If October’s preseason is anything to go by, it may not come as any surprise that the New Jersey Nets are struggling.
They lost two close games to the Knicks—one by four points, another by two.
They lost to the 76ers after missing a three-pointer at the buzzer, despite leading by as many as 16.
And they lost twice to the Boston Celtics in three days, the second time after carrying a nine-point lead into the fourth quarter and a one-point lead into the final 60 seconds.
After losing six of their seven warm-up scrimmages, the Nets finally got a preseason win under their belt against Philadelphia with a comprehensive 110-88 victory just five days before the curtain fell on the 2009 season opener.
The Nets had finally found a way to win, but any optimism was soon washed away as their problems continued…and grew.
What began as a disappointing start to the season quickly deteriorated into a record-setting bloodbath of near-misses and heartaches.
Untangling the Defeats
The New Jersey Nets are a riddle locked in a conundrum; a puzzle wrapped around a quandary; an enigma of what-ifs and maybes.
They have played just as well with eight healthy players available as they have with a full complement of 15.
They held the dangerous Portland Trailblazers to just 13 points in the third quarter, but then let the Nuggets drop 44 on them.
They blew a 19-point second-half lead in their opener against the Timberwolves, and lost twice to the Philadelphia 76ers within a week—both times by just three points.
The Nets may be 0-18, but they could just as easily be 6-12—a mere one win out of a playoff spot.
Putting it into perspective, the Nets have led for more than three hours of game time—almost one quarter of their total time on court.
They have lost five games by single digits, and 10 of their 18 by less than a dozen. Only once have they lost by more than 20, and that game could have gone either way until a third-quarter collapse.
There have been times when they have been thoroughly outplayed from start to finish such as against Portland, Sacramento, and the Lakers, but even in the worst defeats they have been within touching distance.
While 16 other teams have allowed more points per game than the Nets, the fact is that the Nets have only averaged 86.6 points—the worst in the league—in their 18 losses.
The team's 40.6 percent field goal success rate is also the worst in the NBA, and their 27.5 percent three-point shooting ranks ahead of only Minnesota.
One big quarter has usually been the downfall of the Nets. In this league, if you can’t be competitive for all 48 minutes, you are going to lose more than you win.
Unfortunately for the injury-decimated Nets, it is a tough lesson to learn.
• (0-1 at Minnesota) The Nets led for more than 41 of the 48 minutes against the Minnesota Timberwolves, including all but the final 34.6 seconds of the second half when they blew a 19-point lead.
Brook Lopez scored 27 point and grabbed 15 rebounds and the Nets held Minnesota to just 36 percent shooting from the field, but 22 turnovers killed New Jersey as the T’Wolves closed the game on a 24-6 run.
• (0-2 vs. Orlando) Against the Orlando Magic, the Nets trailed the entire second half and never got closer than nine points in the fourth quarter. They led briefly in the first half, but even with Vince Carter missing the second half with an injured ankle, the Magic held off New Jersey with relative ease.
Dwight Howard notched a double-double (20 points, 22 rebounds), and even though the Nets only turned the ball over six times, they lost by 10 points, 95-85.
• (0-3 at Washington) Devin Harris missed the trip to Washington with a right groin injury, and even though the Nets led for nearly five minutes in the first period, they got outscored 71-55 in the second and third quarters.
Chris Douglas-Roberts netted 25 points on the road, but Gilbert Arenas led all scorers with 32.
• (0-4 at Charlotte) The Nets led by as many as 14 against Charlotte, but they only scored seven points in the entire third quarter while the Bobcats scored 24 unanswered.
New Jersey had every chance to win, especially after restricting the Bobcats to just 1-of-15 shooting from beyond the arc.
Yi Jianlian sprained his right knee in the third quarter and guard Chris Douglas-Roberts left with an ankle injury in the fourth.
Tony Battie (sore right knee), Keyon Dooling (hip surgery), and Jarvis Hayes (strained left hamstring) all sat out.
• (0-5 vs. Denver) New Jersey led by one point at halftime against the Nuggets, but the Nets allowed 44 points in a free-scoring third quarter. They never got closer than within 17 points in the final period.
The Nets scored 56 points in the paint, but they only shot 38 percent compared to the Nuggets’ 53 percent.
• (0-6 at Philadelphia) Against the 76ers, the Nets led by as many as eight in the third quarter despite being without three of their five starters from Opening Night and only having nine players in uniform.
Trenton Hassell, Brook Lopez, Rafer Alston, and Bobby Simmons all scored double-digit points for the Nets, but Philly made 8-of-16 three-pointers to win 97-94.
Trailing by three points, the Nets turned the ball over with three-tenths of a second left immediately after a time out. They never got a shot off.
To compound the problem, Courtney Lee left the game with a groin injury in the third.
