After what happened out West, this shouldn’t have happened back East, but you can’t say it was too surprising.
After watching this team and this league for so many years, you knew it was going to be hard for the Nets to play with the same fire and emotion they displayed in winning the last three games of their four-game Thanksgiving week trip. It would be hard for Devin Harris to maintain the level of play he displayed late in Sacramento and all game in Utah and Phoenix.
In no way does that mean the Nets should have lost, and lost so badly, to the Wizards, the worst team in the East and the only winless team on the road — that is before last night. The Nets should have had some fire and passion and emotion, but they didn’t and were trounced, 108-88, ending their three-game winning streak and whatever good feelings they brought home with them from the West coast.
“We played a whole lot different tonight than we did in all four games on the trip,” coach Lawrence Frank said.
What was missing? You guessed it: energy. It’s a common theme. The Nets got away with it for two quarters as they only trailed 51-50 at the break, but it caught up to them in the third in a big way.
The Wizards outscored the Nets 35-12 in the third. They made Harris, especially, and Vince Carter look mortal as they combined for 34 points on 13-of-31 shooting overall. The Wizards made the Nets look like a team that didn’t deserve all the hype and hoopla they’ve been receiving lately.
“You don’t fall into that trap where you win three-of-four, and you’ve arrived,” Frank said wisely. “It’s not like that. There are so many teams just like us where you’re going to go on stretches where you look good and you’re going to go on stretches where you don’t play up to your potential where you’re going to get beat.
“Our margin of error, like many teams in this league, is very minimal. You have to play well to win.”
The Nets have done this before. We’ve seen it here in this building at least five times in eight games this season after countless times last season. What we’re also seeing is that sometimes the Nets play down to their level of their competition.
They are 6-3 against teams that were at least .500 at the start of Tuesday and are now 3-5 against sub-.500 teams. That’s also their road-home split – 6-3 away and 3-5 home.
Now with Minnesota coming in on Friday, a sub-.500 team, trends and statistics say the Nets could be in trouble, except, of course, if you take stock into a conversation Carter had with Harris at the end of the game.
“The next team has to pay for it,” Carter said, “plain and simple.”
The Timberwolves probably aren’t shaking, but it’s good Carter said that and seemed upset after this loss. He’s taking it harder than he may have earlier in this career. He’s performing the duties as captain and leader.
But Carter and the Nets have to make sure it’s not just words and that they make Minnesota pay. The best way to get this game out of their system and still make the West trip count for something is to not go on a losing streak, especially against what would seem to be inferior teams.
Like Frank said, though, there are no inferior teams. The Nets haven’t arrived yet. They had a good week and were feted for it. Maybe it was too soon. Only they can answer that.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)