No disrespect to anyone, especially the Magic, which gamely made a run in the third quarter. The real function for this game for the Nets, though, was that it ended a brief cold snap. It warmed them up again, just in time for some serious Heat.
Wednesday will be a good measuring stick for the Nets, what with the defending champion coming in. At least they got their stride back Monday night with a 97-77 win that followed two deflating road losses.
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The Nets did have to turn back a challenge late in this one against the Magic, which got a surprising boost from Maurice Harkless, a rookie from St. John's who had a career-high 16 points. Keith Bogans made three three-pointers in the deciding stretch early in the fourth to help the Nets to their eighth straight win at home, their fourth in four tries against Orlando and their 13th in 17 games under P.J. Carlesimo. They have won 11 games in January, tying their total from November.
Certainly, they do fine in the games that the standings say they are supposed to win. They are 17-0 against teams with losing records -- a statistic that will be completely irrelevant when the Heat visits Brooklyn for the first time.
"We've had some good wins against some good teams," Deron Williams said after a 20-point game (18 in the first half). "But we haven't played as well as we need to against the upper-echelon teams. That's what we have to do a better job at."
They believe that Monday night will help them on the way to Wednesday. It sure made them feel much better than they felt after two deflating, one-sided losses on the road in which their defense failed them.
"We played two bad games," Bogans said. "We wanted to come back and try not to make the mistakes that we made in Memphis and Houston."
As Williams put it, "We needed to stop the bleeding after the two games we just had, and get back to playing defense."
Along with Williams' shooting, good passing all the way around and a solid shift from their bench, the Nets' defense turned a 15-15 game into a comfortable 56-40 halftime lead. Fans were emboldened to chant "All-Star" every time Brook Lopez did something well. "I'm just happy we have the support here," said Lopez, who had 16 points.
But despite falling to 14-30, the Magic made some noise in the third quarter, coming within six. That's when the Nets reverted to the depth and strength that they will need Wednesday, and in every game against a top team. They need to play the way Bogans did Wednesday night.
"I've been playing for a while, man. Ten years," he said after his 12-point night. "I'm not going to get out of my game. I'm not going to do more than what's asked of me. Defend first and shoot the ball second. I'm not out there to score the ball, but when it comes my way, I'm going to take the shot."
Now the Nets have a shot at the champions, who are 2-0 against the Nets this season. "I think that is a game where we don't have to worry about having enough energy," Lopez said.
Williams added: "It's a good game for us, a good test for us. I think we'll prove we're a little different team."