Missed opportunity for Nets in loss to Knicks

The Nets toed the company line following their playoff-clinching victory over the Houston Rockets Tuesday night, claiming they were eager to shoot down the Knicks in their quest to reach the playoffs Wednesday at Madison Square Garden.

Instead, they may have dealt a deadly self-inflicted wound to their own hopes of capturing either the Atlantic Division title or home-court advantage in the opening round of the upcoming playoffs.

Brooklyn looked lethargic and non-competitive throughout the night, falling behind early and never seriously challenging thereafter en route to a crushing 110-81 loss to the suddenly postseason-hopeful Knicks.

'It was very frustrating the way we got blown out,'' admitted Nets All-Star shooting guard Joe Johnson after leading his lifeless team with 16 points.

''For whatever reason, we had a few guys fighting and a few guys who [weren’t] fighting,” he added. “If we're not all on the same page, you get a lopsided score like that.''

In what was easily Brooklyn’s worst overall performance since the turn of the new year, the Nets allowed the Knicks to hit two-thirds of their shots in the opening half and trailed 63-38 at the break.

Game over, before it even started.

Joe Johnson admitted that the Nets weren’t up to snuff during Wednesday’s loss to the Knicks.

Brooklyn (40-34) was out-rebounded, 41-23, and managed just 11 assists as a team, with none coming from the team leader in that category, point guard Deron Williams, who finished with 12 points and a pair of turnovers in 27 ineffective minutes.

''They were the better team tonight,'' admitted Nets coach Jason Kidd, who helped the Knicks to a 54-win campaign and an Eastern Conference semifinals berth last year in his final season as a player.

''Lose by one, lose by 100, it's just a loss. We move on,” he added.

Moving on may have been easier if the Nets hadn’t fallen 2 ½ games behind division-leading Toronto and No. 4 seed Chicago in the hunt for better playoff positioning.

With only eight games to play and without any tangible tiebreakers against the two teams they are chasing, the Nets are likely to visit either the Raptors or Bulls for the first two games of the playoffs, with the pivotal Game 7 to be played on the opponents’ home floor.

Paul Pierce, who intimated after Tuesday night’s win over the Rockets that the Nets needed to remain focused on making up more ground in the standings over the season’s final two weeks, had a rough night.

The future Hall of Famer made just 2-of-7 shots for eight points and sat for most of the second half as the Knicks improved their playoff chances at their East River rivals’ expense.

The Nets were also without injured power forward Kevin Garnett (back spasms) for the 18th straight game and Andrei Kirilenko remained on the shelf with a sprained left ankle.

Brooklyn-born Carmelo Anthony had 23 points and 10 rebounds for New York (33-43), which inched percentage points ahead of Atlanta in the hunt for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.

“Our guys are hungry,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson noted after his team took a 2-1 lead in the season series with the Nets.

If only the Nets could say the same, just one night after locking up a playoff spot and indicating that they were ready to move in on the Raptors and Bulls.

The only show of fire and intensity from Brooklyn came at the expense of the officials as both Kidd and Johnson were assessed technical fouls for disputing calls.

"We knew this was a big game for both teams," Johnson said. "We just didn't play very well."

The Nets will look to get back on track at home, where they have won a franchise-record 14 games in a row, on Friday night as they host the Detroit Pistons at the Barclays Center.

After that Brooklyn hits the road again against NBA-worst Philadelphia on Saturday before Tuesday’s much-anticipated final regular-season showdown with defending two-time NBA champion Miami.

The Nets are 3-0 against the Heat this season, own the best record in the Eastern Conference in 2014 and looked like the hottest team in the NBA before Wednesday night’s debacle at “The World’s Most Famous Arena”.

Fortunately, Brooklyn will get another shot at redeeming itself in the East River rivalry, and perhaps even nudging the Knicks out of the playoff race for good come April 15 in Downtown Brooklyn.

Brooklyn-born director Spike Lee claps it up Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.

Nothing But Net: After shooting 40.4 percent (third-best in the NBA) from 3-point range in March, the Nets opened April with a brutal 8-for-26 (30.8 percent) effort from beyond the arc against the Knicks Wednesday night at MSG, where they had won each of their previous two visits. … Reserve shooting guard Marcus Thornton, who had missed a pair of games with lingering lower-back issues, returned to action against the Knicks and finished with eight points and three rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench.