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Thursday night belonged to Harris

Devin Harris' debut couldn't have gone any better at the IZOD Center
02/28/2008 11:23 PM ET
By Al Iannazzone / Special to YESNetwork.com

Nenad Krstic added eight points.(AP)
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Devin Harris said he tried not to listen to the fans, but he admitted he heard them. It was hard not to.

The building wasn't sold out, but the "Dev-in Har-ris chants" started in the first half and reached a crescendo late in the Harris-led 120-106 win over the Milwaukee Bucks.

This was Harris' welcome to New Jersey. He had been here for more than a week, but due to a sprained left ankle his game participation was nil before Thursday unless you count clapping and slapping his teammates five.

The long-awaited debut for the point guard the Nets' acquired to replace Jason Kidd couldn't have gone any better. He entered the game with the score tied in the first period, left with the Nets up by 15 about nine minutes later and was a perfect 6-for-6 in that time.

"I am just glad that I had the start I had in the first half," Harris said. "I felt good and everything was going in."

The chants started in that time. More than anything Harris brought energy to the building and to his team. This is what the Nets hoped for when they traded Kidd and were confident Harris would deliver.

After all, he played with great players in Dallas, played in the Finals, so he knows all about winning. The Nets don't expect him to score 21 points in 21 minutes every night, but they believe he will lead them into the playoffs this year and beyond.

That's what this night was about. The deal was made over a week ago but wasn't complete until Harris played. Now the Nets know what they have, a lightning-quick point guard that can get in the lanes, run the break and set up his teammates.

It sounds a little like Kidd, but it's not like Kidd. Kidd has better vision and probably is a better passer. Harris is quicker, younger and a better shooter. But you can't help the comparisons.

There was one play that was Kidd-esque that brought the fans to their feet. On the break, Harris was sprinting down the left side when he spotted Vince Carter streaking down the right.

Carter wasn't sure what Harris would do. Everyone was watching with bated breath as Harris tossed an underhand pass that Carter slammed down with his right hand.

"He's quick in the open floor," Carter said. "I was just trying to stay close. He threw it up there and I was trying to go get it.

"I wasn't quite sure if he threw lobs or not. Now I know he does."

Now everyone knows a little more about Harris, about his speed and his skills and the Izod Center crowd, who needed to know the Nets will be OK without Kidd, showed their appreciation.

"It took me back to college," Harris said. "I haven't heard that since I left Wisconsin. I don't try to replace anybody I just try to be myself and play as hard as I can and get them to accept me for who I am."

So far so good.

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Wednesday, February 27: Posted at 5:52 p.m. ET

EAST RUTHERFORD - Devin Harris seemed to have a perpetual smile on his face after practice Wednesday.

Maybe that's the way he is or maybe Harris was happy that he went through his first full practice as a Net and reported no pain in his sprained left ankle. It means he's close to turning in his jacket and tie on game nights for a Nets' uniform.

Finally.

It's been a little more than a week, as Harris showed up in New Jersey last Tuesday. But it seemed like much longer, especially for Jason Kidd's replacement.

For Harris, this has been a long layoff. It's been a long month.

He suffered the ankle injury on Jan. 27. He was this-close to being traded on Feb. 13 from Dallas to the Nets. But Devean George killed the deal. Four days later, Harris again was this-close to being traded to the Nets, but Keith Van Horn nearly killed that one.

Finally, Harris got traded to the Nets last Tuesday and had an MRI on his ankle that revealed he needed at least another week to let it heal.

That meant another week of waiting to show the Nets and their fans what they can do, and days of questions about when he would suit up, finally.

All signs, though, are pointing toward the Nets' new point guard playing his first game with his new team tomorrow night against the Bucks.

"We'll see how he is," coach Lawrence Frank said. "Is there any swelling, any pain, any residual effect from today? If there isn't, then he'll play. If there is, then we'll wait."

Harris will come off the bench, but eventually he will start. The brought him here to run the Nets, the way he did the Mavs, and in a far different way than Kidd did.

They're different players with different skills, but Harris is a good young guard, one of the quickest players in the league and will show it soon enough.

Harris turned 25 on Wednesday and was nearly serenaded by Nets' rookie Sean Williams after practice. Maybe that's why Harris was smiling. Maybe it was a combination of everything.

Starting tomorrow, the Nets have 25 games left, 25 games to get in the playoffs. Harris will be the point guard they rely on to get them there this year and for the next several.

The wait seems to be over for Harris. Finally.

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Monday, February 25: Posted at 5:57 p.m. ET

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Dwight Howard had a ferocious first quarter tomahawk slam and two other dunks. For the most part, Superman had a relatively quiet night.

