on Monday, but at least something looks like it’s going to change for the better shortly thereafter.

    ***

    “Like I was telling my team afterward, mental and physical fatigue we got to fight through it. We’ve got to persevere through some of the tough situations on the road if we’re ever going to really be a good team. Hopefully we’ll learn someday from our mistakes and hopefully it will be sometime soon.”
    - 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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    Lopez stands tall in latest Nets' loss

    Saturday, January 15, 2011, 1:51 AM [General]

    This is the way Brook Lopez should play every night. If the long-awaited trade for Carmelo Anthony gets done next week, the Nets center should have more opportunities to have games like last night.

    The Nets didn’t beat the Lakers in Los Angeles -– did you expect they would? -– but at least Lopez responded after hardly playing in the fourth quarter and overtime Wednesday in Phoenix. And it was clear Lopez wasn’t happy about that.

    But the third-year center, the lone player not made available in trade talks for Anthony, had 35 points, on 13-for-19 shooting, in the Nets’ 100-88 loss to Kobe Bryant and the two-time reigning champion Lakers.

    Lopez still didn’t grab 10 rebounds –- he finished with six. But he played with a different attitude as he looked for his shot and got Lakers big Andrew Bynum in foul trouble, rendering him a non-factor.

    “He was aggressive,” Nets coach Avery Johnson said. “That’s what we’re going to need to have every night

    If the Nets get Anthony in the three-team trade with the Nuggets and Pistons, Lopez will have an easier time getting looks inside. Teams can’t double Lopez as much. They have to be aware of Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton on the perimeter, and all of this will open up things for Lopez.

    All signs are pointing to this trade happening, which would be a major coup for the Nets.

    Billups and Hamilton are up in years, but putting the former Pistons backcourt back together with Anthony, Lopez and Kris Humphries, the Nets should have a better chance of beating teams like the Lakers. The Nets would have a better chance against most teams.

    With that lineup, the Nets won’t have many nights like last night’s when two of their starters –- Derrick Favors and Stephen Graham -– go scoreless. I have never seen a team that has two starters go scoreless as often as the Nets.

    But it still comes down to two things: the Nuggets agreeing to a deal and Anthony agreeing to play for the Nets.

    I could see an agreement reached early next week and then Anthony meeting with owner Mikhail Prokhorov, Jay-Z, Billy King and maybe Avery Johnson and Brett Yormark to get him to sign an extension.

    The Nets would rather it never comes to that, that Anthony just says OK upon the trade, so there’s no risk in his turning down a three-year, $65 million extension. The Nets, and their fans, don’t want to even think about that happening.

    So there’s still some work to be done there and plenty of work to be done with this team. But it was interesting to see who played well last night for the Nets and who didn’t. Most of the guys not a part of the trade talks were good and most of the guys in the talks weren’t.

    Lopez was dominant. Sasha Vujacic and Jordan Farmar had additional juice because they were back in L.A. and gave their old fans a good show, scoring 17 and 12 respectively. Kris Humphries’ shot was off, but he grabbed 15 rebounds. Travis Outlaw didn’t stand out, but he had a pair of fastbreak dunks, including one on an alley-oop, which you don’t see much from him.

    Interestingly, toward the very end of the game, those five guys were on the court together at the same time. Eventually, Johnson pulled them and put in some of the seemingly short-term Nets.

    Those players were 5-for-22 from the field, 1-for-5 from the line and totaled 12 points. Devin Harris, who would go to Denver, was ineffective and mistake-prone last night. He had six points, eight assists and seven rebounds.

    The final two games on this trip has to be about making sure Lopez and the longer-term Nets get minutes, touches and shots and the other players stay healthy so nothing interferes with or jeopardizes the potential deal.

    ***

    Coach’s Corner

    “Our guys fought. They fought tooth and nail. They didn’t give in tonight to the crowd, the Laker tradition. Kobe had a good game but we made him work. We thought we did a nice job overall against their starting frontline. Our guys came to play tonight. We just didn’t have enough in the tank during a certain stretch in that fourth quarter, missed a few shots, had a couple of careless turnovers. But our team fought pretty hard tonight.”

    - Johnson on the game

    ***

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

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