P.J. Carlesimo downplays opportunity to move into tie with Knicks

P.J. Carlesimo walks on the sideline during a

P.J. Carlesimo walks on the sideline during a game against the Memphis Grizzlies. (Feb. 24, 2013) (Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan)

Was the prospect of tying the Knicks at the top of the Atlantic Division standings a big deal? Or wasn't it a big deal?

That turned into a high-level debate before Sunday night's game between the Nets and the Atlanta Hawks at Barclays Center.

A little more than two hours before the start of the game, the Clippers completed their 93-80 win over the Knicks in Los Angeles. That cut the Knicks' lead over the Nets to a half-game, meaning that the Nets (38-27) entered their game knowing that a win would put them in a virtual tie with the Knicks (38-26) for the division lead.

Nets interim coach P.J. Carlesimo refused to get terribly excited about the prospect, because the two teams have played a different number of games and a win would leave the Nets .003 behind the Knicks (.594 to .591).

"We're not tied for the division lead," Carlesimo said before the game. "I told you guys today, I don't know how you come up with that nonsense. They had two -- they had two less losses than we do -- so we're not tied with them when they have one less loss. I don't care what the numbers say. You can't be tied with somebody when you have one more loss than they do. It's meaningless."

Nets CEO Brett Yormark apparently didn't see it as meaningless.

"Excited about tonight's Nets game. Chance to be tied for the division lead," Yormark tweeted at 6:53, which, coincidentally or not, was about five minutes after the end of Carlesimo's pregame news conference.

The two teams haven't been in a tie, virtual or otherwise, atop the standings since late November. Still, it makes sense that Carlesimo and Yormark would have different perspectives on the significance of the event. Yormark's job, after all, is to sell tickets. Carlesimo, who still is officially an interim coach, is trying to temper expectations and perhaps doesn't want to jinx his team before a tough road stretch.

Beginning with Monday night's game at Detroit, the Nets play eight straight games on the road, which is the longest road trip any team in the NBA will have this season. The 17-day excursion, which will take place while the Ringling Brothers circus is at Barclays Center, includes a six-game West Coast road trip sandwiched between games against Detroit and Cleveland.

"It's tough to pack for a trip this long," Joe Johnson said. "I'm going to have to do some laundry."

The Nets are 10-14 against the Western Conference and entered Sunday night's game with a 28-13 record against the East.

Said Johnson: "I think we all know that we're headed into a key stretch and that this road trip is an important one for us."

Notes & quotes: Johnson said before the game that his sore left heel is feeling much better now that he has had a five-day break to rest it. He missed the Nets' previous game, Tuesday night against New Orleans, so he could get an extra day of rest. Still, he said he expected to be on a minutes restriction for Sunday night's game against his former team . . . Carlesimo said he doesn't have a timetable for getting Kris Humphries back into his rotation.

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