EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Nets’ recent schedule only helped their attendance figures and made some of the financial losses look better. To some, that’s probably more important than the losses that really matter – in the standings.
Tomorrow night should be another boost in the gate, but could be another ‘L’ where it counts when the Nets face Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.
This ends an amazing week of games that featured three MVP candidates and probably the three best players in the league this season. First it was Dwyane Wade, then LeBron James – the clear-cut winner of the award this season – and now the reigning MVP.
“Is it amazing,” Nets guard Keyon Dooling said, “or is it a sabotage job by the schedulers?”
Dooling was smiling as he said it, but the point is well taken. The Nets were going to have to play these teams anyway, but the timing wasn’t great to put them back-to-back-to-back-to-back. Remember, last night’s loss at Cleveland ended a home-and-home with James’ gang.
This certainly was part of the schedule that stood out from the moment it came out and then even more after seeing how each of the superstars were playing and how they were leading their teams.
In the heart of a playoff race, when you’re fighting for your playoff existence, going west for four games, returning to play the Knicks at New York, and then having the next four against Wade, James, James, and Bryant – that’s a tough stretch to say the least. It’s even tougher because of all the losses the Nets have suffered that they probably shouldn’t have, all the close defeats that they wish they had back. The Nets are hanging on by a thread after their sixth loss in eight games last night in Cleveland.
They’re in 11th place, 3 ½ out, with 11 to play, including the Lakers’ game and one each against the Celtics and Magic. The Nets need help. They need to win games, but they need help because they have to jump three teams right now.
The Pistons, the No. 7 team, are fading and play the Lakers tonight. But Detroit currently has a 4 ½-game lead on the Nets. They still have two games against each other, so you never know. But things don’t look good and even the most optimistic Nets know it.
“It’s going to be tough,” Dooling said. “We got our work cut out for us. Nevertheless we’ve got to play.
“How many times have you seen it come down to the last game, maybe go to a tiebreaker? We’ve been playing good ball. I think the schedule after the Lakers will get a little more favorable for us and then we’ve just got to try and make a run.”
It’s the right attitude to have. The Nets are fighting to stay in it, which is a credit to veterans Vince Carter, Dooling, Jarvis Hayes and Bobby Simmons. They’re being good role models and examples for the young guys.
The Nets could have a run in them as their schedule lightens up and they’re expected to get Devin Harris back probably tomorrow, if not Sunday in Minnesota. But there has to be an even greater sense of urgency and much improvement in the Nets’ execution. As of now, other than the T-Wolves, every team the Nets play are playing for something, whether it be playoff position, homecourt, or just to get in the postseason.
“We have to win as many games as possible,” Carter said. “Watching the standings means nothing if we don’t win. If we’re winning as many games as possible we’re going to beat those teams we have to beat.”
The Nets need to be some good teams, or at least teams better than them. Only two of the 11 are behind them at this point and one is the Knicks on the last day of the season. One, if not both teams, will be out by then.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.).