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Nets down and out in home opener

Team didn't show enough effort in rough third quarter vs. Golden State
11/02/2008 12:32 AM ET
By Al Iannazzone / Special to YESNetwork.com

Vince Carter had 20 points in a losing effort on Saturday night, as the Nets fell to the Warriors, 105-97. (AP)
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Nets showed on Saturday why you can't get too high over one game — their regular season opener. Just like you can't get too low over their home opener.

The final score of Golden State's 105-97 win was not indicative of how badly the Nets played, or were outplayed for that matter. But it's not Armageddon just like no one was planning a parade after Wednesday's win at Washington or ready to anoint Rod Thorn Executive of the Year and Yi Jianlian Most Improved Player.

This is going to be a long process because of how young the Nets are, because of how many new players they have and because you don't just wake up one day and become the Celtics or Lakers.

But the Nets coaches are looking for more consistency of effort and this game was much different than the win at Washington.

"We're a young team," veteran Keyon Dooling said. "We got a lot of new guys still trying to find our identity a little bit and what we have to realize is in order for us to beat a team with a little more experience or more NBA years than us we have to out work them, out-will them."

That's what the Nets told us in the visiting locker room in Washington and after their two practices since.

Yet when it was time to play again they showed terrific effort to start the game with a four-shot possession that ended with a Vince Carter three. Little by little, the effort went downhill after that and they only played hard and with the proper intensity in spurts.

Then afterward, coach Lawrence Frank didn't like how the Nets, who got no points from Yi, were hanging their heads in the third when the game got away from them. Instead of playing with energy, positive energy, they went the other way and offered up some negative energy.

It's too early for that. Really, it shouldn't happen at all, but especially not after all that had been written and said about the Nets the last few days. You have to come home and give your fans a better effort than that and you can't be outplayed by a team that went to overtime the night before in Toronto.

"We had a stretch where we allowed mistakes to multiply and we started to hang our head a little bit," Frank said of the third period. "Mistakes are part of this process. They're going to happen, but it can't be mistakes of dealing with your frustration by not giving maximum effort."

The third was bad. The Nets gave up 33 points. It was their first and only time they've allowed at least 30 in a quarter in the regular season, but it's doubtful that it's the last.

The problem was the Nets were forcing shots, rushing shots and getting frustrated by the officials' calls.

Granted, there were a lot of calls against them and some were questionable. But the reason the Warriors got the benefit of many of the calls was they were more aggressive, played harder — and they were in a back-to-back. The Nets last played Wednesday.

So, you look at 105-97 and you realize it could have been and should have been much worse. The Warriors took 52 foul shots, 24 more than the Nets, but made just 13 more from the line.

The Nets needed a crazy end of game to get within five. It was a nice run and it's how the Nets should have played all game.

But it is only one game. No need to panic. Just correct the mistakes and remember it for Tuesday because if they do it against Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire and Shaq, the beating will be much worse.

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Wednesday, October 29: Posted at 11:28 p.m. EST

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Rod Thorn walked down the corridor of the Verizon Center on his way to the bus. The Nets' president had a big smile on his face.

He couldn't have asked for a better opening night from a team that just about everyone not on the bus is predicting will fall on its collective face.

The Nets defended, got good games from players making either their Nets or NBA debut, and relied on their backcourt late to leave our nation's capitol with a 95-85 victory.

Believe it or not, the Nets have a chance to be 2-0 after their home opener against the Warriors on Saturday. But let's deal with this win first.

The first thing that stands out is the Nets' defense.

If you watched the preseason, you know they looked awful, yielded nearly 104 points per game and made the other team shoot three-pointers as if they were layups.

Against the Wizards — and granted they didn't have high-scoring Gilbert Arenas — the Nets gave up 18 fourth-quarter points, one field goal in the last 6:01 and held Washington to 5-of-21 shooting from the three-point line.

Some of them were just Washington misses, but the Nets played with energy and were committed on the defensive end.

"We just tried to stay home and force jump shots over the top," Devin Harris said. "We didn't want to give up an open three. Just make things tough for them."

On the other end, the Nets got a big night from Jarvis Hayes, who started his career in Washington and heard boos all night. Hayes stuck it to the fans by hitting three crushing jumpers in the fourth and finishing with 14 points.

