NEWARK, N.J. – This has become a common sight this preseason: the Nets playing at far less than 100 percent and losing to the Knicks.
Half of the winless Nets’ six preseason games have been against the Knicks, and half of their six losses have come to their Atlantic Division counterparts. Last night, the Nets came back from 18 down in the third period to lead in the fourth, but still fell 94-92 at the Prudential Center.
The Nets have just one more tune up and hope to have Devin Harris and Jarvis Hayes healthy for Friday’s game against the Sixers. They both missed the prior two games; Harris with a strained groin and Hayes with a stress reaction in his right shin and neither have practiced in eight days.
In all, Harris, the Nets’ best player and main ball distributor, has missed three preseason games, parts of two others and about eight practices total with different injuries. Courtney Lee, Yi Jianlian, Eduardo Najera have all missed time and Keyon Dooling hasn’t practiced once following off-season hip surgery.
This isn’t good for a young team that’s still getting to know one another, learning new offensive sets, trying to develop a defensive mindset and chemistry. Now if the Nets stumble when the season starts it won’t be just because they’re young and superstar-less and starting four guys with less than three years of NBA experience.
Little was expected of the Nets last season, but they were healthy at the beginning and were out to prove they were better than most predicted. They surprised by winning their opener on the road and 11 of their first 19 games.
Overall the Nets were in much better shape last year – not to mention they had Vince Carter. It could mean trouble when the regular season opens Wednesday at Minnesota.
“We’ll have a little bit of a stagger,” Harris said.
That’s stagger not swagger. And if the Nets stagger at the beginning they could be down for the count. But Harris tried to put a positive spin on this boxing analogy
“Staggering, you’re still moving forward,” Harris said. “Although you’re not getting there as fast you would like to be, you’re still moving forward. Stagger into a run.”
Realistically, that’s expecting a lot, but this will be a big week and weekend for the Nets.
They practice Thursday, play Friday and then likely will have three more practices and a shootaround before the opener. They hope their players return, there are no more setbacks, and it’s enough to build something because Hayes said the Nets are behind.
“From a chemistry standpoint, yeah,” Hayes said. “We haven’t had a full team one game this preseason. We’re trying to implement the younger guys and not having Devin for a big part of the preseason and he’s our point guard. From a chemistry standpoint we still have a little ways to go.
“I think it’s something we can somewhat gain some traction on in practice. You can’t gauge anything until everybody gets out there in practice.”
So include Hayes among the people unsure of exactly what this team will look like
“We have no idea,” he said.
“It’s strange,” Hayes added. “We have guys that can put the ball in the hole. But what roles are going to be on this team, how prominent will that depth chart be – that’s something that we got to all get healthy and get out there for a good week or so and try and come up with.”
At least the Nets won’t have to see the Knicks again until Nov. 21. Maybe by then they’ll be 100 percent, have developed chemistry and defined roles and have a win.
The Nets had a chance to tie the game in the closing seconds after Lee rebounded his own free-throw miss and was fouled. But he misfired on the first foul shot with 1.1 seconds left. He missed the second on purpose. Brook Lopez tried to tip in the miss with his left hand but missed
The Nets drew 15,721 fans in the final preseason game at Newark, but it’s possible they could play more games here in the future. Among the faces in the crowd were several of prospective owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s representatives, former Yankee and Met Dwight Gooden and Joe Jackson, Michael Jackson’s father.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Devin Harris was one of about 50,000 people inside Yankee Stadium for Saturday night’s thriller, but the player known for seeing things before they happen, as well as his timing and ability to seize the moment, left a little early.
The Nets’ All-Star point guard was gone before Alex Rodriguez’s home run tied the game and missed how the Yankees pulled out the win.
“We left right before,” Harris said of A-Rod’s blast. “We heard it on the way out.”
Didn’t you want to turn back?
“We were already outside the Stadium,” he said. “We didn’t want to turn back.”
Granted, it was late and raining, but Harris could have waited it out. He was in a luxury box after all, right next to Derek Jeter’s. Oh well, Harris said, he plans to attend some more games as he expects the Yankees to reach the World Series.
“If we’re in town, I’m there,” Harris said.
We wondered how someone who grew up in Milwaukee became a Yankees’ fan. The natural thought was because of CC Sabathia and what he did for the Brewers last year. That wasn’t it, although his signing with the Yankees didn’t hurt.
Harris said he’s been a Jeter fan, “since I can’t remember.” Harris has met his favorite Yankee, but not Sabathia yet.
He’s a big fan of Sabathia’s because he helped the Brewers reach the playoffs for the first time in Harris’ lifetime. He wasn’t alive when Gorman Thomas, Robin Yount, Cecil Cooper and the rest of Harvey’s Wallbangers lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1982.
“He was pitching on two days rest and going nine innings,” Harris said. “It’s crazy. He was a workhorse for us. We wanted to keep him but we had to defer his money. We’d pay him the 100 million, but, OK, you might get it in seven years. I wouldn’t have taken it either.”
After what Sabathia did last season, Harris has no problems with Yankees manager Joe Girardi using him on three days’ rest.
“Especially with the amount of rest he got toward the end of this season,” Harris said. “Coming to the end of last season, it was one day, two days’ rest. When we got to the playoffs he didn’t have much left. Now on regular rest, I don’t think three days would be a problem.”
Harris, a former pitcher, said he couldn’t have thrown on three days rest because “I threw curveballs really at a young age…I did have a wicked curveball, though.”
“I played all the way up until high school. Then I had to make that choice. I think I made the right choice. What do you think?”
Harrris made the right choice, but not on Saturday.
The Nets may be without Harris for the rest of the preseason with a strained right groin.
He missed Friday’s game against the Knicks, but the Nets hoped he would resume practicing Sunday or Monday. But Harris felt tightness and now likely will miss Wednesday’s preseason game.
If Harris can’t practice Thursday he may not play in Friday’s exhibition finale against the Sixers. The regular-season opener is Oct. 28 at Minnesota.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.).
NEW YORK — Three of the Nets’ five top scorers from last season were sitting behind the bench showing off their wardrobes instead of running up and down the court showing their skills.
The Nets better hope something changes by Oct. 28 when this season starts with a winnable game at Minnesota. They expect to be near 100-percent by then, but you can’t say for sure.
There are two preseason games and roughly nine practices/shootarounds before the first tip. Anything can happen, but the Nets can’t afford anything else.
Not long after these words were written, likely starting small forward Chris Douglas-Roberts left the 93-89 preseason to the Knicks last night with a strained neck. He’s day-to-day, but already said he won’t miss any time. Still, one of the Nets’ goals in the next two weeks has to be to get healthy.
The Nets already know they won’t have Keyon Dooling for the opener and may not see him for the first few weeks at least. Devin Harris is supposed to return Sunday from a strained right groin and Jarvis Hayes hopes to play in next Friday’s preseason finale, presuming the stress reaction in his right shin is fine.
They’re banged up, winless through five preseason games and have unsurprisingly been inconsistent on both of ends of the floor.
“This group is getting a little bit frustrated that we’re not making as much progress as we expect from ourselves,” coach Lawrence Frank said. “We have to expect better.
“We want to be farther along than we are now. We have a lot of work to do.”
With about 12 days to go, many questions remain unanswered. Some of them may stay that way until weeks, if not months, into the season.
What’s the rotation?
Our best guess is Harris, Courtney Lee, Brook Lopez, Yi Jianlian and Chris Douglas-Roberts are the starters with Rafer Alston, Terrence Williams, Jarvis Hayes and Josh Boone coming off the bench with either Bobby Simmons or Eduardo Najera. When Dooling returns, things will change, and someone (or more than one player) will be unhappy.
What’s their best lineup?
It’s probably four smalls and Lopez, but it depends on matchups and Yi’s development. If we had to guess today, based on past performance and health, it’s Harris, Lee, Douglas-Roberts, Hayes and Lopez. Other than Lopez, the Nets’ smalls/wings have been their best players.
Has Yi improved?
Some days it looks like he has and others it doesn’t. Yi looked like he had last night against the Knicks. He had 10 points and six rebounds in the first quarter. He had at least as many points and boards in the same game 14 times last year, just once after returning from a broken pinky finger in February. Yi finished with 21 and 11 last night. But to quote Frank when asked about Yi, “It’s going to be a process.”
Will the Nets defend consistently?
No one knows. They are trying, but haven’t been successful. It’s their only shot at winning. Although they picked it up in the second half last night and Lopez was a catalyst with five blocks, they still have lapses on the defensive end. It should be better once they have a set rotation. Then again, they will also be playing better competition.
Who’s their go-to guy?
The Nets hope they play enough close games to have a go-to guy. Harris is the likely candidate with Lopez next. But Douglas-Roberts has shown he can get to the basket against most players, and the other night in a nailbiter against Boston, the Nets were going to Lee. This could be another process, but think Harris or Lopez first.
Will the Nets score enough?
That goes back to their defense, because they need to score off it, using their quickness to get some steals and easy baskets. But they have to be able to score in the halfcourt, too, and they get too disjointed sometimes and take quick shots or miss the open man. After putting up 107 in the first preseason game against the Knicks on Oct. 4, the Nets have scored 88, 92, 93 and now 89. Seemingly, they would score more with a full complement of players, but nothing is guaranteed.
ALBANY — The Nets’ first preseason game showed what you would expect: the future is bright with Devin Harris and Brook Lopez, but overall, this team is a work in progress and will be for sometime.
Probably the most disappointing thing, especially after all the talk the first five days of practice about defense, was how the Nets didn’t play any here Sunday in a 115-107 loss to the Knicks.
It is the preseason and the scores tend to be on the high side in the exhibition season, but after all the talk and coach Lawrence Frank’s bluster about the defense, the Nets should have stepped up on that end. Now he has something to show them over and over and over.
“We got a lot of good footage there,” Frank said.
The Knicks are a tough team to guard because of Mike D’Antoni’s offense, the amount of shooters and scorers they have and the random pick-and-rolls they run. But it’s good that the Nets saw that they have a long, long way to go.
The perimeter defense was bad. The interior defense was bad. The Nets allowed 49 points over a 17-minute stretch between the first and second periods and 79 in a 29-minute span over the first three periods. The Knicks shot 13-of-31 from three overall.
The Knicks are no defensive stalwarts, but they were more active and talking much more than the Nets after the first period.
“I’m disappointed defensively,” Frank said. “This is a little bit of a litmus test in terms of seeing where we’re at defensively.
They have a long way to go.
Some other observations:
- Harris, the Nets’ best player, performed like he did last year, only with more of an air that this is his team. He got in the lane and scored when he wanted and worked the two-man game with Lopez well. Harris also pulled guys aside and guided them on where they should be in certain situations.
- Lopez was impressive. The Nets tried to establish him early, which we like, and the second-year center showed he’s ready to be more involved. In the first half, he took 11 foul shots, one less than the Knicks as a team. Lopez had 19 points at the break and finished with 19. He and Harris didn’t play in the fourth.
- Yi Jianlian was assertive at times and showed improved confidence. After missing inside, Yi drove to the basket on the next position, was fouled and scored. He needs to continue to be aggressive, but he can’t forget about the other end.
- Don’t jump off the bridge yet, but the first game looked like many last year where the other team’s starting forwards outplayed the Nets. Between Yi and Jarvis Hayes, the Nets scored 16 points. The Knicks got 34 combined from Al Harrington and Jared Jeffries.
- Chris Douglas-Roberts created for himself and got to the line repeatedly. He led with 21 points and was 11-of-15 from the line. It may not always look pretty, but the guy is a shotmaker inside. Figuring Courtney Lee is the starting shooting guard, Douglas-Roberts should be one of the first guys off the bench unless he continues to play this way and Frank decides to start him at small forward. But because of the size and strength of other threes in the Atlantic (Paul Pierce, Caron Butler, Andre Iguodala and Al Harrington) that may be tough.
