EAST RUTHERFORD – Another game, another MVP candidate, another loss for the Nets, but it was a little different than the last two.
LeBron James beat the Nets the last two games with his shot or with his ability to make plays late. Last night against the Lakers, reigning MVP, wasn’t the catalyst during crunch time. Kobe Bryant was scoreless in the fourth. How often does that happen?
Doesn’t matter? All that matters is the Nets couldn’t capitalize, lost 103-95 and improved their chances of being in the NBA Draft Lottery.
Ten games remain and the Nets are 4 ½ behind the Pistons for the East’s last playoff spot. As if they weren’t already, now every game really is a must-win, especially the two against the Pistons and one against the eighth-place Bulls.
The Nets have to beat the teams they’re chasing, especially since they can’t beat the ones near or at the top of the conference.
They’ve played a few of them lately, and this game followed a similar script as the prior two against Cleveland. The Nets’ opponent built a double-digit lead and New Jersey had to fight back just to make it competitive.
They were down 14 in the first half of this one, tied it in the third, allowed a 24-2 run to fall behind 81-59 and then closed to within three with 2:19 remaining. But the Nets couldn’t finish it off – again.
It’s one thing if Bryant was making the plays, but he wasn’t. He missed all four shots he took in the fourth and scored zero points in the period. But Pau Gasol didn’t miss much and Lamar Odom got the biggest rebound of the night, resulting in a stick-back and a five-point lead.
Gasol was brilliant, making up for Bryant’s 5-for-19 game. Gasol was 14-for-19 and finished with 36 points and 11 rebounds. Bryant only had 14, about half his average. But the amazing thing is the Lakers improved to 8-1 when Bryant scores under 20.
This proves that the Lakers aren’t just Kobe and the Bryants. They are a team that knows how to win, even if their best player is off. And they proved that to the Nets twice.
The Lakers beat the Nets in L.A. in November when Bryant was held to 12 points on 5-of-17 shooting. L.A. won that one going away – a 27-point defeat. You can say the Nets have gotten better, but what does that get you at this point?
“We’re running out of time for these consolation prizes,” coach Lawrence Frank said.
There are no consolation prizes. The Nets lost and keep losing. It doesn’t matter that they’re playing good teams close – not at this point of the season.
If it were December or even January, you could say the clichéd these are games they can build on. It’s March and they’re not building on these losses. They’ve beaten only one team with a winning record in March.
If you’re going to make the playoffs, or at least give yourselves a chance, you have to20win some of the games you’re not supposed to win. The Nets have played a bunch of them, played them close, and have nothing to show for it.
The Nets did get Devin Harris back. He missed the past five games because of a shoulder injury. Harris had 13 points and 14 assists but his return couldn’t lift the Nets enough.
Now they get a little reprieve with Minnesota and Milwaukee upcoming. The Nets have to win those games unless they exhale after playing all those title contenders, which would be inexcusable.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)