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.).
The best thing you can say about the Nets’ trip is that it’s over. At least the West Coast portion of it is. They still have a quasi-road game tomorrow at the Knicks and then the schedule really gets tough.
Yes, tougher than going West.
Now we will really find out about the Nets’ mettle — whether Vince Carter can rally them, whether Brook Lopez can go back to being a double-double guy every night and whether Keyon Dooling can inspire them in place of Devin Harris, who is out indefinitely with a sprained left shoulder and strained left deltoid.
We also will learn whether Lawrence Frank will have an even shorter leash on Yi Jianlian, which the coach probably should at this point.
Collectively, the Nets had too many bad moments, too many breakdowns, did too many things that led to the four gut-wrenching losses on the trip that ended terribly in Denver Monday night when the Nuggets grabbed as many offensive rebounds (25) as the Nets grabbed defensive boards (25). That should never happen.
But all of that has to be behind the Nets now. They’re two games back with 15 to play. Their singular focus has to be the playoffs and not worrying about what happened over the last week or in March, which has been brutal.
It will be tough because the reporters will keep reminding them either through our questions or writing. Like now. The Nets are 2-7 and in all but one loss — in Denver — they led in the fourth period. The Nets’ first six losses were by a combined 24 points.
When it’s all said and done, these are the games everyone will point to as the reason the Nets didn’t get in the playoffs, if that in fact does happen, and it’s looking more and more likely that it will.
But the Nets have to put it behind them and concentrate on the Knicks without Harris because after that they have four games against the NBA’s three best players and three MVP candidates.
“It doesn’t get any easier,” Nets president Rod Thorn said.
Dwyane Wade is at the Meadowlands on Friday. All the NBA’s scoring leader has done to the Nets this season is average 35 points, 5.3 assists, three steals and 2.3 blocks in three wins. Lopez remembers what he did to him, swatting him a couple of times late in their last meeting.
Then it’s a home-and-home with MVP frontrunner LeBron James. The Cavs are a game ahead of the Lakers for the NBA’s best record and have lost just once at home. Enough said.
Then it’s Kobe Bryant’s turn when the reigning MVP leads the defending West-champion Lakers into New Jersey Friday for their only visit this season.
Those are four difficult games, much more difficult than at the Warriors, Blazers, Clippers and Nuggets.
That was a winnable trip, and it wound up being winless. Many people probably are predicting winless for these four, especially with Harris’ return date uncertain.
This is where we’ll find what the Nets are made of and whether they learned anything or are more hungry because of what happened on the trip. Their season is not over unless they’re already defeated mentally. Then they really have no shot against Wade, LeBron and Kobe.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Don’t be surprised if Lawrence Frank comes knocking on your door tonight to canvas votes for Devin Harris. Surprisingly, the Nets guard needs your help.
Don’t be surprised if Harris puts out a YouTube video to get your attention and get fans to vote for him for the All-Star Game.
The first returns of the All-Star balloting were announced today and the NBA’s fourth-leading scorer is tenth among Eastern Conference guards in the fans’ voting. Tenth?
Harris reaction was basically that: Tenth?
“I’m tenth?” he asked incredulously.
“Really?” Harris said. “That’s something. I’m tenth.”
Later, before walking away from the interview, unsolicited, Harris said, “Tenth?”
Yes, it’s ridiculous. It really is.
You never want to criticize the fans because they’re allowed to vote for who they want to see. The NBA wants that. But they probably shouldn’t weigh the fans’ vote as heavily as they do because it’s just a popularity contest and players who deserve recognition don’t get it.
Harris has been one of the best players in the East, if not the NBA. He’s averaging 24.8 points per game in a breakout season. Yet he’s behind Luke Ridnour, Jameer Nelson and Derrick Rose. I joked to Harris that Nets’ teammate Maurice Ager is ahead of him, too. It’s that absurd. (Sorry, Mo).
“Hey,” Harris said, “I don’t usually pay attention to a lot of that stuff but it is a little shocking. I don’t know. I’ll continue to do what I do and hopefully it gets better but it’s not something I’m really concerned with.”
If Harris continues to do what he’s been doing and the Nets keep winning, the coaches can’t keep Harris off the team. Harris has received 94,294 votes. To put it in perspective, his teammate, Yi Jianian, has more than 350,000 votes and is third among forwards. He’s getting plenty of on-line votes from China, obviously.
Harris isn’t getting the love you would expect from Jersey, Dallas (where he played before) or Milwaukee, which is where he is from. We know the Nets don’t get big crowds, but fans can vote on line.
Harris is about 530,000 votes behind leader Dwayne Wade and 398,000 behind Allen Iverson. This is where Frank comes in.
“Maybe I’ve got to get on the computer later tonight and give Devin — how many hundred-thousand votes does he need?” Frank asked.
“Six-hundred thousand?” Frank said. “So I’m going to be up late tonight.”
Yeah, but you can only vote once per day, unless you log on as a different user over and over?
“Warn Bergen County,” Frank said. “I’m going to go to every house tonight door-to-door and I’m going to have them punch in a vote. Yi, we’re going to be good there. We have a whole country.”
Seriously, though, Frank and the Nets have more things to worry about than the fans who aren’t coming to the games and aren’t voting for Harris. They have to figure out how to defend better at home, play with more urgency at home and win more games at home.
Some want to point to the lack of fan support for that. The fans have every right to stay home, especially in this economic environment.
If it wasn’t my job to go to games, I don’t know how many I would attend. Probably not many. But I would vote for the players who deserved to be an All-Star. No way should Harris be tenth — not with the year he’s having thus far.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.).