On the second night of a back-to-back and in a virtual must-win game because of their upcoming schedule, the Nets were given a little good fortune. But they also seized the moment by burying the depleted Wizards, 115-88.
Washington had eight players and none of them were named Caron Butler, Gilbert Arenas, Brendan Haywood and Etan Thomas. So it was set up for the Nets to win for the third straight time so long as they wanted it.
And they wanted it.
You could tell by the way Devin Harris attacked the basket. He set the tone for the Nets with his aggressiveness and getting inside at will. Harris scored 26 points to pace a balanced offense and admitted it’s been some time since he had a game like this.
“It’s been a while since I got easy shots at the basket,” he said. “It’s been a struggle. I’m constantly taking contested shots. It’s good to finally get a night where I could just kind of control the paint.”
The Nets need more of this because they’re at their best when Harris is getting inside, drawing defenders, drawing fouls or just zipping by everyone for a layup.
If he’s doing that with the way Brook Lopez is playing — three double-doubles in the last three games — the Nets aren’t easy to guard. They still have a guy named Vince Carter, who followed his fifth career triple-double with 20-point, five-assist night.
It’s all good for the Nets, who shot a season-high 61.3 percent from the field. But the best thing for them is after Game 50, a few games after a string of eight losses in nine games, the Nets sit percentage points behind the Bucks for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference.
It’s going to be hard for Milwaukee to stay in the race with Michael Redd out for the year and now Andrew Bogut sidelined for eight weeks. You never wish injury on anyone, but it’s another opportunity the Nets have to seize.
Really, it comes down to what they do and how they fare with their schedule turning ridiculously tough again. They’re off the next two days and then host Denver, play at Orlando and host San Antonio before the All-Star break. When the come back, they travel to Texas to play Houston and Dallas in consecutive games.
That’s what makes these three wins critical, and it may say something about the Nets that they were able to get all three.
They said they didn’t look at the schedule and didn’t know what lies ahead. They all say that. But the important thing is to win the games you must and you should and that’s what the Nets did, especially the last two nights.
The Nets beat Richard Jefferson’s Bucks and then followed that with this stomping of the Wizards. The Nets let the Wizards make a run in the first half, but they put them a way when the opportunity arose.
That’s what good teams do. No one is ready to anoint the Nets a good team because they’re still four games under .500. But they are showing signs that they’re regaining some of the urgency and some of the mentality they had earlier in the season.
It started when they came back from 17 down against the Sixers and held them to two points in the final 8:43 on Saturday. It continued with the last two winnable games. It’s only the second time all season the Nets had back-to-back victories by double-digit margins.
Laughers are rare for the Nets. This one came at the right time, especially with what lies ahead.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)