PORTLAND – “Rip City,” as Portland styles itself, has a long-time reputation as one of the toughest places in the NBA to play for a visiting team, so when the Nets built a 10-point fourth-quarter lead only to lose a 148-144 double-overtime game Monday night at Moda Center, it hurt.
At the same time, the Nets showed they could go toe-to-toe with a heavyweight franchise. Backup center Ed Davis, who played for the Trail Blazers the previous three seasons, had seen plenty of visiting teams fall apart in Portland. “There’s a reason why it’s so tough to play in this building,” Davis said. “I’ve been in situations so many times on that end, and I’ve seen it happen. When you’re playing against a tough team, you have to be damn near perfect down the stretch.”
The Nets were far from perfect, but they managed to win the rebounding battle, 44-39, and to outscore the Blazers in the paint, 54-50. They got their noses dirty, and that’s exactly what it’s going to take over the final seven games, starting with the last game of their seven-game trip Thursday night in Philadelphia.
“We don’t back down,” Davis said. “No matter who we’re going up against. We fight, we take hard fouls, we do all the little things. There’s no quit in us, there’s no backing down. That doesn’t go on, definitely not on my watch.”
When their marathon trip began, one of the concerns expressed by coach Kenny Atkinson was whether his team could match the physicality of the tough Western Conference teams it faced over the first six games. That was a problem in losses at Oklahoma City and Utah, but over the next four, the Nets stepped it up, losing to the Los Angeles Clippers on a buzzer-beater, defeating the Kings and Los Angeles Lakers and then fighting the Blazers for 58 minutes.
“I think the only way you can learn about it is to go through it,” Atkinson said. “We’re going through it right now. They’re top teams in the Western Conference, and you learn a lot from these games. It’s definitely going to help us down the road.”
The Nets are in a virtual tie for sixth in the Eastern Conference with the Pistons before they play at Denver on Tuesday night. They have a slight cushion over the eighth-place Heat, ninth-place Magic and 10th-place Hornets.
“From here on out, every game is going to be a war for us,” Davis said. “The rest of our games are against playoff teams. They’re trying to tune things up, and we’re trying to get in the playoffs. We’re really going to see what we’re made of.
“But we’re still at a point where we control our own destiny. We don’t have to sit back and hope that Orlando loses. It’s a good feeling when you control your own destiny.”