Nets endure another loss, but move on

Nets-10-21-250.jpgNEWARK, N.J. – This has become a common sight this preseason: the Nets playing at far less than 100 percent and losing to the Knicks.
 
Half of the winless Nets’ six preseason games have been against the Knicks, and half of their six losses have come to their Atlantic Division counterparts. Last night, the Nets came back from 18 down in the third period to lead in the fourth, but still fell 94-92 at the Prudential Center.
 
The Nets have just one more tune up and hope to have Devin Harris and Jarvis Hayes healthy for Friday’s game against the Sixers. They both missed the prior two games; Harris with a strained groin and Hayes with a stress reaction in his right shin and neither have practiced in eight days.
 
In all, Harris, the Nets’ best player and main ball distributor, has missed three preseason games, parts of two others and about eight practices total with different injuries. Courtney Lee, Yi Jianlian, Eduardo Najera have all missed time and Keyon Dooling hasn’t practiced once following off-season hip surgery.
 
This isn’t good for a young team that’s still getting to know one another, learning new offensive sets, trying to develop a defensive mindset and chemistry. Now if the Nets stumble when the season starts it won’t be just because they’re young and superstar-less and starting four guys with less than three years of NBA experience.
 
Little was expected of the Nets last season, but they were healthy at the beginning and were out to prove they were better than most predicted. They surprised by winning their opener on the road and 11 of their first 19 games.
 
Overall the Nets were in much better shape last year – not to mention they had Vince Carter. It could mean trouble when the regular season opens Wednesday at Minnesota.
 
“We’ll have a little bit of a stagger,” Harris said.
 
That’s stagger not swagger. And if the Nets stagger at the beginning they could be down for the count. But Harris tried to put a positive spin on this boxing analogy
 
“Staggering, you’re still moving forward,” Harris said. “Although you’re not getting there as fast you would like to be, you’re still moving forward. Stagger into a run.”
 
Realistically, that’s expecting a lot, but this will be a big week and weekend for the Nets.
 
They practice Thursday, play Friday and then likely will have three more practices and a shootaround before the opener. They hope their players return, there are no more setbacks, and it’s enough to build something because Hayes said the Nets are behind.
 
“From a chemistry standpoint, yeah,” Hayes said. “We haven’t had a full team one game this preseason. We’re trying to implement the younger guys and not having Devin for a big part of the preseason and he’s our point guard. From a chemistry standpoint we still have a little ways to go.
 
“I think it’s something we can somewhat gain some traction on in practice. You can’t gauge anything until everybody gets out there in practice.”
 
So include Hayes among the people unsure of exactly what this team will look like

“We have no idea,” he said.
 
“It’s strange,” Hayes added. “We have guys that can put the ball in the hole. But what roles are going to be on this team, how prominent will that depth chart be – that’s something that we got to all get healthy and get out there for a good week or so and try and come up with.”
 
At least the Nets won’t have to see the Knicks again until Nov. 21. Maybe by then they’ll be 100 percent, have developed chemistry and defined roles and have a win.

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The Nets had a chance to tie the game in the closing seconds after Lee rebounded his own free-throw miss and was fouled. But he misfired on the first foul shot with 1.1 seconds left. He missed the second on purpose. Brook Lopez tried to tip in the miss with his left hand but missed

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The Nets drew 15,721 fans in the final preseason game at Newark, but it’s possible they could play more games here in the future. Among the faces in the crowd were several of prospective owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s representatives, former Yankee and Met Dwight Gooden and Joe Jackson, Michael Jackson’s father.

Douglas-Roberts on a fighting mission

douglasroberts_300_102009.jpgEAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Chris Douglas-Roberts is like that hungry-slash-angry defensive back – he’s not big enough to be a linebacker – who can’t wait until the regular-season starts so he can hit somebody.

Wrong sport, we know, but that’s how Douglas-Roberts acts and talks – and he’s always talking.

The good-natured Nets’ swingman said he would like to see more hitting in practice, more fights. He thinks the team will get closer, tougher and going at it in practice will make the Nets better.

“Last year was my first time ever being on a team that was under .500,” Douglas-Roberts said. “I’ll do anything to try and change that. Whether it’s being more vocal in practice, whatever it has to be. I’ll do anything to change that and mainly trying to make us a tougher team. We need more fights in practice. We need more hard fouls. That makes a tough team.”

This attitude is one of the reasons the Nets think Douglas-Roberts is going to have a breakout year and be in the NBA for a long time. He hates losing. Who doesn’t? Right. But Douglas-Roberts really hates losing, wants to do something about it and has done something about it.

He spent the offseason improving his game and gaining more confidence, which isn’t easy for the secure – and we’re putting it nicely – Douglas-Roberts. He can’t wait to show what he’s got and believes he can help the Nets be better than expected.