- Rafer Alston ran the team well, setting up his teammates for open shots and baskets inside. The Nets will be able to play him with Harris the way they did last year with Keyon Dooling. When Dooling returns from rehabbing from hip surgery, someone will be unhappy and on the trading block, and it won’t be Harris.
- Rookie Terrence Williams missed his first six shots and was rejected twice, but one play that stood out was after a bad Sean Williams pass led to a Nate Robinson run-out. Williams caught up to his speedy Seattle buddy and prevented the dunk by fouling Robinson, who missed one of the free throws.
Preseason game No. 2 is Friday at the Sixers. The Nets expect a better defensive performance. It will be the focus of practice this week for sure. Then again, it was last week, too.
NEW YORK — The Nets looked like the old Nets last night, doing what they used to do to the Knicks before Jason Kidd decided he didn’t want to play here anymore.
When things were bad, those Nets always could count on a big win over the Knicks to lift their spirits and demoralize New York and their fans in their building. Actually, those Nets did it during good times, too.
But the Nets came into this game probably at their lowest, after four straight losses out West, after losing their point guard and leading scorer to a shoulder injury and after their energetic athletic backup big man was arrested and subsequently suspended two games by the team.
The timing for the Nets’ retro performance couldn’t have been better and fittingly it was Vince Carter who had another turn-back-the-clock night in a rousing 115-89 win over the Knicks that at least showed New Jersey has life.
The win meant the Nets are ahead of the Knicks again, by half a game. But, it’s a long road ahead with 14 to play because the Nets still have to leapfrog three teams to make the postseason.
The Nets are 2½ games behind Chicago, the current holders of the East’s eighth and final playoff spot and their schedule turns brutal again with the next four games against the Heat, a home-and-home with the Cavaliers and Kobe Bryant’s lone Meadowlands appearance.
But the Nets needed this win, after that trip, after showing little heart or desire in Denver to close the winless journey. They played with pride. They played with passion. They made the Knicks look foolish, just like the old days.
“For us to come out and act like this and play together and compete on the glass because we took a beating on the glass on the road — it was just a great win for us,” Carter said.
As you would expect Carter was the leader, and he had to be with Devin Harris not even in the building because of his sprained left shoulder and strained deltoid. Carter picked the perfect time to put the Nets on his shoulders and take over the game and perhaps their season.
The Nets were down three to open the second and with seven Carter shot attempts and one foul shot, they suddenly led by three. It took 3:50 for Carter to score 17 points. That was more than every Knick but two had for the entire game.
When Carter was done the Nets were up 10 and they just kept building the lead as everyone followed their captain, who breathed energy into his team when it appeared their legs were a little wobbly.
“Looking at our guys I thought we looked a little but tired,” coach Lawrence Frank said. “Vince hits the transition three then he gets another three. Now he’s rolling.”
And so were the Nets.
Then it was rookies Brook Lopez and Chris Douglas-Roberts and then it was Keyon Dooling, who was subbing for Harris as a starter. Those three combined for 54 points and 23 assists.
The Nets are going to need big games from Carter and big production from others, especially while Harris is out. He’s expected to miss the next two games at least and when he comes back who knows if he’ll be as effective right away as he was before Marcus Camby took him out.
But, if the Nets play with this passion and urgency they’ll at least give themselves a chance. Still, they need help, lots of it, but they have to help themselves first and this was a step in that direction.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.).
File this one under another opportunity wasted.
It was another night where things went the Nets’ way, as the teams ahead of them lost. It was another night that all the Nets needed to do was win and they would pull into eighth place in the East.
The situation was similar to Wednesday in Golden State and the result was the same.
The Nets played better, but still lost. This time they fell, 109-100, to the Blazers and are now in a three-way tie for 10th with the Knicks and Bobcats.
Yes, the Nets have the same record as the Knicks. That’s not the story. Not yet anyway, although with three straight wins the Knicks are playing like a team that wants that No. 8 seed.
The story for the Nets is how many more of these close late-game defeats can they take.
