With every win over the lesser teams, the mirage grew.
As the Nets were skating through most of the competition under interim coach P.J. Carlesimo, stockpiling wins over mediocre and sub-.500 squads, it seemed as if most of their major issues had been corrected.
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They weren't getting shredded as much defensively and were sticking to their schematic principles. Communication was a constant. The ball didn't stick offensively, moving fluidly around to the open man.
"It always looks good against the average team," Gerald Wallace said Wednesday after the Nets lost to the Heat, 105-85. "But you look at three of the [four] previous teams that we've played, it showed. And that's Memphis, Houston and Miami.
"Everything looks good against the average team because we were able to make [it] up because of our talent. But when we play against these marquee teams, you can't afford to have these types of games and doing the same thing over and over."
The league's top teams are exposing the Nets (27-19). Those speed bumps that were so spaced out during the first month of Carlesimo's tenure are becoming more frequent, and the Nets have yet to prove they can consistently play with the league's elite.
All five losses under Carlesimo have been by double digits. They were clobbered by 31 points in San Antonio, 14 in Atlanta, 24 in Memphis and 13 in Houston before getting pounded at home by the Heat. All of those teams had winning records when the Nets played them, contributing to their 10-19 mark versus squads with .500-or-better records at tip-off. They are 17-0 against teams that were below .500 when the Nets played them.
Starting Friday night against Chicago (28-17), eight of the Nets' next 12 games are against teams with winning records. So either they will start reversing their tendency to go belly up when they play the league's best or they'll get slapped with the dreaded "pretender" label, spoiling some of the good vibes that were prevalent when they thought they could be serious championship contenders.
Notes & quotes: In an interview on SiriusXM's "Off the Dribble," Reggie Evans tried to clarify remarks he made to the Daily News that drew LeBron James' ire. Before Wednesday's game, Evans said of the Heat's title: "That don't prove nothing. That was a lockout season.'' He addressed the comments Thursday: "Well, I didn't say it didn't prove anything. Those were not my exact words. I just said they won a championship in a lockout season. That's what I said. So I never downplayed it or nothing . . . I guess people just took it out of proportion.''