In the Nets' locker room afterward, it too was quiet. Richard Jefferson sat with his head down and most of the lockers were empty. Players were either showering or gone.

The quiet was because the Nets knew they lost a game they should have won or at least could have won. Magic 102, Nets 92 easily could have been the other way around.

After all, it seemed Howard left his cape in New Orleans. He had just17 points and 10 rebounds, about five points and five boards below his season averages.

It was good defense by the Nets, a good game plan that kept the All-Star big man in check. But there were no pats on the back for this one, not with Hedo Turkoglu abusing the Nets in the fourth quarter.

Turkoglu, who was robbed when he didn't earn a spot on the All-Star team, continues to show East coaches they made a mistake overlooking him. In the last 8:31 of this game, Turkoglu scored 17 points, most against Jefferson. His 17 equaled the Nets' total in that time.

The Nets are still in the playoffs after this loss, still seeded seventh at the moment and two games behind Washington for sixth. It wasn't a crippling loss, but it was a disheartening one after all they put into holding down Howard.

"Defensively, we couldn't lock down on their key players," coach Lawrence Frank said. "And we lost our poise a little bit on the offensive end when we started to rush a little bit.",p> It was a tremendous breakdown late that wasted an overall good performance.

The Nets were up five when Turkoglu took over. Up to that point, they played with the requisite energy and effort against the third-best team. The Nets continued, but couldn't make the plays late.

In the end, that's the difference between a good team and a team that's not good or still finding itself. The Nets are somewhere in between.

In tight games, the Nets don't have Jason Kidd to rely on anymore. Even when he was here, they lost games like this. But this is an adjustment period the Nets are going through and will have another big one.

Devin Harris will practice for the first time as a Net today and could make his debut either Thursday or Sunday. Everyone has to get used to him and he to them.

With 25 games left, the Nets have to do things on the fly. They have to learn to win close games, especially close games at home. This was the start of a brutal stretch of games against the better teams in the NBA and it was one the Nets should have had, or at least could have.

They're still in the playoffs, but can't afford these breakdowns, or they won't be for long.

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Monday, February 25: Posted at 5:55 p.m. ET

EAST RUTHERFORD — The feeling inside the Nets' practice facility is different. Something is missing. Someone, rather.

Jason Kidd is gone. It's been about a week, but after six-plus seasons you can't help but feel the lack of his presence.

Just from the writers' standpoint alone, when you walk in and you don't see Kidd you start rapid-firing questions to a PR person:

Is he here? Is he all right? Is he going to talk today? Then you ask the coach: Is Jason here? Is he all right? Is he going to play tomorrow? And if you don't get sufficient answers you call the president of the team and ask: How is Jason? Are you concerned about him?

OK, we all micromanaged Kidd and his mental state, but now you see why.
He wanted out, kept dropping serious hints and eventually forced a trade.

The Nets are doing their best to move on without Kidd. You look at their record since his trade, 2-1, and you could surmise they don't miss him. (By the way, the Nets had dropped their last six games without Kidd). Of course, they miss him. This is a long process.

"I think it's going to be an every day deal," coach Lawrence Frank said. "The first step is moving forward emotionally and mentally. I think there's been closure. Then the key is: what's the best way, what do we have to do to win?"

That's what the Nets are learning now - on the fly.

There is a definite sense of relief around the team in that everyone is here wants to be here and they don't have to answer the same questions about Kidd's status and future.

Now the questions are about Kidd's current replacement Marcus Williams and his play or about how the other two of the erstwhile Big Three are performing.

So even though Kidd's gone, he still is a big part of everything the Nets deal with for the remainder of this season.

But you would expect to be this way. Kidd meant so much to the Nets and the hope inside the team's facility is that he rubbed off positively on Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter and Williams and Nenad Krstic and Josh Boone and Sean Williams.

The Nets have a chance to do something here if they can stay competitive without Kidd and with a daunting schedule that includes a game against Kidd, upcoming.

The playoffs are a possibility. The Nets are in seventh place. They can thank the lowly Eastern Conference for that and thank injuries to other team's key players for that. Whatever. Reaching the playoffs for the seventh straight year is possible.

I'm not going to say the Nets will be a tough out in the first round if they get there because it's way too soon for that.

We have to see how they play for an extended period without Kidd, and with Devin Harris running the point, and with Krstic rounding into form and with a tough road ahead.

The playoffs don't mean much if you are a four-and-out or five-and-out team, especially one that has acheived the success the Nets have in the Kidd era. But that era is over and making the playoffs means something now, this year, for these Kidd-less Nets.

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Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)
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