Winning the only hope for Nets

nets_250_040309.jpgThe Nets don’t have much left – much of anything.

Much time, much room for error, or much hope, and that makes tomorrow’s contest at Chicago a much-needed game, a must-win.

The Nets have been playing must-wins for a while, but this really is it.

A loss drops the Nets 5 behind the Bulls with six games to play. If Detroit loses, too, then the Nets are five in back of the Pistons with six to play. But if Detroit wins tomorrow and the Nets lose, they’re 5 out with six left and a loss Sunday at home to Philadelphia means they’re officially eliminated.

Got it? Don’t worry about it. There might be another scenario or tiebreaker rule that we’re forgetting and they could be ousted tonight (not really, tonight), but you get the picture. Hopes are slim and a win means the Nets will stay afloat through the weekend.

For anyone who thinks it doesn’t matter, you’re wrong. Does it matter if they get the 11th pick or the 10th pick in the draft? Either way, they’ll try and move up or they’ll tell you they got exactly whom they wanted.

The Nets should want to play well, play hard and try and finish with the best possible record to finish off what had been a relatively positive season before the end of March kicked in.

This isn’t just about those two no-shows. It’s about that West Coast trip and all the narrow defeats.

They played hard in many of those games, which is important, but they were losses. Then you add those games when the Nets played as if they didn’t care, and you find coach Lawrence Frank could be in trouble and the reputations of the players become sullied.

The Nets are better than that, even though no one thought they would be good at anything this season. They spent so much of the season wanting to disprove the writers and prognosticators who said they would finish 14th out of 15 teams in the East. Frank joked they were picked 16th out of 15th.

Really, none of that matters now. It’s about playing hard, fighting to the end, playing for the coach who has helped many of the players have career years or better years than expected. It’s also about playing for the organization and the fans, so the Nets have to approach this weekend as their postseason, approach it the way they did the Detroit game the other night when they were determined to show they hadn’t given up on the season or as Keyon Dooling said, “mailed it in.”

That game told you a lot about the Nets, but this weekend will, too. Chicago is a fun city and it’s an afternoon game, so the Nets better make sure they get some rest tonight. Their record in games that start in the afternoon isn’t good. In fact, it’s embarrassing.

They have only played two – lost both – but it’s the way the lost that counts. The first one, versus Boston, will be remembered as the game Frank benched Devin Harris and Vince Carter for the second half after the Nets trailed by 29 at the break. The second was last Sunday in Minnesota, when the Nets were down 18 in the first half, so the first half will determine if the Nets are into it, and have come to play. They can’t afford a repeat of last week when they hardly played against the Timberwolves Sunday and then returned and played even less against the Bucks Monday.

This is a similar scenario. At Chicago for Saturday afternoon, at home Sunday night for Philly. The teams this weekend are better, both likely headed to the playoffs. But the opponent doesn’t matter. The Nets have to treat this weekend like a playoff series. All the way around, they have to approach it much differently than their last road-afternoon, home-night back-to-back.

Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)

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