Tagged: Milwaukee Bucks

Nets are staying alive

hayes250_040509.jpgEAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The song playing at the end of the Nets’ rout of the Sixers was “I Just Want to Celebrate” by Rare Earth. Inside the locker room, Devin Harris gave a rare and had-to-be-heard rendition of the Bee Gees hit from “Saturday Night Fever.”

“Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Stayin’ alive,” Harris said, not sang, said.

Yes, he really said that and, yes, the Nets really did that with their 96-67 victory.

They might just be prolonging the inevitable, but it’s better to play this way than the way they played some of the other games that put them in this position.

Two that come to mind are last Sunday and Monday’s humiliating defeats to the Timberwolves and Bucks. But, the Nets seem determined to show those were aberrations and if you look at how they’ve played since it sure looks like they were.

The Nets are 2-1 since those two games and could be 3-0 if they could have closed out the Bulls in Chicago on Saturday. But, late-game execution inevitably will be what costs them a playoff spot, perhaps more so than the many unacceptable losses they’ve suffered.

One Nets’ loss or one Pistons’ win and they’re out. But, whether it matters to you or not, the Nets are a different team since their coach’s job became a topic, their passion and desire became under question and Keyon Dooling became a starter. That counts for something.

“Some teams could have cashed it in, but that’s never crossed our minds,” Dooling said. “We’re going to be as professional as we can be and try to build every time we take the court.”

They’ve played the last three games with a different approach. Maybe it’s because the pressure basically is off. Maybe it’s because they want to finish off the season the right way or maybe they believe they still have a shot at the playoffs.

They do. They need to go 5-0. Detroit needs to go 0-5. But, that’s not all. Indiana and Charlotte are ahead of the Nets still. There is the possibility of three-way ties, but let’s not go there because it’s too much to figure out.

The bottom line is the Nets refused to let go of their season just when just about everyone had figured they were done. A loss and a Detroit win would have ended it and meant more playing time for Yi Jianlian, more plays called for Brook Lopez, perhaps a Sean Williams’ sighting in non-garbage time play.

The Pistons did their part, beating the Bobcats. The game was over by halftime of the Nets’ game. To a man, they swore they didn’t know the score. They may not have been totally honest about that. But, their approach was play to win and not worry about what Detroit or any other team does.

It worked against a 76ers team that just hasn’t looked playoff caliber against the Nets. For the first time in their history, the Nets swept the season series from the 76ers. The Nets led this game by double-digits for the final 28:40.

“We didn’t say anything about positioning or seeding or games left or nothing like that,” Jarvis Hayes said. “We just wanted to come out and play hard and play together.”

The Nets have five games left and barely a glimmer of hope. Few thought they would last this long, especially after last week.

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

Nets save face with solid win

dooling250_040109.jpgEAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The players heard the questions, saw the headlines, read the stories and if they didn’t they had someone tell them about what’s being said.

Their coach’s job isn’t entirely safe and the perception is they’ve quit on themselves, the season, the fans, the organization — you name it.

That was all the motivation the Nets needed; the latter more so than Lawrence Frank’s status.

No athlete wants to be called a quitter. Predictably, the Nets rose up and played one of their most complete games of the season, or at least in about a month and a day, in beating the Pistons, 111-98, Wednesday night.

“We did what we’re supposed to do,” Frank said. “We competed. We played hard. We played together. That’s what we expect. It’s not a cure-all.

Not all the problems in the world are solved because we won tonight.”

This doesn’t solve everything or anything. It just means the Nets are listening. The question is to whom? The media or their coach or the little voice in their heads? For argument’s sake let’s say all three.

As much as athletes say they don’t care what’s written or said — they do. Think about it: what motivated the Nets to start the season — everyone saying they were going to be terrible.

You want to believe they’re still playing for Frank. He works as hard as anyone, is loyal, has helped many of them have career years and doesn’t say look at the team I was given. He always believes he has enough to win and tries to put his players in position to win.

The prior two games, though, something was amiss.