Nets coach Lawrence Frank said in-practice fighting isn’t the answer, but loves the passion Douglas-Roberts plays with at all times. The Nets hope it rubs off on other players and can carry it over agianst the opposition.

“The thing is this: the competitiveness,” Frank said. “Like in football, they don’t necessarily encourage fights in practice but go fight the other team.

“One of the greatest competitors I’ve ever been around is Jason Kidd. Now he never got into a fight in practice. My thing is have some fight in you. It doesn’t literally have to be Sonny Liston, but have some fight in your approach.

“I like Chris’ competitiveness. I like his approach. I like his fire. I like that.”

It has gotten Douglas-Roberts in trouble in the past though. Last year, assistant coach Doug Overton screamed at Douglas-Roberts at the end of a practice last year.
 
Douglas-Roberts was upset that in this post-practice game he wasn’t getting any foul calls because he was a rookie. He kept talking and it incited Overton. Cooler hears prevailed, but that’s Douglas-Roberts. And there were several members of the organization who said something to the effect of if all of last year’s Nets had CDR’s competitive fire.

It helps now that Douglas-Roberts is a big part of the rotation, the expected starting small forward for the Oct. 28 opener.

“Every day he comes ready to practice,” Frank said. “He brings juice to the gym. He brings energy.”

The Nets are going to need everyone to bring that “fight” into the games.
 

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No Devin Harris (groin), Jarvis Hayes (stress reaction, right shin) or Keyon Dooling (hip surgery) for tomorrow’s sixth preseason game against the Knicks. Harris and Hayes hope to play in Friday’s final preseason game against the Sixers.

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

 

Harris missed Yanks thriller, will he miss preseason?

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Devin Harris was one of about 50,000 people inside Yankee Stadium for Saturday night’s thriller, but the player known for seeing things before they happen, as well as his timing and ability to seize the moment, left a little early.

The Nets’ All-Star point guard was gone before Alex Rodriguez’s home run tied the game and missed how the Yankees pulled out the win.

“We left right before,” Harris said of A-Rod’s blast. “We heard it on the way out.”

Didn’t you want to turn back?

“We were already outside the Stadium,” he said. “We didn’t want to turn back.”

Granted, it was late and raining, but Harris could have waited it out. He was in a luxury box after all, right next to Derek Jeter’s. Oh well, Harris said, he plans to attend some more games as he expects the Yankees to reach the World Series.

“If we’re in town, I’m there,” Harris said.

We wondered how someone who grew up in Milwaukee became a Yankees’ fan. The natural thought was because of CC Sabathia and what he did for the Brewers last year. That wasn’t it, although his signing with the Yankees didn’t hurt.

Harris said he’s been a Jeter fan, “since I can’t remember.” Harris has met his favorite Yankee, but not Sabathia yet.

He’s a big fan of Sabathia’s because he helped the Brewers reach the playoffs for the first time in Harris’ lifetime. He wasn’t alive when Gorman Thomas, Robin Yount, Cecil Cooper and the rest of Harvey’s Wallbangers lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1982.

“He was pitching on two days rest and going nine innings,” Harris said. “It’s crazy. He was a workhorse for us. We wanted to keep him but we had to defer his money. We’d pay him the 100 million, but, OK, you might get it in seven years. I wouldn’t have taken it either.”

After what Sabathia did last season, Harris has no problems with Yankees manager Joe Girardi using him on three days’ rest.

“Especially with the amount of rest he got toward the end of this season,” Harris said. “Coming to the end of last season, it was one day, two days’ rest. When we got to the playoffs he didn’t have much left. Now on regular rest, I don’t think three days would be a problem.”

Harris, a former pitcher, said he couldn’t have thrown on three days rest because “I threw curveballs really at a young age…I did have a wicked curveball, though.”

“I played all the way up until high school. Then I had to make that choice. I think I made the right choice. What do you think?”

Harrris made the right choice, but not on Saturday.

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The Nets may be without Harris for the rest of the preseason with a strained right groin.

He missed Friday’s game against the Knicks, but the Nets hoped he would resume practicing Sunday or Monday. But Harris felt tightness and now likely will miss Wednesday’s preseason game.

If Harris can’t practice Thursday he may not play in Friday’s exhibition finale against the Sixers. The regular-season opener is Oct. 28 at Minnesota.

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

More questions than answers after loss to Knicks

lee250.jpgNEW YORK — Three of the Nets’ five top scorers from last season were sitting behind the bench showing off their wardrobes instead of running up and down the court showing their skills.

The Nets better hope something changes by Oct. 28 when this season starts with a winnable game at Minnesota. They expect to be near 100-percent by then, but you can’t say for sure.
 
There are two preseason games and roughly nine practices/shootarounds before the first tip. Anything can happen, but the Nets can’t afford anything else.
 
