Sunday, March 23, 2008

Game 70 - A Loss, Just a Loss

I have seen almost every game this season. I suspect there is one, but tonite's game at Philadelphia is the only one that comes to mind as a regular loss. Nothing more.

The Nets lost tonite, not because of bad defense (they held the red hot Sixers to 91 points at home), not because they gave up (they came back from 10 down and took the lead going into the 4th), not because of dufus coaching (Frank was essentially invisible, which coaches should be if they are coaching well), not because of a hangover, or injury, or disgruntled players or what all. They shot 25% in the fourth, and lost the game.

And that's perfectly fine. They shot over 60% in the third to take the lead, then could not buy a shot in the fourth. They lost by a mere 4 points. They had their shot, but their shots didn't drop.

There were a lot of hard fouls that were not called, but unless you're the Spurs, the visiting team, especially a sub-mediocre team, is not gonna get calls in a close game. Devin Harris cost the Nets a point, which Kidd never would have done.

But that's not why they lost. They did not lose heart, they did not mail it in, they did not show signs of a team collapsing, as they did in Chicago. They did not look beat before they stepped onto the court, as they did on the Southwest swing. They lost because they could not buy a shot down the stretch.

And that's ok.

It happens. It happens to the best and worst teams. A truly bad team (like the 99 and 2001 Nets) has it happen a lot. Those teams barely averaged 40% for the season. This team is not bad. They just had a cold shooting night.

True, they dropped a game and a half behind Atlanta, a team they manhandled just two games ago, and into a tie with mighty Indiana, a true bottom feeder. But not because of last night.

Every team is gonna lose games. Every team is just gonna get beat - not clobbered or destroyed, just defeated - during the course of the season. The team usually that beats itself the least generally winds up on top.

The Nets are in bad playoff shape at this point because they are the leading team in the NBA at beating themselves. This blog has been a chronicle about all those malaises itemized above - bad coaching, bad defense, "letting go of the rope", disgruntled star, key injury (the six game skid in mid-November when Carter went down), mistake after mistake, mailing it in. The Nets lost the vast majority of their losses this year to one or another or combination of those reasons.

Perhaps as high as 40. But last night was a genuine L. No shame in that.

Their record, unfortuately, bears the shame of those other 40 losses. It is those 40 that puts them in their current disadvantageous position. Ironically, last night's loss, which put them now more than a schedule quirk behind the truly bad Hawks, might do more to hurt them psychologically than all those abysmal no-shows and Frank-ensteins.

The remaining schedule is unkind. They play 5 at home, 7 on the road. I don't expect to see another road win all season. Of their 5 home games, two are against Phoenix and Toronto, teams the Nets have shown they just can't beat. Another is against these self-same 76ers.

2-10. That would bring them to 31-51, worst record since... Well, you all know the end of that sentence....

At this point, the best we can reasonably hope for is losses like tonite. Just losses - not routs, embarrassments or mail-ins. Good, honest hard-fought losses.

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