EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — You can’t underestimate the importance of what happens before a team leaves for a long road trip. Look at how the Nets’ season has gone.
And if it continues, the Nets could and should have a successful four-game trip to the West Coast.
First of all, they’re in the Staples Center, and they don’t face the Lakers. That makes it promising right off the bat.
But go back to November when the Nets went west after back-to-back wins, including the thrilling last-second victory in Toronto on the Vince Carter reverse alley-oop. The Nets lost to the Lakers but went on to beat the Kings, Jazz and Suns with Devin Harris blowing up as a viable All-Star candidate.
Then go back to January, when the Nets headed to New Orleans after three straight defeats, two of them humiliating on the scoreboard and for some players personally, as Harris and Carter were benched for the second half of a 20-point loss to the Celtics.
The Nets went 1-3 on that trip.
They left today, coming off a difficult stretch of games decided in the final minute. The Nets went 2-3 but won the last one against the Knicks on Sunday and left for the Bay Area feeling they had a shot to do some damage on this trip.
“There’s momentum in this league, no doubt about it,” veteran guard Keyon Dooling said. “Momentum can swing good or bad. The win we had last game definitely was a morale booster. We’re feeling a little better about ourselves going out on the road.”
There are plenty of reasons for the Nets to feel good, but they don’t want to feel too good. It all could change quickly if the Nets don’t come to play on Wednesday against the Warriors, especially with a game in Portland looming.
After that, they have the Clippers, which I’m penciling in as a win, and then the helter-skelter Denver Nuggets, who could beat anyone and lose to anyone.
This is a very winnable trip for the Nets, who should go 2-2 at worst, barring injury and a lack of focus. But the latter shouldn’t happen if they truly embrace what’s at stake.
The playoff race is tight with the Nets just one-half game out as of this writing. They’re also just a game out of 12th, so there can be no nights off. The Nets may not win every game, but they have to play with the effort and urgency they’ve shown in the last seven games, during which they went 4-3.
Presently, some things seem to be working in the Nets’ favor. Their point guard is on a roll and said getting this team to the playoffs “is the only thing left to do,” Yi Jianlian looks more comfortable and is playing better lately, and the Nets are healthier than the teams they’re battling, for the most part.
Carter hurt his knee the last game, but he’s playing. Bobby Simmons has a strained left shoulder, and Jarvis Hayes is playing with partially torn ligaments in his left thumb. But they’re playing.
The Bucks lost Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut. The Bulls are without Luol Deng. The Pacers have lost Mike Dunleavy, Jr., and have been without Danny Granger. Those injuries eventually should catch up to them.
The Nets’ overall schedule is basically brutal, but they could combat that with Harris continuing to live up to his All-Star status, Brook Lopez and Yi furthering their development, and Carter lifting his game to the level we all know he can.
You don’t want to put it all on Carter, but he’s a guy who’s been here before, more so than Harris, and probably will have to elevate his game and even take over some of them for the Nets to earn a playoff spot.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)