The Nets began Wednesday night at Barclays Center in search of a victory over Charlotte that would give them their first three-game winning streak in a difficult season, and it seemed as if they had it under control with a 23-point third-quarter lead. But the Hornets put together an 18-2 in the final 3:33 and got a dominant 32-point, 30-rebound game from Dwight Howard to pull out a 111-105 victory that ranked as one of the Nets’ worst losses of the season.
In their previous two wins, the Nets played poor defense for three periods but then played tough in the fourth quarter. This time, they gave up 36 points in the final period and 68 points in the second half. After controlling the paint in the first half by a 38-14 margin, they were outscored in the second half, 30-6 to finish tied in paint points at 44-all.
“Just disappointed,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “We had done a great job in the last two games locking down in the fourth quarter, and tonight, we didn’t do it. Obviously, the rebounding (a 68-46 deficit, including 23 offensive rebounds by the Hornets) was a big issue. Dwight Howard had a monster game. They overwhelmed us.”
Howard had 28 of his 32 points and 20 of his 30 rebounds in the second half, and he finished with 11 offensive rebounds. The Hornets (31-41) also got 24 points from Kemba Walker, 17 from Jeremy Lamb and pulled out the win despite shooting only 38.3 percent.
D’Angelo Russell had 19 points to lead six Nets (23-49) in double figures, including Caris LeVert (14) and Allen Crabbe and Spencer Dinwiddie with 13 points apiece. But after going hard to the rim for two quarters, they backed off. It began in the third period when they were outscored in the paint by 16-2 as the Hornets cut their deficit to 87-75.
“I just think we didn’t do as good of a job moving the ball, moving ourselves and maybe we weren’t as aggressive attacking the rim,” Joe Harris said. “We kind of settled for a lot of pull-up twos and contested threes. We weren’t even in the bonus at the end of the game, so we didn’t put a whole lot of pressure on the rim, didn’t draw a lot of fouls. I don’t know if the mindset changed offensively the second half collectively, but we just didn’t get as many rim touches and open threes.”
Atkinson credited improved defense by the Hornets for closing the paint in the second half, but he expressed frustration with his team’s shot selection in the third period when Charlotte closed with a 16-5 run. Russell thought the Nets were getting good looks from three-point range, and they hit six of 13 in the third quarter, but they made just two of eight in the final period.
“I think when you drive the ball like that, the perimeter starts to open up, and I think we were making the right passes to the perimeter,” Russell said. “We just didn’t knock them down. We were missing good shots and they were chipping away.”
Obviously, Howard did most of the chipping for the Hornets, who got to the line to make 36 of 47 foul shots and succeeded in fouling out Hollis-Jefferson and Jarrett Allen.
“I think they got downhill in the pick-and-roll, too [with Walker], and Jarrett’s got to come over and help. But yes, they obviously went to [Howard]. It’s a good learning experience for Jarrett and for Quincy [Acy]. He’s a load.”
Nothing was more disappointing for the Nets than being outscored 18-2 in the final 3:33. “We got good looks,” Russell said. “Some of them were contested, but no excuse for that loss.”