CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Their mental psyche was already fragile, symptomatic of a team teetering on the brink.
With the unpleasant odor of the Nets' early-season struggles still tugging along, and the return of their point guard expected to provide an emotional boost, one would figure the ingredients were ripe for the Nets to take out their frustrations.
Instead, it was nothing but more disappointment.
Deron Williams reinjured his sprained left ankle in the second quarter and did not return, and the Nets never put any solid stretches together. They trailed for the game's final 27:48 and were beaten by the Bobcats, 95-91, last night at Time Warner Cable Arena.
The Nets (3-8), who also were without Brook Lopez and Andrei Kirilenko as they respectively fight through a sprained ankle and back spasms, have lost six of their last seven games -- the lone win coming on Joe Johnson's overtime buzzer-beater against the Suns in Phoenix Friday night. Their veteran-laden squad has done little on the road this season, falling to a numbing 1-6.
"Right now we're going through tough moments," said Paul Pierce, who made just 3 of 11 shots from the field and finished with 12 points. "It's tough for us to get any consistency on the court, but also it's tough to get consistency when you have injuries night in and night out, also. The starting point guard was in and out of the lineup, the guy we play through is out of the lineup.
"So we are trying to figure out different ways to play without two of our main scorers on different nights all the time. It's tough to get consistency when it's constantly been like that kind of week to week . . . We're just going through a tough stretch right now."
Especially on defense. Kemba Walker had his way with the Nets' porous scheme, hitting 12 of 20 attempts from the field and going 4-for-7 from three-point range, finishing with 31 points for the Bobcats (6-6). Charlotte racked up 50 points in the paint through the first three quarters, making 25 of 37 attempts.
The Nets, who were paced by Andray Blatche's 25 points and seven rebounds off the bench, kept springing leaks that couldn't be adequately plugged.
"I don't think anybody is going lackadaisical or going not as hard," Kevin Garnett said. "I think everything has been at a high rate. The game is played at a high intensity. We are not playing bums. I think we are discrediting the enemy or whatever."
Then, he added: "No excuses. No excuses at all. We've got to figure this thing out. And figure it out quick and soon."
These are the kinds of times when the Nets will lean heavily on Garnett and Pierce, trying to ride the coattails of their championship experience in an effort to remain positive during this poor start. Garnett, who totaled only four points, is fully aware that his leadership services are key at this particular moment.
"You are going to have some tough times and it's important to stay together," Garnett said. "More importantly, excuse my French, but the hell with all the talking. You can come out and there needs to be more applied at this point.
"We are talking to each other and are keeping each other upbeat and all that. But at some point, it's just talk, and then you have to come in and actually do some of the things that we are talking about as a team."