Andray Blatche of the Brooklyn Nets is guarded by Larry...

Andray Blatche of the Brooklyn Nets is guarded by Larry Sanders of the Milwaukee Bucks. (Dec. 9, 2012) Credit: Errol Anderson

Things have gotten so bad of late that Avery Johnson has been hearing it from all directions.

The Nets' coach probably can't plop down on the sofa in his own home without being asked about his team's inept defense.

"I get the question even from my wife sometimes,'' he said. " 'You guys can't stop this guy?' "

Looks as though he'll have to answer it again after the Nets' lethargic performance Sunday night, one that resulted in their fourth straight loss. They were shredded by Milwaukee and heard plenty of boos before awakening from their game-long slumber in the fourth quarter, producing a furious comeback attempt before losing to the Bucks, 97-88, at Barclays Center.

"You want to protect home court, and tonight we didn't play like a team that had lost three in a row," Deron Williams said. "So we've got our backs against the wall right now and we have to fight our way out of it."

Switching the starting lineup did little to spark the Nets defensively and change the vibe heading into Tuesday night's game against the Knicks in Brooklyn. Johnson inserted Reggie Evans at power forward in place of Kris Humphries with hopes of fixing the interior issues, something that's become more prevalent in the five games Brook Lopez has missed while recovering from a ligament sprain in his right foot.

But the same problems still existed. In building a 29-point second-half lead, Milwaukee (10-9) bullied the Nets (11-8) down low. The Bucks scored 40 points in the paint on 39 attempts, with Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis doing their part by getting into the lane. They totaled 50 points.

Johnson thought the Nets had corrected some of their fundamental flaws by going over a few things in practice a day earlier. Apparently, there's still a lot of work to do.

"It's frustrating. It just feels like we took a step back instead of a step forward," Evans said. "Probably just [need to start] communicating more. It just kind of frustrated you. I don't even know what to say about the whole interior defense.

"We've just definitely got to buckle up. Immediately."

The Nets went ahead 11-2 after a little more than three minutes, but then the offense sputtered. They began hesitating, passed up open shots and went ice-cold from the field, shooting 8-for-26 in the first quarter and 5-for-21 in the second.

"We came out the first couple of minutes and looked really good, looked really sharp," Williams said. "We executed really well. And then something happened where we just couldn't find it."

Williams had 18 points and eight assists for the Nets. Gerald Wallace added 16 points and 16 rebounds, and Andray Blatche had 11 points and six rebounds.

Joe Johnson scored six points, shot 2-for-8 and played only 2:56 in the third quarter. Why?

"I have no idea," he said.

That's the same thought Williams had as he pondered what's gone wrong for the Nets during this slide. Next up: the Knicks, one of the hottest teams in the league right now. "We are struggling right now and this is a team that's playing really good basketball," Williams said. "So we have to be ready."

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