MIAMI - The Nets' unconscionable freefall continues and the pull cord on their emergency parachute isn't working, a disastrous set of circumstances for a team teetering on the brink.
They're on the fast track to irrelevancy, sitting on the cusp of playoff oblivion, and at this rate it's going to take a minor miracle for them to do an about-face and earn a postseason ticket for the third straight season.
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Wednesday night's matchup with the Heat represented a chance to make amends somewhat for their disappointing play of late, providing the Nets with an opportunity to gain some important ground on one of the teams they are chasing in the standings. But they came out flat in one of their biggest games of the season, playing catch-up for all but three-plus minutes of the first quarter and lost their fifth game, getting burned by the Heat, 104-98, at AmericanAirlines Arena.
In a matter of 10 days, the Nets (25-38) have gone from holding onto the eighth spot in the standings to finding themselves on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. They fell three games behind the Pacers for the final playoff spot with 19 games remaining, also dropping to a season-low 13 games below .500.
"It's definitely tough right now," said Deron Williams, who, along with Jarrett Jack, paced the Nets with 18 points. "It's not a good feeling. the position we were in and the position we are in now. We had a chance to control our own destiny and we are kind of throwing it away."
Still, Williams insists their fighting spirit remains.
"I think so," he said. "It's definitely alive. But we've just to keep going. We've got get one win and hopefully kick-start some other things."
Dwyane Wade paced the Heat (29-35) with 28 points, draining 10 of 25 shots, and Chris "Birdman" Anderson was a force inside for Miami with 18 points and 14 rebounds. The two sparked the Heat to a flaming hot start in which they connected on their initial nine shots and jumped out to a 13-point first quarter advantage.
Turnovers killed the Nets, who threw the ball away 21 times leading to 26 points, and they really only threatened the Heat on two occasions, the second coming way too late as they drew within 106-101 with 36.7 seconds left, creating a bit of fool's gold with the final result.
"We can't win a game," said Joe Johnson, who went 3 for 11 from the field. "That's pretty much it."
Johnson is at a loss for words in explaining the Nets' woes.
"I never would've imagined this," he said. "But you've got to keep working. I know it's far fetched that we are still fighting for a playoff spot. But it's still not over."
Their true chance came in third quarter, when they finally started showing a spark. Williams buried a three-pointer with 6:22 left to shave the Nets' deficit to 69-61 and had a nice drive to the bucket on their ensuing possession to whittle the gap to 69-63. But the Heat responded with a 9-2 mini spurt to regain control, grabbing a 78-65 edge that never fell lower than eight points.
"Man, it's hard," Thaddeus Young said. "It is definitely in our hands and it's slipping out of our grasp, but we've just got to keep going out there battling, keep going out there fighting and hopefully the tides will turn and work in our favor."