• (0-7 vs. Boston) Things did not get better against the Boston Celtics. With seven players on the 15-man roaster unable to play, the Nets put up a brave fight but turned the ball over 23 times.
They led by one after the first quarter, one at the half, and two at the end of three. But as in previous games, they were out-scored by double-digits in the fourth quarter and they dropped to 0-7 with an 86-76 loss.
• (0-8 vs. Philadelphia) Their second defeat to Philadelphia in six days was cruel. The lead changed hands many times, and the Nets—with just seven players—were in it the whole way, leading by two with 1:26 left in the game.
But in almost identical fashion to their defeat less than a week before, the Nets turned the ball over immediately after a time out, never putting up a shot.
Trenton Hassell missed a lay-up with 1:01 remaining and Rafer Alston inbounded the ball to the wrong player with four seconds left.
• (0-9 at Orlando) The 88-72 score against the Magic doesn’t tell the whole story. The Nets led for most of the first half—sometimes by as many as 10 points—and they were only down by six at the start of the fourth quarter.
Rafer Alston recorded a triple-double with 17 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists, but the Nets only shot 33 percent from the field.
• (0-10 at Miami) After suiting up nine men against the 76ers and the Magic, the Nets were back down to eight when they faced the Heat in Florida.
They trailed by two points at halftime, one point after three, and they led on seven different occasions in the fourth quarter.
The Nets’ Williams snapped a 75-75 tie with a three-pointer with 42 seconds to go, but Quentin Richardson banked a trey with 25 ticks left.
Brook Lopez tipped Rafer Alston’s layup back with four seconds left to give New Jersey a two-point lead, but Dwayne Wade hit a three-pointer with one-tenth remaining to snatch victory away from the winless Nets.
• (0-11 vs. Indiana) Against the Pacers, the Nets trailed by eight at the half and by as many as 17 points in the third quarter.
After a 9-0 run to start the game, the Pacers never let the Nets get closer than four points adrift. They fought back to within six in the fourth quarter, but were overmatched start to finish.
Eduardo Najera missed the game with a sore back and the Nets shot just 36 percent from the field and 1-of-11 from three-point range.
• (0-12 at Milwaukee) Against Milwaukee, the Nets led by seven points at halftime and by as many as 11 in the second half, before a third-quarter collapse killed all hopes of their first win.
The Bucks outscored the Nets 28-12 in the third quarter, turning a seven-point deficit into a nine-point lead on the back of a 15-0 run to open the half.
Chris Douglas-Roberts led all scorers with 31 points, but the Nets fell to 0-12.
• (0-13 vs. New York) After taking an early lead against the New York Knicks, the Nets fell behind for long periods of time throughout the first three quarters.
Apparently the return of star Devin Harris wasn’t enough to stop the skid, even though the Knicks turned the ball over more than the Nets and scored fewer points in the paint.
A 10-0 rally at the end of the third quarter and start of the fourth brought the Nets to within one point, but again they failed to complete the comeback and eventually dropped the game 98-91.
• (0-14 at Denver) The Nets came out of the blocks quickly against Denver, but once the Nuggets had the lead they never looked back.
Despite having 10 players available for the first time in three weeks, the Nets allowed 60 points in the paint and 29 points on fast breaks. They also turned the ball over 23 times.
• (0-15 at Portland) Against the Trailblazers, the Nets were behind start to finish.
The Nets got to within one point; the Trailblazers went on an 11-0 run. The Nets tied the game at 54-54; Portland scored the game’s next eight points.
In fact, the Nets trailed for all but 79 seconds in the game.
They were behind by five after one quarter, five at halftime, and by six after three. They held the Trailblazers to only 13 points in the third quarter, but could only muster 12 points themselves.
• (0-16 at Sacramento) Their West Coast road trip didn’t get any better in Sacramento. They allowed 33 points in the first quarter, trailed by 17 at the half, and never got within less than six points of the Kings in the fourth quarter.
The Nets forced 17 turnovers, but they shot just 38 percent and dropped the game 109-96.
• (0-17 at Los Angeles Lakers) Closing out the month of November against the champion L.A. Lakers, the Nets had to play without the guidance of Lawrence Frank, who had been fired earlier in the day.
With the infamy of tying the league record for the worst start to a season on the line, the Nets jumped out to an early 8-5 lead before the Lakers scored 22 of the game's next 24 points.
L.A. led by 23 at the half and stretched its advantage to as many as 34 after the break.
• (0-18 vs. Dallas) Against Dallas, the slide continued. After matching the Nets basket-for-basket in the first quarter, the Mavs exploded for 49 points in the second period to take a 27-point lad into the break.
Considering the Mavericks led by as many as 31, the 16-point final deficit showed signs of resilience from the Nets. By then, of course, the game was long over.