ORLANDO – The Nets don’t want to admit it, but this is getting old.
They play a good team tough, actually have a lead in the fourth quarter and can’t close out the game. Three times it’s happened this week. The Orlando Magic were the beneficiaries of it last night, winning, 105-102, against the Nets.
These games have been eerily similar. Ten total points have separated the Nets from the Hornets, Celtics and Magic.
It sounds good if you’re the Memphis Grizzlies or Oklahoma City Thunder, and it would have sounded good if this was November. But the Nets are in a playoff race, so each of these close losses hurt a little more, even if they won’t say it.
The Nets are taking the positive spin, saying this is the effort they need to play with, and if they keep doing it things will go in their favor.
Eventually, though they’re going to have to make plays late against good teams because they still have six more games against division leaders and seven more against teams with winning percentages above .600
With 20 games remaining, the Nets are 1 ½ games out of the last playoff spot. Every loss hurts, nevermind how hard the play.
In Friday night’s game, the Nets were on fire, shooting 60 percent for much of the first half, which allowed them to withstand the dominance of Dwight Howard. They were still shooting 55 percent in the fourth when they were up 97-90 with just over six minutes to play.
Those last six minutes crushed the Nets, just like the last minute crushed them against the Hornets and last 65 seconds against the Celtics. Each loss was different, different people made mistakes, different shots were missed, but there was something eerily similar about each of them.
“It stings,” Devin Harris said. “We’ve had leads going late into the games. We missed some shots. I thought tonight was a better effort execution wise. We got good shots at the basket. They just didn’t go down. We played good defense. But they made a few more plays.
“Look at the positive thing, the effort level is there, we’ve been playing great the last six games. We just haven’t been able to finish games out. If we keep getting the type of effort, it’s going to be better for us later in the season.”
In this game, the Nets missed nine of their last 10 shots, including Bobby Simmons’ go-ahead three with the score 104-102 and Vince Carter’s game-tying three just before the horn sounded.
In each of these losses, the Nets have ended the game on a deficit, a few misses in a row. Eventually, the shots may fall. Then again, maybe they won’t.
Playing better defensively will make a difference. The Magic only scored 22 in the fourth, but that doesn’t matter if the Nets only score 16. It also doesn’t matter if the Nets give up 60 in the first half.
The Nets were up 97-90 about midway through the fourth. They gave up 15 the rest of the way and scored five.
They were caught in two crucial mismatches late, with Harris on 6-foot-10 Hedo Turkoglu, who hit back-to-back baskets after the score was tied that ultimately sent the Magic to the win.
The other night, it was a defensive lapse against Ray Allen and Paul Pierce when Allen was left open for the game-tying three.
The Nets keep giving themselves chance to win, but they also keep making mistakes. They have to correct them, especially against good teams, if they want to make the playoffs.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Watch out, Orlando.
Just kidding, or since we’re on the web: LOL.
Dwight Howard and the Magic aren’t afraid of the suddenly big, bad Nets. But it will be interesting to see how those big, bad Nets follow up Saturday’s unexpected, head-shaking victory when they travel to Disney World to face one of the biggest and baddest men and teams in the East.
What you are about to read is not a misprint: the Nets beat the Denver Nuggets 114-70 Saturday night.
Yes, the same Nuggets’ group that is off to the best start in their NBA history and the same one that had lost just once to a sub-.500 team before last night.
It was sick what the Nets did to those very Nuggets. The 10-point lead went to 20 and then to 30 and then to 40.
Everyone kept waiting for Carmelo Anthony to hit a flurry of shots or Chauncey Billups to start burying some threes or some of their physical players like Kenyon Martin or J.R. Smith or Nene or Chris Andersen to commit a hard foul to stop the barrage.
Never happened and, as a result, the Nets had one of their most ridiculous results in their NBA history.
It would have been one thing had it come against the Wizards the other night when Washington had eight guys and none of them were named Caron Butler or Gilbert Arenas. But the Nuggets were healthy and rolling and were humbled and humiliated.
Sometimes you’re one step too slow,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “Tonight, we were two steps too slow.”
The disparities in effort, stats, hustle plays and teamwork were almost as bad as the point differential. Then again, that’s why the point differential was what it was.
Before we get to some of those numbers, try these on for size: the 44 points equaled the second-largest margin of victory for the Nets in their NBA lifetime. Another bucket or two more foul shots, and the Nets would have set a new one.
The win was the Nets’ season-high fourth in a row, and it got them off to a great start on this brutal stretch of games pre- and post-All-Star break. After Orlando, the Nets host the Spurs. And, after a five-game respite, they return to the practice floor to prepare for Houston and Dallas.
So, yes, the Nets needed this win for their psyche as well as the standings.
They all tried to downplay it, but the last time they had a patch like this – versus Boston, Portland, Boston, New Orleans, San Antonio – the Nets were 0-5, lost by an average of 14.2 and Vince Carter and Devin Harris were benched for one second half.
It was big for them to start this stretch with a win, any kind of win. It was just gravy that it was a laugher and got some key guys much-needed rest.
“It’s a first step,” Carter said.
Here are some important facts and figures about this game: Harris looks like he has his legs back. He got inside whenever he wanted and took 17 foul shots during his 28-point night. The Nets held a 54-30 edge in rebounding, had 26 assists on 37 field goals, turned 16 Denver turnovers into 18 points and held Denver nearly 35 points below their season average.
“We played well pretty much all the way around,” Harris said.
That’s what the Nets have been doing during this winning streak. It’s been about balance and defense. Now, Superman awaits.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)