Nets can't snap out of funk, lose to Knicks at Madison Square Garden
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But it's been wafting through the Nets' locker room lately and the odor is getting stronger with each painful defeat, the latest a 100-86 decision to the Knicks at the Garden last night in which their second-half struggles reappeared once again.
The Nets were outclassed by their crosstown rivals for the better part of the game's final 24 minutes, faltering after a strong third-quarter start. After serving as the NBA's darlings because of their $330-million plus summer shopping spree and rattling off a franchise-record 11 wins in their first 15 games, the Nets (13-12) basically squandered the early-season cache they built up while falling into this serious swoon, dropping eight of their last 10 games.
"We are frustrated," said Deron Williams, who had 16 points and 10 assists. "We've got to change some things. We've got to get better. It's on us. It's not anybody's fault. It's us as players. We need to come out with more energy, more focus.
"It's like we lost a little bit of our toughness and we have to get that back."
At the outset of the second half, it appeared as if the Nets were going to break their maddening second-half trend. Williams shot the ball as confidently as he had all season and came out of the locker room hot, scoring nine points in the half's initial 5:05 to stave off those usual third-quarter blues.
But the Nets started struggling mightily from the field after Williams' torrid start, scoring a mere six points in the quarter's final 6:54 once Williams nailed a 23-foot pull-up jumper that gave them a 61-57 advantage. The Knicks (19-6) knifed through the Nets' interior defense in the paint and seized control on the strength of an 18-4 run at the end of the third.
Tyson Chandler had three alley-oops in the third quarter alone and also had a nasty putback dunk, helping the Knicks double their first-half points in the paint total of 14.
"We know the second half is our downfall," Gerald Wallace said. "We played 24 minutes of great ball in the first half and it just seems like our next 12 minutes, we are kind of lost offensively and defensively. So, we've got to figure out as a team how we can fix that and get this thing turned around."
Joe Johnson said the Nets need to rely more on their offensive system after halftime and cut out some of the isolation ball that often leads to bad shots.
"It works in the first half," Johnson said, "so it should work in the second half. It's not about the offense. It's about us not running our sets.
"We just have a tendency to play one-on-one basketball, and it's not going to work."
It surely hasn't since the calendar flipped to December, putting the Nets' early-season success deep into the rearview mirror.
"These times are the times that really dictate what type of team we are going to be all year," coach Avery Johnson said. "It's not going to be easy. We've got a lot of season left. I know I've been saying that, but we'll get it turned around."