MILWAUKEE - They were staring at rock bottom.
Things weren't looking all that good for the Nets for the better part of Saturday night's game. They were having problems with the Bucks, who have the worst record in the Eastern Conference. The Nets were having trouble getting it going, sputtering like an old jalopy trying to start up on a brutally cold day.
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Fotunately for them, they had a hot Brook Lopez.
Needing a win in the worst way for their fragile psyche, the Nets rode the coattails of Lopez's season-high 32 points and beat the Bucks, 90-82, at a half-empty Bradley Center.
Lopez scored 20 points in the first half for the Nets (6-14), who then overcame the team's usual third-quarter blues. They outscored the Bucks 26-19 in the third quarter and used a 13-4 run spanning the end of the third and the beginning of the fourth to take control of a game that had included 11 lead changes.
"We moved the ball well," said Lopez, whose old-school three-point play with 3:16 left in the third gave the Nets the lead for good. "We moved off the ball well. But I think the best thing we did tonight was the way we communicated with each other both offensively and defensively, especially down the stretch on the defensive end.
"It was a great team effort. That's exactly what we needed to do and we need to take this momentum and let it carry us."
Entering the game, the Nets had lost nine of 11, six by double-digits. A demoralizing loss to the Bucks would've dropped them into a tie for last place in the Eastern Conference, surely not the position they thought they'd be in when they put this $102-million roster together. But they averted that scenario.
"A win is a win for us at this point," said Joe Johnson, who had 15 points, five assists and four rebounds. "Any win is a good win. So we just try to build on it, honestly."
Particularly defensively. Sure, Milwaukee (4-16) isn't exactly an offensive behemoth, but the Nets dug deep when necessary. They limited the Bucks to 42 second-half points, a season low for the Nets, and guarded the three-point line and paint much better than they had recently.
Milwaukee shot 7-for-20 from beyond the arc and had 30 points in the paint on 33 shots.
"This is a game we talked for 48 minutes," said Alan Anderson, who had 13 points while starting in place of injured Paul Pierce. "We talked to help each other out. They went on a run and we kept talking and we kept playing together.
"Sometimes I think we get out of sync and we start trying to depend on [Johnson] to bring us back or [Lopez] in iso [isolation]; [we] give them the ball and just watch. Today, we moved the ball and we played together on offense and defense."
So for one night at least, the schematic changes implemented by coach Jason Kidd since banishing top assistant Lawrence Frank worked.
"It was a big carry-over from our shootaround," Kidd said. "Those guys executed and they made a couple of threes early on, but the guys stuck with the game plan and executed and we got better tonight."
Notes & quotes: Although neither played, Deron Williams (ankle) and Pierce (hand) made the trip. When asked if Williams will return in the Nets' next game, Tuesday against the Celtics, Kidd said, "From what I understand, he's still on track to do that." Pierce worked out before the game, hoisting jumpers while sporting only some black tape on his right hand. He's nearly a week into his estimated recovery timetable of two to four weeks.