Nets enter break on down note with loss to Bulls

Nets guard Deron Williams wipes his face as

Nets guard Deron Williams wipes his face as he listens to head coach Jason Kidd during the first half against the Chicago Bulls in Chicago on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014. (Credit: AP / Nam Y. Huh)

CHICAGO - It's surely something that won't be at the forefront of their thoughts as they spend time in one of their favorite locales over these next few days, probably sipping on a fruity beverage.

Visions of struggles in back-to-backs likely will take a backseat to anything and everything else, given the turbulent four months the Nets navigated in what was supposed to be the most highly-anticipated season in franchise history. But make no mistake about it: It's a flaw the Nets are going to have to correct if they're truly going to make a push for one of the top seeds in the Eastern Conference down the stretch.

Doomed by a 17-4 run at the tail end of the fourth quarter, the Nets failed to finish things off strong heading into the All-Star break, losing to the Bulls, 92-76, at the United Center Thursday night.

"It's definitely needed," Deron Williams said of the All-Star break. "I'm going to step away for a little bit and get my mind right more than anything."

When asked if the Nets need a break after a mental grind, Williams added, "I think that's where it's most needed, just to kind of clear our heads and get right. I know for me especially, just to try to get my confidence back and step away for a minute."

Paul Pierce had 15 points for the Nets (24-27), who fell to 2-10 in the second game of back-to-backs. Williams added 13 points, but made only 4 of 14 shots and had six turnovers. The Nets shot only 38.8 percent from the field.

"I can't really put my finger on it," Pierce said of the Nets' problems with back-to-backs. "It's something that has to do with being mentally tough."

Taj Gibson had 16 points off the bench to lead the Bulls (27-25), who shot 50 percent from the field.

Staring at an eight-point deficit at the outset of the fourth, the Nets were right there with just over six minutes remaining, finding themselves down 75-72 once Andrei Kirilenko drained a three-pointer with 6:29 remaining. However, D.J. Augustin matched that with a shot beyond the arc of his own 17 seconds later to push the Nets back into a six-point hole. The basket sparked a 9-0 run to help the Bulls drop the Nets to seventh place in the Eastern Conference. The Nets were just 4-5 mark in their last nine games.

"We've got to get to the point where we are playing better defense, especially when Kevin [Garnett] comes out of the game," Pierce said. "That seems to be one of our glaring weaknesses right now. We can sustain an acceptable defensive level when he's in the game, but he's not going to be able to play 40, 38 minutes a night.

"So we've got to have guys ready to come in and sustain the type of intensity that he brings to help this ballclub win. It's a team game. We can't depend on one guy defensively. We have to do it collectively a little bit better."

Every time the Nets seemed as if they were about to make a move, they sputtered horribly, failing to make the crucial play to put the Bulls on their heels a little bit. Perfect example came with just under eight minutes remaining in the third quarter and the Nets trailing 56-53. They had the ball and were pushing it on a fast break when Williams lost it to Mike Dunleavy.

The Bulls went on a 6-0 spurt after the turnover as Chicago took a 62-53 lead, quickly regaining any lost momentum. The Nets couldn't trim the deficit below seven points for the rest of the quarter, ensuring they'd need a rather big effort in the fourth quarter, which they did not get.

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