They go from a spirited effort against the team that had the league's best record to a lethargic performance in a game they talked up as one of the biggest of the season.

Ladies and gentlemen, the 2014-15 Nets in a nutshell.

Doomed by a slow start that made it seem as if they were taking a siesta on Noche Latina night, the Nets lost their tenuous grip on eighth place in the Eastern Conference with a frighteningly horrible outing against the Hornets. The numbing 115-91 defeat was a disappointing way to piggyback one of their best wins of the season, when they took down the high-scoring Warriors Monday night.

"We played bad, they played great and it looked like they wanted the game more than us,'' said Deron Williams, who had 12 points and six assists to lead a sluggish Nets offense that shot 39.8 percent and had only three players score in double figures.

"I felt like we were going to come out and have a great effort, and it was the opposite. So no explanation for it. No excuse. They just beat us. They came in here and they whooped us.''

That's what makes it all the more disturbing, considering what was at stake for the Nets (25-34). Once again, just when it appears as if they have figured things out, they go belly up.

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They fell into 10th place, a game behind Charlotte for eighth and 11/2 games below the seventh-place Heat. The Nets could have clinched the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Hornets (26-33), who were paced by 19 points apiece from Gerald Henderson and Al Jefferson.

Instead, the Nets were left scratching their heads following a brutal letdown.

"It was tough,'' said Brook Lopez, who did little to prevent the Hornets from holding a 49-38 rebounding edge. "I thought we all came in prepared, and it just didn't go well for us. They had more energy than us. They were making shots, getting every offensive rebound and converting off them, and we were the opposite.''

The Hornets ran off to a 23-point lead behind hot shooting in the first half. Lionel Hollins started Thaddeus Young in the second half, but that did little to change things up. Charlotte's charge turned the Nets' 56-44 halftime deficit into a cavernous 88-66 hole heading into the fourth quarter. It left some in the crowd of 16,691 skeptical and wondering if the Nets really are going to make it to the playoffs for a third straight season, even if the franchise already is running promotions for season-ticket holders.

The Nets are offering free tickets to potential first-round action to those who renew early for next season. That may be a peace offering of sorts, because one ticket holder said his prices are set to spike 15 percent for the 2015-16 season. But Wednesday night's dud certainly won't inspire anyone to break out the credit card to pay for postseason games.

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"It happens,'' Hollins said. "In the biggest games, Super Bowls, one team comes out flat and the other team comes out super. I can't explain it. I could say, 'Well, we had a little bit of a hangover from the Golden State game,' but I'd be lying because that had nothing to do with it. We just didn't have it tonight.''