By the end of the Nets’ 102-92 loss to the Hornets last night you almost forgot what happened with Harris the last time he played. For those who forgot: He sat on the bench with a towel over his head, benched along with Vince Carter by coach Lawrence Frank in a Boston slaughter.
How would Harris respond was the biggest question for the last few days. That turned into how is Harris?
The Nets’ leading scorer couldn’t finish this game, as he sat the final 15:57 because of a sore rib that he already has had x-rays on and will have more tests on today.
A CT Scan will be done to determine the severity of the injury, but it can’t be good since Harris described the pain as “sharp,” and said it was “hard to breathe.”
By the end of the game, the Nets’ fourth straight loss wasn’t as important as the possible loss of Harris. For how long? Who knows? He thought he was fine and going to be able to play and then his body forced him to bench himself.
Harris shot just 1-of-11 and had six points. Had he not been hurt there would have been some conspiracy theorists who questioned whether this is the first sign of Harris getting Frank back. There are probably some out there already.
But Harris was hurt. You could see it when he went to the basket and reached for his oblique, or took a shot and reached for his side. He also said he hit the basket pad a time or two.
Harris wasn’t hitting shots early, but he wasn’t playing badly when the Nets were building a nine-point lead in the first half. He was making plays for his teammates with four assists in the first half and two steals. But he couldn’t finish, just like the Nets.
This was a winnable game to open this four-game trip against a seemingly beaten Hornets team, playing without two starters and their backup center. Carter came out on fire, ready to put the benching behind him, and finished with 20 points.
But the Nets couldn’t sustain the effort and execution that helped them build that nine-point lead. Over a 16-minute, 15-second stretch between the second and third periods, the Hornets outscored the Nets 39-14 and Chris Paul accounted for 25 of New Orleans’ points.
Paul was terrific, easily the best player on the floor and he made his teammates’ better.
And he wasn’t throwing the ball to David West and Tyson Chandler, who sat out with Hilton Armstrong due to injuries. Paul played big minutes with seldom-used players Julian Wright, Sean Marks and Melvin Ely. There were some season-highs to go around.
For the Nets it was another case of wasting an opportunity. They showed fight late to get within five down the stretch, but that span over the second and third and a couple of lapses in the fourth made their late run futile.
“What happened in the third quarter is I think frustration took over,” Frank said. “We missed some easy shots, got some fouls called against us. At times we didn’t take great shots. All that added up and there was frustration.
“I think we showed great fight in terms of getting back in there. We said enough’s enough. We’re really beating ourselves. Unfortunately, Paul made some huge plays late.”
Your best players do that, willing their team to victory even in games it looks like they should lose. The Nets may need Carter to do that in San Antonio on Friday and beyond, depending on Harris’ health.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)