Tagged: Boston Celtics

Another strong effort ends in another loss

nets420_032509.jpgCLEVELAND — The Nets had their chances to beat the Cavaliers, which is amazing in itself.
 
Without Devin Harris and with the Cavaliers playing for a chance to set a franchise mark for wins and continuing their march for an NBA-tying record for victories at home, the Nets had Cleveland on the ropes.
 
The fans were a little quiet, seemingly shocked by what they were watching, but they were ready to make noise. Deep inside they figured LeBron James would not let them lose and that’s what we were all witnesses to in the Cavaliers’ 98-87 victory Friday night.
 
James didn’t have a big scoring night, finishing with 22 points, but he was uber-effective and made every single play down the stretch.
 
You have to credit his teammates too for making the shots, but that’s what playing with someone likes James does. It gives everyone open shots. It makes everyone better.
 
It all happened after the Nets erased a 13-point deficit and tied the game, 72-72. From there, James scored or assisted on 19 of the Cavaliers’ next 21 points, including 12 straight after the Nets took an 82-81 lead with 3:53 left.
 
That’s what great players do. They read the defense and they make plays for themselves or their teammates. When James doubled, he kicked. When he had an opening, he took it. He had two field goals, four free throws and four assists in the fourth period — three of them on threes.
 
This is why James is going to win the MVP award and the Cavaliers are expected to play into June. They seem to be a team of destiny this season, with 58 wins, a 33-1 mark at home and the ability to play through injuries to key players.
 
The Nets, on the other hand, seem destined for the Lottery, despite all of their effort. They played well, played hard, fought against the NBA’s best team for the second time in four nights. But, in the end, they didn’t make plays down the stretch.
 
They let the Cavaliers score on their last 10 possessions. The Nets shot 2-for-11 after they took their only lead since 5-4. It’s nothing new. Late-game execution has cost the Nets so much this season, and especially this month.
 
All that remains is 11 games and a glimmer of hope — a glimmer at most.
 
They’re not done, but they’re close. They sit in 11th place, 3½ behind Chicago, and their next game is against the Lakers. If trends continue the Nets will play them close and then lose the game late. That’s what they did in their last four games against division leaders: Boston, Orlando and Cleveland twice.
 
“We’re trying to make the playoffs, so every game is so important,” coach Lawrence Frank said. “When you’re this deep into the season and you’re desperate to make the playoffs, we’re going to have to find a way to win some games that we’re ‘not supposed to win.’
 
No one’s going to make it easy because everyone’s playing for something. Cleveland and the Lakers are battling for the best record, for home-court advantage in the Finals. We just have to find a way to win some of these games.”
 
After the Lakers’ game, things lighten up a little with the T-Wolves and Bucks in a back-to-back. Then the Nets play the Pistons, are at Chicago, home for the Sixers, at Boston and Detroit and home for Orlando. There are several games in there that the Nets are not supposed to win, never mind the quote-unquote.
 
Maybe the Nets will be boosted by the return of Harris, which could happen Friday. But time is running out. All these close games show the Nets are fighting and staying competitive, which is good, but they’re losing and each defeat moves them one step closer to next season.
 
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.).

Playing through pain and remaining positive

carter250_011609.jpgEAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Vince Carter is not in Shaquille O’Neal’s class.
 
You can take any way you want, but from a health standpoint Carter is much better off than his good friend Shaq. It could be that Carter is about 100-150 pounds lighter than Shaq.
 
“Yeah, or 200,” Carter joked.
 
The comparison came up today because Shaq takes some back-to-back games off to keep his body right.
 
“I’m on my way,” Carter said. “I’m on my way. I’m not quite 39, 40 or how ever old Shaq is.”
 
Shaq turns 37 in March. Carter will be 32 in less than two weeks. But the biggest thing is neither is playing their age. Shaq is playing his best ball in years, averaging 17.7 points and 9.0 rebounds and Carter has been terrific, despite being a little banged up.
 
He had a hip injury earlier in the week and hurt his ankle in Wednesday’s loss at Boston. He was 1-for-10 that night and 4-for-14 in Thursday’s loss to Portland, but Carter said it’s improved.
 
“It actually feels better today than it did the last two days,” Carter said.
 
The Nets hope he feels even better tomorrow when they try to avenge their 32-point loss to the Celtics at home. Carter wouldn’t blame his bad shooting on his injury, but it probably played a part.
 
