HOUSTON -- Lost in the hoopla surrounding Jason Kidd's great cup caper was something a little more important about the reeling Nets: They're still pretty futile at closing out the opposition.
With the Nets down by three and out of timeouts with 8.3 seconds remaining in Wednesday night's 99-94 loss to the Lakers, Kidd essentially asked Tyshawn Taylor to bump into him and spill his drink onto the court, giving the coaching staff time to draw up a play for Paul Pierce. But Pierce missed a potential tying three-pointer and Thursday night, the NBA fined Kidd $50,000 for his actions.
Not much has worked in crunch time for the Nets (4-11), a maddening recurring theme. It's a test the Nets, who face the Rockets (11-5) Friday nigiht, know they must start acing to turn their season around.
"It's tough. We are still learning,'' Pierce said after the Nets stormed all the way back from a 27-point second-quarter deficit to tie the Lakers at 92 with 3:57 left, although they were unable to take the lead after that. "Hopefully we learn before it's too late, before we are completely out of the playoff mix.
"But we still have time. We still need to get healthy. We've just got to be able to hold down the fort a little bit better until our main guys come back.''
Squandering another golden opportunity against the Lakers was tough for the Nets' fans to stomach. After Mirza Teletovic missed the second of two free throws with a chance to give the Nets a 93-92 lead, they missed three shots and committed three turnovers, including one by Pierce that led to the go-ahead basket with 1:33 to play.
This after Tuesday's heartstopping final few minutes, when the Nets, leading by 15 with 3:15 remaining, allowed 14 straight points and barely held on for a two-point win in Toronto.
Even in their most impressive win of the season -- by a point over the Heat on Nov. 1 -- they nearly blew it at the end. So school still is in session in terms of end-of-game situations, on both sides of the ball.
"I think that we are still learning one another and you can see it out there on the floor,'' Joe Johnson said, "because a lot of times offensively we are a little confused, and sometimes defensively. So we are still trying to gain trust in one another.''
Here's where it gets scary for the Nets: That process will take much longer than anyone anticipated because of all their injuries. Complicating matters is all the lineup-juggling going on now.
"That's something we are going to have to refigure out again,'' Pierce said. "Who knows who's going to be in at the end of the games. When we figure that out and get some chemistry, I'm sure we will be a dangerous team. We can't wait on guys to get healthy. We have to get the job done now. I have to play better. A lot of us have to play better in order for us to do that.''