This was the seventh straight game that came down to the final minute or final seconds. The Nets are 2-5 in those games. They were up in the fourth quarter in all of them except for the Warriors’ game, which they led by 14 midway through the third.
It’s obvious the Nets don’t know how to close out teams. They can do buzzer beaters. They can’t seal games. Ultimately, that could be what costs them a playoff spot.
The Nets remain only one-half game out with 17 to play, but these losses add up, mentally, physically and in the standings.
“It’s hard,” coach Lawrence Frank said on the YES Network. “We’re in this to win this thing. It’s not about consolation prizes. It’s about continuing to fight through this. This is a study of perseverance.”
Forget a 3-1 West trip now. The best the Nets can hope for is 2-2, but they have to beat the Clippers on Sunday or they will be in trouble. Their season won’t be over, but you wonder the effect a loss to them would have.
The Nets played much better than they did against Golden State when they kicked that game away. It was going to take a very good effort to win in Portland, where the Blazers have now won 16 of their last 18. The Nets put forth the effort, but once again fell apart late.
They led by 12 in the second period, let it dwindle to two before the break and then pushed it back to 11 in the third. The Nets were up eight early in the fourth and from there, their defense and defensive rebounding were the problems, along with late-game execution.
These are areas that have hurt the Nets all season.
The Blazers outscored the Nets, 38-21, in the final 10:30. Brandon Roy, the Blazers’ All-Star guard had a big fourth, as you would expect. He scored 16 of his 31 in the final period and finished 8-of-21 after starting 0-for-8.
“Roy is a special player,” Frank said. “Roy is like a Dwyane Wade in that he’s got poise and great vision.”
The Nets got solid games from Devin Harris (27 points, eight assists) and Brook Lopez (22 points). Vince Carter also seemed to bounce back from his off game at Golden State, but fouled out with 1:54 left. The Nets were down, 96-94, at the time
Without Carter, the Nets had a chance to tie or take the lead with under a minute remaining, but Jarvis Hayes’ pass was stolen by Roy and led to a Nicolas Batum three with 29 seconds left that made it 101-96. And that was basically the ball game.
The Nets have off today, but Charlotte and Chicago are in action so they could drop a little more. They can’t move up. Seems to be a theme.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.).
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Nets avoided two scares Sunday night, one involving the game and the other their most important player.
In the fourth quarter of a tied game, Vince Carter was down and potentially out after banging knees with Knicks forward Danilo Gallinari. Carter got up, eventually returned and finished the game and the Nets pulled out the narrow 106-101 win.
Carter ended up with 25 points but wasn’t himself the last 3:55. Still, he was out there, serving as a decoy at the very least, and the Nets’ defense carried them to the win that was a must considering what the team has been through and what they have upcoming.
The Nets played this same type of game four times last week, one that came down to closing seconds. The Nets lost three of them, albeit it against much better caliber of teams.
But, on Sunday night, the Nets made sure they didn’t need a last-second shot to tie the game or win it. Their defense made sure of it.
Three times in the last 1:18, the Nets came up with a steal, and were fortunate New York missed a pair of game-tying threes with under 30 seconds left.
Had the Knicks made one, it would have been interesting to see how the Nets responded, especially after the week they had and how Carter was feeling.
It never came to that, though. After the two misses, the Nets got the rebound, Devin Harris was fouled and made two foul shots, and then Trenton Hassell made a steal.
“I thought we made some big defensive plays when we needed to,” coach Lawrence Frank said.
It’s not something Frank or any other Net has said much this season, and certainly not last week when defensive execution was a big reason for the three losses to the Hornets, Celtics and Magic by a total of 10 points.
The offense played a part, especially in the Hornets’ game when the Nets committed two bad turnovers and Harris took his eye off the ball forcing him to take a tougher three. It also played a part with the shot selection in the Magic loss.
But, overall, the defense let the Nets down last week, whether it be on the perimeter or inside leading to offensive rebounds. It nearly happened with the David Lee back-tap, but when Larry Hughes didn’t convert you knew it was the Nets’ night.