It’s no secret when Carter plays well and hits big shots, the Nets have a much better chance to win. The Nets haven’t had big games from Carter and Devin Harris together in a while, but Harris has missed 3½ games recently.
 
Maybe that changes tomorrow, especially if Carter feels better and Harris’ pride kicks in after he was outplayed the other night by Rajon Rondo.
 
They need this game, too. They’ve lost two straight and after playing Boston, they’re go to New Orleans, San Antonio, Memphis and Oklahoma City. So, this could turn into a long losing streak if the Nets aren’t careful.
 
But one good thing for the Nets has been Carter’s positive attitude through bad times and his desire to play through pain. He wants to play all 82 games.

“I pride myself on it,” Carter said. “That’s what I want to do, especially being one of the older guys and I see all these young guys falling down like flies.
 
“You always hope you can last. I try to play through some of the pain and injuries that I have. Sometimes [trainer] Timmy [Walsh] is like, ‘Hey, let’s be smart about it.’ I’m like I’m being smart. I want to go out there and play.
 
“I just try to take care of my body. It’s always a little luck out there. I’ve been fortunate.”
 
The Nets have been, too.
 
*****

Carter saw the U.S. Airways flight 1549 crash land into the Hudson River from his Weehawken bedroom window. Carter still was in awe today.
 
“It’s not something you expect to see out of your window,” he said. “I’m not one that’s looking out the window every day and the day I decide to there’s a plane landing in the Hudson. It was one of those things you never forget.”
 
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.).

Nets look like boys among men in Boston

pierce250_011409.jpgBOSTON — The Nets thought they could play with the Celtics, and not just because they allegedly were struggling before Wednesday’s game.
 
Confidence isn’t a problem for the Nets. They think they can play with anyone, and they should. But they shouldn’t be overconfident and were not suggesting that they were in this game. To beat the defending champs, though, you have to execute well on both ends, want the rebound more than they do and want the loose ball more than they do.
 
You know the Celtics are going to play hard. You have to play harder.
 
The Nets didn’t. They didn’t do a lot of things and wound up suffering their worst loss of the season, a 118-86 creaming in Beantown that showed the difference between a champion and a playoff hopeful.
 
If nothing else, this game should show the Nets what it takes to be great and what it takes to beat a great team. It should have sunk in already and reverberate in their minds, especially right now when they play four more games against some of the NBA’s top teams.
 
“Back to the drawing board,” Devin Harris said.
 
“It’s back to the drawing board and we have to find our way back tomorrow,” Vince Carter said.
 
There’s nothing like clichés to give you the impression that the Nets really got the magnitude of this loss.
 
No doubt they were upset, but they’re never going to be as upset as a fan, coach or executive.
 
For the most part, players forget things by the time they get home. But coach Lawrence Frank, Carter and Harris should make sure the Nets don’t forget this one too quickly. They have to learn from it. That’s not a cliché. That’s reality.
 
The Nets face Portland tonight. They host Boston on Saturday. They’re at New Orleans and San Antonio to open a four-game trip that runs through Memphis and Oklahoma City.
 
The last two are winnable, of course. But the Nets could drop all of these games if what happened here didn’t register and doesn’t linger.
 
The Nets have accomplished nothing to this point. They’re just one of the East teams, hanging around at the bottom of the playoff race, that likely will be easy prey for the Cavaliers, Celtics or Magic — unless they watch what Boston did to them and use that going forward.
 
Check out these numbers:
Fastbreak points: Boston 19, New Jersey 5
Rebounds: Boston 45, New Jersey 32
Field-goal percentage: Boston 56.4, New Jersey 38.8
Assists: Boston 28, Nets 14
Turnovers: Nets 20, Boston 17.
 
The one category the Nets win is the one they don’t want.

“That’s what disappointing,” Frank said. “It just shows you just how hard they work. When talent works hard like that and you can’t stay at the level, you get embarrassed. They’re a talented team that outworked us and as a result we got embarrassed.”
 
The Nets can’t forget what happened to them or it could happen again and again and again.
 
*****
 
Carter left the game in the first period after Brian Scalabrine rolled on his leg, but he returned. Little good it did him or the Nets. Carter was 1-for-10 with four points.
 
He said it was right above his ankle that was bothering him and it did affect his “lift off,” but Carter expects to play against the Blazers on Thursday night when the Nets shoot for their fifth straight home win.
 
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.).