The New Jersey Nets left nothing to be desired in terms of effort in their Wednesday night game against the Phoenix Suns. The result is where the problem is.
New Jersey battled through an 118-109 overtime loss, a final score that isn't so bad considering that the Suns would be considered by most to be the superior team.
It's the way it went down that stings.
With just under 11 minutes to go in the fourth quarter, the Nets held a 90-75 lead before being outscored 28-13 throughout the rest of regulation and then 15-6 in overtime.
Through the first three quarters of the game, the Nets had only six turnovers, but wound up with a total of 16 after getting sloppy in the fourth.
They also were unable to get their shots to fall after third, going 8-of-22 (36 percent) in the fourth quarter and overtime after connecting at a rate of 52 percent through three quarters.
While it was nice to see the Nets competitive in a game, losing after having such a big, late lead is disheartening.
It's better than losing by 20-plus points as the team did in its last two contests, but these guys need to find a way to finish a game like this one.
New Jersey got solid offensive games across the board, except for Travis Outlaw, who was just 2-of-12 for five points. He also missed on all six of his three-point attempts.
On the game, the Nets were 48 percent from the floor. If you take away Outlaw's stinker of a night, they shot over 50 percent.
A game can't be blamed on one player, and Outlaw did at least find a way to contribute with 11 rebounds, but something needs to be done here. He's not getting it done and this has gone on for far too long.
Outlaw lost his starting job earlier in the season to Damion James and Quinton Ross. James is out for the foreseeable future with a broken foot, but Ross is perfectly able to play.
He was on the floor for 17 minutes against the Suns and was productive in that time. It looks like another shakeup to the starting five is needed.
The Nets can also blame the disparities in free throw attempts and rebounds for the loss.
Phoenix got to the line a whopping 42 times in the game while New Jersey put up all of 22 shots from the charity stripe. In a game that was lost by just nine points, the 18 extra points accumulated by the Suns from the line is a major factor.
The 45-39 edge in rebounds held by the Suns is not nearly as big of a discrepancy as the free throw attempts, but it still played a role—particularly when you consider that Phoenix had three more offensive rebounds than the Nets.
The combination of the free throws and the extra opportunities afforded the Suns by all the turnovers and offensive rebounds were simply too much for the Nets to overcome.
The Suns also repeatedly got a mismatch with Devin Harris being forced to guard Channing Frye after switches on screens. For some reason an adjustment was never made, and Phoenix was able to get the advantage on offense over and over again.
There was some concern heading into this game about the effect all of the trade rumors surrounding the team would have, so much so that coach Avery Johnson called a meeting earlier in the week to address the issue.
Whatever Johnson said worked, especially for Harris and Derrick Favors—the players mentioned most in potential deals for Denver Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony.
Harris finished the game with 15 points and 15 assists, his second double-double in five games.
Favors totaled 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting. It's nothing spectacular, but is a definite sign of progress on the offensive end from the rookie.
The Nets also got major contributions from Sasha Vujacic (19 points), Jordan Farmar (12 points and six assists) and Kris Humphries (16 points, six rebounds and three blocks).
Brook Lopez scored 16 points on 7-of-13 shooting and pulled down eight rebounds, but interestingly did not play much in the fourth quarter and overtime.
That could be easily the result of the Suns playing with a smaller lineup and Johnson needing to match up his players, or it could be something to watch going forward. We'll find out in the next few games.
It won't be any easier for the Nets on Friday night when they visit the Los Angeles Lakers.
New Jersey played the Lakers close earlier in the season, and will need to provide some serious effort to contend once again.
All we can really ask for is that they keep playing hard.