Consider this Exhibit A.
When the naysayers talk about the Nets' chances as contenders, they point to performances such as the numbing one Tuesday night. The Nets have this uncanny, if not embarrassing, tendency to play poorly against teams that are missing key components, a troubling trend for a team with visions of making some postseason noise.
The Lakers were the latest undermanned bunch to smack the Nets in the face. So what if Dwight Howard was on the bench in a gray suit, sitting out with a shoulder injury. It didn't matter that Metta World Peace was suspended.
The Nets floundered against a team that was without two starters and couldn't keep their perfect record (17-0) versus sub.-500 teams intact. They became unglued in the final minutes, falling apart in a 92-83 defeat in front of a sellout crowd of 17,732 at Barclays Center.
"That's a good basketball team," interim coach P.J. Carlesimo said. "We got beat by a good basketball team that played better than we did. The fact that Dwight's not here, there's no way of knowing. They might not have played nearly as well or we might win by 20 if Dwight played or if Metta played. Do I like playing them without those guys as opposed to playing them with them? Absolutely.
"You can say we didn't take advantage of it, but we just got outplayed by the guys that were here."
Particularly in the fourth quarter, when the Nets (28-20) let four leads slip away. They went an ice-cold 29.2 percent from the floor, missed their final four shots and let the Lakers (23-26) hit 9 of 19 attempts.
Even though the Lakers were without Howard, they still had someone who needed no introduction: Kobe Bryant. He had 21 points, and his nasty righthanded dunk over Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries with 2:47 left put the Lakers up 82-80. Wallace said: "I think the dunk gave his team energy."
Brook Lopez responded 14 seconds later, nailing a jumper as Earl Clark fouled him and making the free throw. But Antawn Jamison's finger roll 11 seconds later gave the Lakers the lead for good, and Bryant's running layup with 1:41 left made it 86-83.
"Those last 2 1/2 minutes were about as bad as I've played on both ends of the floor all season," Lopez said. "I feel like the responsibility falls on myself. I made poor decisions offensively, didn't finish well, and defensively, didn't guard the pick and roll very well, let 'Twan get to the basket easily, and let [Clark] get that pick-and-pop jumper, and it changed the game."
Lopez had 30 points and 11 rebounds. Williams had 15 points and six assists, but took just four shots in the second half and had only four points. Joe Johnson also disappeared in the second half, scoring five points. The Nets went 34.8 percent from the field, including 6-for-23 on three-pointers.
"I don't think I was aggressive enough the whole second half," Williams said. "I don't think Joe was aggressive enough the whole second half. We just couldn't get our shots to fall, so we wanted to try to get other people involved, but that's the time when we've got to step up."
Which is what they're supposed to do against teams missing more than one key contributor. Asked if these are the types of games the Nets must win if they want to be considered elite, Williams said, "Yeah."