EAST 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.).
EAST 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.).