Tagged: Kobe Bryant

Playoff hopes keep slip slidin’ away


Nets-3-27-250.jpgEAST 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.

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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.)

Nets victims of timing and rough schedule

nets_250_032609.jpgEAST 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 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 -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.).

Gut-check time for struggling Nets

frank_250.jpgThe 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.)