NEW ORLEANS -- This should have been a painless stroll through the Big Easy, particularly with the way the Nets were playing of late and given all the key players the Pelicans were missing.
Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday were all looking sharp in their suits on the bench, powerless to do anything for the Pelicans other than serving as a trio of cheerleaders. So considering how good the Nets had been feeling about themselves since the All-Star break, pounding two of the Western Conference's bottom feeders, Wednesday night's game had all the makings of a golden opportunity for Brooklyn to keep those positive vibes alive as they head into the final two games of this 11-day, five-city road trip.
Instead, chalk up a trademark disappointing letdown for a team that can't afford any losses in its quest to make the playoffs for a third straight season. Go figure. It was a rough one at the Smoothie King Center.
"I mean, yeah, I think we gave ourselves a chance, [but] regardless of who's out there playing on the court playing for them, we've got to come to and try to take care of business and we just came up short," Joe Johnson said following the Nets' 102-96 loss to the Pelicans. "I thought we had a good chance at winning this game. We just couldn't get stops at the end."
Quincy Pondexter's three-pointer with 49.9 seconds left ended any comeback thoughts by the Nets (23-32), the final dagger in a fourth quarter in which New Orleans led by as many as 11 points. It was only fitting since the Nets' defense betrayed them all night, allowing the Pelicans (30-27) to get way too many open jumpers and shoot 51.4 percent from the floor.
"I think that's what kind of separates the good teams from the middle of the pack and so that's kind of where we are right now, we are the middle of the pack," said Deron Williams, who had 10 points and six assists. He shot 4 for 14 from the floor. "We want to make that step to a good team and hopefully we get there."
Johnson paced the Nets with 21 points and 10 rebounds, and Thaddeus Young had his best offensive output since getting traded to the Nets for Kevin Garnett last week, posting 19 points and five rebounds.
Pondexter led the Pelicans (30-27) with 25 points.
Trailing 76-73 at the start of the fourth in a game that had six third-quarter lead changes and eight overall, the Nets never stopped pressing the snooze button. They fell behind by as many as 11 points, needing a timeout to regroup after Tyreke Evans' reverse layup lifted New Orleans to a 93-82 lead.
They made one final run, getting within 98-93 on Alan Anderson's three-pointer with 1:48 remaining. However, Jarrett Jack, who missed the previous two games nursing a hamstring injury, misfired on a three on the Nets' ensuing possession, ending their last true threat.
"Man, I think I rushed it a little bit," Jack said. "I kind of hesitated with whether I wanted to go to the basket to get the two or go get the three. But I tried to let it fly, I tried to get it back to a one possession ballgame. But I came up a little short. That's one memory repaying in my mind."