Yi Jianlian was very aggressive and showed the sweet stroke Thorn, coach Lawrence Frank and Harris have been talking about. Thorn said the other day when Yi shoots you think it's going in and watching him Wednesday you were surprised when he missed. He didn't mis often, hitting 7-of-11 en route to 17 points.

Rookie center Brook Lopez took a few bad shots in the first half, his first half of NBA basketball. But he finished strong, ending with eight points, eight rebounds and two blocks in 25 minutes off the bench.

"The way Jarvis shot the ball for us he's going to be key for us," Harris said. "Bobby [Simmons] didn't make as many shots as he would like but he's capable. Keyon [Dooling] had an off night, but he's capable. And the way Yi played.

"We have so many guys who are talented. It may be Ryan [Anderson] one night and may not be Yi. We have so many guys who are talented. It's going to take the whole team."

It took the whole team. Ten guys played and that's how Frank said it will be, that's how he'll make sure the young guys grow and develop.

And at the end of the game, when the game was tight and points were hard to come by it was Harris and the Nets' newly appointed captain Vince Carter — which was a no-brainer — who delivered. They scored eight of the Nets' final nine points to send Thorn home with a smile on his face.

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Monday, October 27: Posted at 3:33 p.m. EST

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The day before the day before Opening Night began at 9 a.m. in an area diner where beat writers picked the brains of Nets president Rod Thorn and general manager Kiki Vandeweghe. As usual, it was a good time as Thorn is a great storyteller. There was no shortage of conversation — basketball and non-basketball related.

On the basketball side, one thing we in the media have grown accustomed to is how open and refreshingly candid Thorn is. Of course, he can't tell you everything he's thinking, but he's as straight a shooter as there is and doesn't try to mislead, so when the topic of were the Nets a playoff team came up, Thorn didn't feed us a company line and say we will get there and we have enough talent to get there. He said it's going to take winning about half your games and when asked if the Nets could do that replied, "On paper, probably not."

Surprising? No, because the Nets aren't a 41-41 team right now, not from what myself or anyone else has seen, so expectations seem to be lower or maybe they're more realistic as the president laid them out. The East is better, stronger, deeper, and the Nets have a lot of questions. They all revolve around their young guys developing, their veterans leading and improving, and their defense suddenly making a stand.

This year will be about building a foundation and getting better. That's what Thorn wants to see. That said, by the end of the year, it wouldn't be surprising if Brook Lopez and Yi Jianlian are the starting big men and Ryan Anderson and Chris Douglas-Roberts are getting major minutes off the bench.

Some veterans won't be happy if that's the case, but if it's about the future, then you have to see whether the future is bright by seeing what you have and eventually the Nets may have to do that.

But let's throw this curve at you: What if the Nets are in the hunt and all their young guys aren't playing heavy minutes? Then you adjust. But the bottom line is winning and if you're not winning then you have get the young guys more experience so you're better next season, and so you know who you want to keep around for next season.

Thorn said it several times over breakfast: it's about competing and getting better and the young guys getting better.

But as the Nets coaches and players start the season they're not just thinking about competing and making sure the young guys get better so the future is bright. They're thinking about winning and trying to make the playoffs, and trying to prove to everyone, including their president, that they have enough.

No one would be happier if that unlikely scenario happened than Thorn.

_______________________

From there it was on to a practice and it turned out to be a lengthy one because they had a team meeting and then Frank met with some players individually. I was there so long I could have had lunch and dinner with Nets' officials.

Here's what we know: Frank spoke to about eight players about his rotation and their role beginning Opening Night in Washington. He's not telling us yet.

I will go out on a limb and say barring Josh Boone, who returned to practice today for the first time since experiencing his rapid heartbeat two Fridays ago, that the starting five will be Boone, Yi, Bobby Simmons, Vince Carter and Devin Harris.

The second unit likely will be Keyon Dooling, Jarvis Hayes, Brook Lopez, Ryan Anderson and either Chris Douglas-Roberts or Sean Williams. Position wise, I want to see CDR because he's a wing, but they could play Carter or Harris will Dooling and use Williams to reward him for what was a great camp, although it didn't show in the games.

Something changes when defensive-minded Eduardo Najera can play. He went to the doctor to have his wrist checked today.

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