Falling behind by 18 to Minnesota was despicable. Not bouncing back and trailing by almost double that — 35 — at home to Milwaukee when theoretically you’re still in the race is indicting.

Frank took the heat for it because the appearance was the Nets had given up and because you can’t fire a whole team.

But, some stories and some headlines pointed to the most damaging of charges — quitting — and that woke up the players. Some were a bit defensive about it. Others didn’t think it was the case. No matter, it struck a chord with the Nets.

The result was they looked much more like a playoff team than the currently playoff-bound Pistons last night. The Nets shot 51.3 percent, had six guys in double-figures and had two fewer assists than in the two embarrassing defeats combined (29).

“I think it says a couple things,” Keyon Dooling said. “It says when we play the right way, we’re pretty competitive. And also it says we haven’t mailed it in.”

The Nets didn’t save their coach’s job with this performance, but they saved face. If they want to save his job, they have to have seven more performances like this one and really who knows if that will be enough?

Team president Rod Thorn doesn’t want to fire Frank, whom he has backed and supported through many tough times.

Frank has stayed the course in the face of many distractions, handled his share of adversity and had a team that no one expected to win more than 25 games in the playoff race until recently. The Nets are still in, but with seven games left, a 4 1/2-game deficit may be too hard to overcome.

Thorn will look at the complete body of work before he makes any decisions, and don’t think that finances won’t play a part.

Frank makes $4.4 million next season. Figure the next coach makes at least that. Ownership doesn’t want to pay $9 million for one man.

There’s a chance Frank will be back and given another shot with some of these same players and not just because of the finances, but because he deserves it.

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

Nets let game slip away

dooling250_031109.jpgEverything broke right for the Nets to jump back into eighth place, back into a playoff spot. All they had to do was beat the Golden State Warriors.
But, the team that had suddenly made its mark as one that fought to the end, one that played with urgency exhaled.
Terrible timing. Terrible way to start this four-game West trip.
There are 18 games left, but the Nets’ 116-112 loss to Golden State could be one that costs them their season. This was a bad loss, and got the Nets’ trip off to a rough start. Now to go 2-2 out West, the Nets will have to win in either Portland or Denver. Three-and-one would be near miraculous.
The Bulls were beaten earlier on Wednesday and the Bucks on Tuesday. A win to start this trip would have put the Nets all alone in eighth, could have set them up for a nice, successful trip. Instead they’re tied for 10th again after losing one they had to win.
The Nets seemed in good shape, up 81-67 roughly midway through the third. About 11 minutes later, the Nets were down, 108-97, outscored 45-16 in that time. They made it interesting late, but it never should have come to that.
“It’s very, very disappointing,” coach Lawrence Frank said on the YES Network after the game. “In the third quarter, we started to lose our poise. They took a little bit of our spirit away.”
Shouldn’t have happened. The Warriors are a couple losses away from playoff elimination — basically they’re done — but they can say they beat the Nets twice this season. The Nets are playing for something, but you wouldn’t have known by the lack of effort, energy and defense late in the game.
They let Anthony Morrow — who? — grab a key offensive rebound. And when the game was in the balance, the Nets down two in the final 20 seconds, they let Ronny Turiaf grab an offensive board that led to two Stephen Jackson foul shots.
Those aren’t the plays that cost the Nets. There were many. You don’t have a 25-point swing and then have the game come down to two or three plays.
The Nets hurt themselves from the line, where they missed 13 of 36 free throws. The Warriors were 39-of-48 from the foul line. The Nets hurt themselves inside where they were out-rebounded, 54-38. They hurt themselves with their shot selection, point production and their defense.
The Nets scored a season-high 67 points in the first half and gave up 63 in the second half, 49 coming in the last 17:11. The Nets were just 15-of-41 from the field after halftime.
“We had a let-down and it kind of steamrolled on us in that third quarter,” Frank said.
Where was Vince Carter? He was taken out of the game by foul trouble and never established himself. It seemed the Nets were fine, especially up 14 at the break, despite Carter scoring just seven points and ahead by 14 in the third with him still stuck on seven.
It wound up the Nets needed Carter, who was 5-for-18 and when he hit a layup with 47 seconds left in the game it was his first basket since the first period.
The loss wasn’t on Carter. It was on all the Nets for not being able to sustain what they did in the first half when they were aggressive on both ends.
The Warriors are an undisciplined team, taking rushed shots, bad shots, forcing passes, but with the game on the line they looked more together than the Nets.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.).

