The 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.)
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — You can’t underestimate the importance of what happens before a team leaves for a long road trip. Look at how the Nets’ season has gone.
And if it continues, the Nets could and should have a successful four-game trip to the West Coast.
First of all, they’re in the Staples Center, and they don’t face the Lakers. That makes it promising right off the bat.
But go back to November when the Nets went west after back-to-back wins, including the thrilling last-second victory in Toronto on the Vince Carter reverse alley-oop. The Nets lost to the Lakers but went on to beat the Kings, Jazz and Suns with Devin Harris blowing up as a viable All-Star candidate.
Then go back to January, when the Nets headed to New Orleans after three straight defeats, two of them humiliating on the scoreboard and for some players personally, as Harris and Carter were benched for the second half of a 20-point loss to the Celtics.
The Nets went 1-3 on that trip.
They left today, coming off a difficult stretch of games decided in the final minute. The Nets went 2-3 but won the last one against the Knicks on Sunday and left for the Bay Area feeling they had a shot to do some damage on this trip.
“There’s momentum in this league, no doubt about it,” veteran guard Keyon Dooling said. “Momentum can swing good or bad. The win we had last game definitely was a morale booster. We’re feeling a little better about ourselves going out on the road.”
There are plenty of reasons for the Nets to feel good, but they don’t want to feel too good. It all could change quickly if the Nets don’t come to play on Wednesday against the Warriors, especially with a game in Portland looming.
After that, they have the Clippers, which I’m penciling in as a win, and then the helter-skelter Denver Nuggets, who could beat anyone and lose to anyone.
This is a very winnable trip for the Nets, who should go 2-2 at worst, barring injury and a lack of focus. But the latter shouldn’t happen if they truly embrace what’s at stake.
The playoff race is tight with the Nets just one-half game out as of this writing. They’re also just a game out of 12th, so there can be no nights off. The Nets may not win every game, but they have to play with the effort and urgency they’ve shown in the last seven games, during which they went 4-3.
Presently, some things seem to be working in the Nets’ favor. Their point guard is on a roll and said getting this team to the playoffs “is the only thing left to do,” Yi Jianlian looks more comfortable and is playing better lately, and the Nets are healthier than the teams they’re battling, for the most part.
Carter hurt his knee the last game, but he’s playing. Bobby Simmons has a strained left shoulder, and Jarvis Hayes is playing with partially torn ligaments in his left thumb. But they’re playing.
The Bucks lost Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut. The Bulls are without Luol Deng. The Pacers have lost Mike Dunleavy, Jr., and have been without Danny Granger. Those injuries eventually should catch up to them.
The Nets’ overall schedule is basically brutal, but they could combat that with Harris continuing to live up to his All-Star status, Brook Lopez and Yi furthering their development, and Carter lifting his game to the level we all know he can.
You don’t want to put it all on Carter, but he’s a guy who’s been here before, more so than Harris, and probably will have to elevate his game and even take over some of them for the Nets to earn a playoff spot.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)