The Nets were bad against the Lakers Wednesday night, but they rationalized the loss by pointing to players like Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol, and Antawn Jamison. They could not use that excuse in an ugly loss to the Washington Wizards Friday night.
The 13-35 Wizards dominated from the tip by building a double-digit leading and never letting the Nets creep within shouting distance. John Wall and the upstart Wizards cruised to an 89-74 win that felt far worse than the 15-point margin indicated.
Following a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day win over the New York Knicks, the Nets have been nothing but ordinary. The luster following the coaching change has diminished. Brooklyn is simply playing like a middle-of-the-road team.
Since the Jan. 21 tilt against the Knicks, the Nets are 4-5. On the outset the skid does not seem so alarming, but the eye-test tells a different story. Their two February wins have come against the Chicago Bulls, a team missing three starters, and a struggling Detroit Pistons team. The pair of wins came by a combined seven points.
The losses, on the other hand, have been downright worrisome.
The Lakers, boasting a combined starting age of 33.2-years-old, admittedly outhustled and outlasted the Nets, 92-83. Without two defensive stalwarts, the Lakers limited the Nets to 34.8 percent shooting. On Friday night, the Wizards allowed the Nets to stumble their way to a 32.9 shooting percentage.
P.J. Carlesimo attempted to mask the problem following the game by blaming the second unit. The starters, however, played to a one-point deficit after the first quarter.
"I can’t afford to give people chances if they’re hurting us defensively or not putting the ball in the basket," Carlesimo said. "We need to examine it a little better, because it’s not working right now.
"I'm very concerned," Carlesimo added.
While no bench player has stood out as a Sixth man candidate, the solution lies in the starters. The Nets tied up three of the five starters with max contracts, and Gerald Wallace pulls in $10 million annually.
In a salary cap world, the bulk of the production needs to come from the stars. Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Gerald Wallace are playing on par to the Nets record: 29-21. Better than average but well below expectations.
After recent losses to Miami and Los Angeles, both Wallace and Lopez openly questioned the team's energy and effort. The Wizards wanted the game more and it showed.
“There’s no reason why we should be talking about how the effort wasn’t there, the energy wasn’t there,” Williams said. “Especially in some of these big games. Maybe this wasn’t a ‘big game’ for us. But it should have been.”
Until this past week, the Nets hid their deficiencies by beating up on the league's also-rans. But losing 2-of-3 to teams the Nets should beat raises red flags.
And the Nets did not simply lose to the Wizards, they were embarrassed. They trailed 51-31 at halftime and never truly threatened a comeback.
''We won that game defensively,'' Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. ''It's a mindset. You don't have to have a ball go in anywhere on defense. It's just a matter of five guys being connected, and we're connected right now.''
The Nets, however, are anything but connected.
''Just a lot of bad habits,'' Williams said. ''Then we start pointing the finger and getting a little selfish. We've just got to get out of that habit.''