Carter was the right choice

nets250_020309.jpgEAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Nets chose to keep Vince Carter instead of Richard Jefferson. It was a no-brainer, really, and you saw why last night.
Jefferson’s numbers were gaudy as he had 27 points in his first game back at the Meadowlands as an ex-Net, but he didn’t have a good game. He missed nine shots and six free throws.
Carter struggled from the field, shooting just 3-of-12, but he still had a great game in leading the balanced Nets over Jefferson’s Bucks, 99-85.
Carter finished with 15 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds for just his fifth career triple-double. His performance epitomized why the Nets chose him over Jefferson.
I’m not sure how much they went back and forth in Rod Thorn’s office about Jefferson and Carter, but it came up. Carter is owed more money, but he is the more coachable player, the better player, the better leader and the best player for this team.
He has handled the “rebuilding” of the Nets better than anyone could have imagined. He’s always up, always encouraging, playing through pain and he makes everyone around him better. Everyone.
“This is what you call a team victory,” coach Lawrence Frank said. “I think it’s embodied with Vince’s triple-double — an extremely purposeful game from him in terms of a great balance.”
Carter spread the wealth. He set up his teammates for easy scores, dunks, open threes and fast-break slams. It was a do-it-all performance when the Nets needed one.
They needed this game, as well as tonight’s at Washington. After that their schedule reads Denver, at Orlando, San Antonio, at Houston, at Dallas. That’s a tough stretch, so these are must-win games to stay in the race.
The win pulled the Nets within one-half game of the Bucks for the East’s final playoff spot. The Bucks have the easier schedule, but they are without leading scorer Michael Redd for the rest of the year. Jefferson can lead them, as he did Tuesday night, but he’s never really been a go-to guy on a playoff team. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.
Carter has done it before. He has led teams to the playoffs before, and if he did it here it would be a great achievement in his great career. It’s not impossible, especially with how well some of the young guys are playing.

Brook Lopez had his second straight double-double with 22 points and 12 rebounds. Fellow rookie Ryan Anderson has played better lately. He had 19 and seven. Yi Jianlian is on the mend and should be back sometime after the All-Star break to help the Nets’ push.
If Jefferson was kept instead of Carter, it’s doubtful Lopez and Devin Harris would have the opportunities they have or the Nets’ offense would have been changed to dribble drive.
They’re running more pick-and-rolls now with Lopez, and having Carter also has helped that. He’s a great passer. Harris is pretty good in pick-and-rolls, too, and improving all the time. He and Lopez are developing some strong chemistry.
The bottom line is Jefferson is very good player and was a great Net. He really was. But there’s no denying who’s better and who was the one the Nets should have kept.
Jefferson was like the mayor last night. He worked up a sweat shooting, met with fans, Nets’ employees, ushers, shook hands, took pictures, signed autographs and did three on-court interviews, all before 6:25 p.m.
He loved it here and is proud of what the Nets did with him.
“It was kind of cool to look up and see all those banners that were hung up in the arena,” he said. “That was cool. You just take things in perspective. We had a great run here, a lot of great guys.”
When Jefferson was announced he received a warm ovation — surprisingly not a standing one. I thought he would get that because of how popular he was and how unpopular the trade for Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons was at the time.
But, it was nothing spectacular. Jason Kidd received a longer and louder one when he returned. Of course, Kidd meant more to the franchise, but there were far fewer people in the stands that night because of a blizzard.
It snowed last night, and Carter and the Nets rained on Jefferson’s parade.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.).