“We haven’t always played perfect at the end, but tonight it was our turn,” Harris said after his 35-point, 10-assist night. “We controlled the offensive end. We got good shots at the basket. We got stops when we needed to. All the things that have been going wrong for us the last couple of games, we got over the hump with that tonight.”
Imagine had the Nets gone West with three straight losses, three in the waning moments, and four-in-five. They would have fallen into a tie for 11th with the Indiana Pacers, just one-half game ahead of the 13th-place Knicks.
No the playoffs wouldn’t have been out of the question, but it wouldn’t have looked good. They have a brutal schedule even after these four out West — against the Warriors, Blazers, Clippers and Nuggets. The Nets also play the Cavs twice and the Celtics, Lakers and Magic once.
This win doesn’t mean the Nets are in the playoffs either. It could just be a stay of execution. But they’re only one-game behind Chicago with 19 left. The Nets are in better shape because they didn’t lose the game or Carter last night.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.).
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Nets should have won Wednesday night against the Knicks in what almost seemed like a road game that was played at the Izod Center.
Devin Harris delivered a perfect alley-oop pass to Yi Jianlian that he threw down to cheers from the fans. Then, a little later in the game, Al Harrington dunked a lob for the Knicks and the fans inside the Nets’ home arena went wild.
As usual, there were more Knicks’ fans here than Nets’ fans. But the Nets, who have been much better on the road, couldn’t muster up the effort, couldn’t produce the timely and impressive play that they have on the road this season.
Instead, they let the real road team leave the building with a 121-109 victory, much to the delight to many in the crowd of 16,722.
Games like this hurt the Nets and their fan base. When you have the Knicks down 15 in your building and Harris playing a seemingly unstoppable game, you can’t stop defending and you definitely can’t get rattled by New York’s helter-skelter style.
But the Nets can, and they did. They got out of sync, had trouble when the Knicks threw some unconventional lineups at them, including some that featured no player under 6-foot-6.
On one trip, Harris had to guard the 6-foot-10 Tim Thomas. And after Harris’ fast start — he scored 14 of the Nets’ first 17 points — the Knicks put 6-8 Wilson Chandler on him.
Yet, there is a common theme with many of the Nets’ home losses. They struggle in the third, get down and can’t get back up. That’s what happened last night.
“Third quarter we kind of came out a little bit sluggish, but they shot the ball extremely well,” Harris said. “They got everything they wanted out there. We out-shot them, but we’re giving up straight-lines and open threes. It plays right into their game plan. It’s hard to stop them.”
The Nets didn’t stop them. They gave up 64 points in the second half, 41 of them to Harrington and Thomas. The two Jersey boys’ total was five fewer than the Nets in the second half.
Games like this make you forget what the Nets did in Philadelphia or here to Minnesota last week. That was a rare night when the Nets jumped on a team and never let up.
You have to applaud the Knicks for how they play and for never wearing down. It’s amazing. They go seven deep and never stop playing with energy, even after playing a down-to-the-wire game the night before in Chicago.
Harrington logged 42 minutes Tuesday and came back played 46 last night. Tired? The guy put up 39 points, took 16 foul shots, and grabbed 12 rebounds. The 16 foul shots were one fewer than the Nets, which was a big point of contention.
Inside the Nets’ locker room the only thing on the dry-erase board was the free throw differential. The Knicks took 35 and the Nets 17.
“This is a game where you throw the stat sheet out because we shot better from three and better from two, but the one stat I showed them was 35-17 free throw attempts in terms of their aggressiveness,” coach Lawrence Frank said. “There are three areas [that hurt us]: talking in transition, middle penetration and high pick-and-roll defense and then Harrington being the dominant player in the game and not having any answers.”
Here’s the simple answer: defend.
You shoot 53.7 percent from the field to 50.6 for the Knicks and are 11-of-27 on threes compared to 9-for-26 by New York. You hold rebounding machine David Lee to one board. You win on points in the paint and fastbreak points. You have to win the game, especially at home.
But the Nets haven’t figured out how to do that or defend well enough consistently. They would seem to go hand in hand.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)