Not long after these words were written, likely starting small forward Chris Douglas-Roberts left the 93-89 preseason to the Knicks last night with a strained neck. He’s day-to-day, but already said he won’t miss any time. Still, one of the Nets’ goals in the next two weeks has to be to get healthy.
 
The Nets already know they won’t have Keyon Dooling for the opener and may not see him for the first few weeks at least. Devin Harris is supposed to return Sunday from a strained right groin and Jarvis Hayes hopes to play in next Friday’s preseason finale, presuming the stress reaction in his right shin is fine.
 
They’re banged up, winless through five preseason games and have unsurprisingly been inconsistent on both of ends of the floor.
 
“This group is getting a little bit frustrated that we’re not making as much progress as we expect from ourselves,” coach Lawrence Frank said. “We have to expect better.
 
“We want to be farther along than we are now. We have a lot of work to do.”
 
With about 12 days to go, many questions remain unanswered. Some of them may stay that way until weeks, if not months, into the season.
 
Among them:

What’s the rotation?
Our best guess is Harris, Courtney Lee, Brook Lopez, Yi Jianlian and Chris Douglas-Roberts are the starters with Rafer Alston, Terrence Williams, Jarvis Hayes and Josh Boone coming off the bench with either Bobby Simmons or Eduardo Najera. When Dooling returns, things will change, and someone (or more than one player) will be unhappy.
 
What’s their best lineup?
It’s probably four smalls and Lopez, but it depends on matchups and Yi’s development. If we had to guess today, based on past performance and health, it’s Harris, Lee, Douglas-Roberts, Hayes and Lopez. Other than Lopez, the Nets’ smalls/wings have been their best players.
 
Has Yi improved?
Some days it looks like he has and others it doesn’t. Yi looked like he had last night against the Knicks. He had 10 points and six rebounds in the first quarter. He had at least as many points and boards in the same game 14 times last year, just once after returning from a broken pinky finger in February. Yi finished with 21 and 11 last night. But to quote Frank when asked about Yi, “It’s going to be a process.”
 
Will the Nets defend consistently?
No one knows. They are trying, but haven’t been successful. It’s their only shot at winning. Although they picked it up in the second half last night and Lopez was a catalyst with five blocks, they still have lapses on the defensive end. It should be better once they have a set rotation. Then again, they will also be playing better competition.
 
Who’s their go-to guy?
The Nets hope they play enough close games to have a go-to guy. Harris is the likely candidate with Lopez next. But Douglas-Roberts has shown he can get to the basket against most players, and the other night in a nailbiter against Boston, the Nets were going to Lee. This could be another process, but think Harris or Lopez first.
 
Will the Nets score enough?
That goes back to their defense, because they need to score off it, using their quickness to get some steals and easy baskets. But they have to be able to score in the halfcourt, too, and they get too disjointed sometimes and take quick shots or miss the open man. After putting up 107 in the first preseason game against the Knicks on Oct. 4, the Nets have scored 88, 92, 93 and now 89. Seemingly, they would score more with a full complement of players, but nothing is guaranteed. 

Harris hoping to shed fragile tag

harris250.jpgEAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Devin Harris knows the phrase “injury-prone” is linked to his name, and he would like to change that.

He’s off to a bad start, though.
 
The Nets’ All-Star point guard spent about five minutes yesterday talking about his injuries this preseason and what he can do to prevent them, and what he did in the off-season to try and strengthen his ankles, which have been the cause of many days off since early 2008.
 
Harris tried several things, mostly ligament-strengthening exercises. He did some acupuncture and chiropractic work as well as band exercises to strengthen the ligaments.
 
“Things you don’t do until you injure it to strength it,” was how Harris described it. “We’re doing more precautionary.”
 
Who knows if the way Harris plays contributes to his injuries. His strength is stopping and starting, changing speeds and directions. He breaks defenders’ ankles — figuratively speaking — and has done some damage to his own.
 
Harris missed 14 games in 2008, three games last year, one preseason game and part of another and a practice this year because of left ankle injuries. He also tweaked his right ankle early in camp. Right now, Harris has a strained groin that will keep him out of tomorrow’s exhibition game against the Knicks.
 
But you can tell with all the extra stuff Harris did, aside from regular basketball activity during the break, he really wants to shed the “always injured” tag.
 
“I can only control what I can control on the floor,” said Harris, who has missed 31 games due to injury the past two seasons. “Things happen. I don’t know why they happen. You put all the time in [during] the summer. Sometimes nagging things happen. I can only control what I can control.”
 
This is a big year for Harris on many levels. It’s the first time in his six NBA seasons that he is the star of the team, the focal point, the leader. He had somewhat of a dry run last year, but Vince Carter was still here. Now it’s just Harris.
 
