AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - The Nets knew what was at stake.
After nearly falling apart earlier in the season, they entered Friday night's game against the Detroit Pistons within sniffing distance of first place in the Atlantic Division. They were playing their best basketball of the season, riding a three-game winning streak that included victories over the Clippers and Celtics.
What the Nets didn't know for most of Friday night was how to produce a respectable inside game without big man Brook Lopez, who was on the bench nursing an ankle injury.
With second-year center Andre Drummond leading their beefy front line, the Pistons dominated the Nets inside in the first half, went up by as much as 21 points and hung on for a 103-99 victory at the Palace.
This was not like the Nets' ugly losses earlier in the season. Instead, they showed a newfound confidence and resilience as they battled back from a 91-70 fourth-quarter deficit to pull within 101-99 on Paul Pierce's three-pointer with 11 seconds left.
After Kyle Singler missed two free throws, the Nets (8-15) had one more chance, but Joe Johnson missed a three-pointer with 5.9 seconds left and the Nets' winning streak was over.
"The negatives are we lost, but the positive is we still fought and came back and put ourselves in a position to win it," said Andray Blatche, who had 20 points and 12 rebounds for the Nets. "A week ago or so, I don't think we would have made it back. It's showing we are getting better as a team."
The win ended a three-game losing streak for the Pistons (11-13), who were led by Drummond's 22 points and 13 rebounds. Greg Monroe added 22 points and 11 rebounds for the Pistons, who outscored the Nets 60-38 in the paint.
Deron Williams had 22 points and nine assists for the Nets, who got 17 points from Mirza Teletovic off the bench.
The Nets were feeling pretty good about themselves entering the game. In the past week, they have shown that they can play pretty well when their key players are healthy and back on the court.
"We're sitting in a place where we could maybe be in first place at the end of the night," Nets coach Jason Kidd said before the game. "That probably wasn't talked about a week ago. That's how things can change fast in this league. Again, guys have stayed the course. We're fighting to win games."
And they were doing just that the past week, helping Kidd and the Nets to feel a lot better about their team.
Said Kidd: "Winning helps. It's the best deodorant. You feel good. The bumps and bruises go away. Those guys in that locker room, we went through a tough stretch when we weren't winning. They stayed the course."