There are other guys that will be featured, such as Brook Lopez and Courtney Lee, and, thanks to a strong camp, perhaps Chris Douglas-Roberts. There are other guys who can be leaders like Rafer Alston, Jarvis Hayes and Keyon Dooling.
 
But this is Harris’ team and he knows that how they play will reflect on him. So naturally, he wants the Nets to do better than everyone expects and he wants to make sure he’s out there, directing them and leading them to that type of season.
 
He says that’s why the Nets are taking this approach of resting him now so things don’t worsen. It makes sense; it’s more important that Harris is out there for 82.
 
One good thing is that Harris is not just getting treatment, or sitting off on the side when the team is practicing. He’s also on the floor, pulling guys to the side, advising them, encouraging them, telling them where they should be. He did the same thing the other night when the Nets lost to the Celtics in Newark.
 
“I’m watching practice, [seeing] things I’m trying to correct, whether it’s Brook with his roles or [Terrence Williams] when he’s running the point or [Douglas-Roberts],” Harris said. “Anything I can correct, I try to help those guys throughout the practice and try to build a relationship with those guys.
 
“Even though I’m not physically out there, I’m going to try to help them from a mental aspect.”
 
The Nets need Harris physically on the floor, and he wants to be there, and expects to be there. He said these preseason setbacks are no cause for concern.
 
“Until I miss a whole season,” Harris said, “I don’t worry about it.”
 
Harris and the Nets don’t even want to think about that.
 
***
Joining Harris on the bench for tomorrow’s game at The Garden will be Jarvis Hayes, who has a stress reaction in his right shin. He will miss at least a week.

Nets don’t know how to win yet

NEWARK, N.J. — Everyone got a glimpse of what the Nets would look like once they’re whole, but it lasted about a half.
 
Then in the second half of Tuesday night’s game, and particularly the fourth quarter, the Nets looked like everyone probably expected them to this season.
 
They struggled offensively, missed free throws, couldn’t get enough stops and had overall  poor execution on both ends. What was once a 14-point lead turned into a 91-88 Nets’ preseason loss to the Celtics. These were the Celtics without Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen for the entire game and Rasheed Wallace for the fourth period.
 
nets286_101309.jpgBut it doesn’t matter who the Nets are playing. They can’t have the kind of letdown they had in a game they should have won.
 
Maybe it’s different, maybe the execution is better if Devin Harris didn’t leave at halftime with a strained right groin because the Nets didn’t have a go-to guy on the floor down the stretch.
 
Chris Douglas-Roberts, who continues to impress, was the most productive with six of their 11 points. But he missed two critical free throws in the fourth, including one with 1:29 left that would have put the Nets up two.
 
The Nets missed five foul shots overall and gave up a crucial rebound off a Celtics’ missed free throw with 13.1 left.
 
Rajon Rondo’s brick wound up in Glen Davis grasp, resulting in one made free throw for the man known as Big Baby. Seconds earlier, Davis rejected a Courtney Lee drive that could have given the Nets a one-point lead.
 
Even without their Big Three and a big fourth, the Celtics know how to win. The Nets don’t yet.
 
“The Celtics now have developed a culture where you saw their intensity level rise up,” coach Lawrence Frank said. “For us, we know what it feels like. We’ve been there. Now we’re trying to reestablish.
 
“The thing that’s disappointing is we weren’t able to raise our level of intensity. Regardless of who’s on the floor — they were without some of their best players. So it’s not about playing close. You get these experiences, but we have to continue to get better regardless of the score. You like to win, but we can’t get outworked.”
 
The ending ruined what could have been a very good night for the Nets. They played at the Prudential Center for the first time — perhaps a temporary home away from home until Brooklyn is built — and had a good crowd of nearly 13,000.
 
Playing with a full complement of players for the first time as Lee and Harris were on the floor for the first time together, the Nets started fast. They showed what their strength is going to be — running the floor, getting into the passing lanes, creating shots for each other.
 
With Harris, Lee, Douglas-Roberts and Brook Lopez combining for 45 points on just 25 field goal attempts, the Nets raced out to a 60-47 lead at the half.
 
“Guys running the break, getting out, getting ahead, passing it ahead and we finished at the rim, I thought we had a good pace,” Harris said. “With CDR and Courtney out there together they’re good wings. I thought those guys were tremendous even in the second half. That’s more encouraging to see when our wings are playing that well.
 
“That allows me to be a little bit more free and give those guys the ball and it takes pressure off myself and Brook.”
 
They all finished with solid numbers as Lee had 21 in his first start and Douglas-Roberts, who started five-of-five, had 19 and Lopez 17 and 10. But those numbers mean little because of the ending.
 
All it means is the Nets can be fun to watch when they’re all together, but they’ve been banged up a lot in the backcourt already and continue to be. They hope that — as much as the endgame — isn’t a sign of what’s to come.
 
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.).