By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Will the real Brooklyn Nets please stand up!?
In the midst of an early season identity crisis following their eighth loss in 10 games, our borough's first major pro sports franchise since 1957 is struggling to find a way to get back in the win column these days. The Nets are equally miffed regarding exactly how they fell into their precarious position after a brilliant 11-4 start that had many picking them as a solid contender for the Atlantic Division title.
"It's very tough and frustrating, considering the fact I know we're not the team that has lost eight of the last 10," said Nets shooting guard Joe Johnson after Wednesday night's 100-86 defeat to the East River rival Knicks at Madison Square Garden. "The way we started, the way the ball was moving, the way we were playing defensively, you couldn't tell me, man, that at this point we'd be right at about .500. I had no clue of that."
Neither did anyone else.
After 15 games, the new-look Nets, bolstered by a $300 million-plus summer spending spree by billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov and a sold out state-of-the-art arena, appeared poised to make a run at claiming the "Best Team in New York" tag en route to ending a five-year postseason drought.
But the ensuing 2-8 skid has raised questions regarding the compatability of general manager Billy King's re-stocked roster, and more importantly, the Nets' ability to focus for a full 48 minutes. Brooklyn (13-12) has made a habit of squandering double-digit leads, appearing lifeless in the third quarter and not getting the big shots to fall down the stretch.
Brooklyn-born Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, who lit up the Barclays Center for 45 points in a three-point win over the Nets last week, was at it again Wednesday night. The Red Hook native returned from a two-game absence due to a sprained ankle and poured in a game-high 31 points on 12-of-22 shooting, helping New York turn a four-point deficit midway through the third period into Brooklyn's second-largest margin of defeat this year.
"It's suprising. We had two five-game winning streaks. We have to find a way to get our confidence back," said $100 million point guard Deron Williams after putting up 16 points and 10 assists in the Nets' third straight loss since a narrow double-overtime victory over hapless Detroit in Brooklyn last Friday night.
"We've gotta change some things," added Williams, who expressed his discomfort in coach Avery Johnson's offensive system following a loss in Chicago on Saturday. "We've gotta get better. It's on us. It's on the players. We have to come out with more energy, more focus. We have to get that back. [But] it's not time to panic."
Coach Johnson is also unwilling to push the panic button just yet, especially since the Nets are not even a third of the way through the 82-game grind of an NBA schedule. But the Nets' raspy-voiced leader does believe a three-day break before hosting Philadelphia on Sunday should give his unit time to "get back to the lab" and figure out exactly where they went awry following their impressive start.
"I think they're going to remain confident," coach Johnson responded when asked about his team's resolve in the face of adversity. "We're coming into a three-day break now and we'll get some work done, figure out where some of our issues are. We have to fight through it. Hopefully we'll finish off this month better than we started."
Joe Johnson finished with 17 points, despite a brutal 5-of-14 shooting effort, and Brook Lopez added 16 points and 10 boards for the Nets, who endured their worst defeat since a 103-73 thrashing at the hands of the defending NBA champion Miami Heat in South Beach on Nov. 7.
Brooklyn bounced back from its 1-2 start to the season to reel off 10 wins in 12 games to close November, earning Johnson the NBA's Coach of the Month award. The hype, enthusiasm and energy surrounding that initial month feel as distant today as the Nets' days at the Prudential Center.
"We earned that hype and respect," insisted Johnson. "But with that respect and hype comes great responsibility. These are the times that dictate what kind of team we can be this year. It's not going to be easy, but we'll get it turned around."
While the Nets were getting schooled by the Knicks at MSG on Wednesday night, the LIU-Brooklyn Blackbirds learned how life might not be so easy without reigning Northeast Conference Player of the Year Julian Boyd.
The Blackbirds (5-5), who crushed Manhattan College at the Wellness Center on Sunday in their first game since Boyd was diagnosed with a season-ending knee injury, suffered an 80-67 setback to Saint Peter's in Jersey City.
Senior forward Jamal Olasewere, one of the players who will have to carry the scoring load for LIU in Boyd's absence, put up a team-high 19 points and 10 rebounds. But Peacocks guard Desi Washington answered with a game-high 28 points as St. Peter's shot nearly 55 percent from the floor en route to evening its season mark at 5-5.
Senior Brandon Thompson scored 13 points, C.J. Garner added 12 and junior point guard Jason Brickman added 10 for the Blackbirds, who will be at the Barclays Center on Saturday to take on Seton Hall in the Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational.
In other Brooklyn sports news, Council Member Jumaane D. Williams will present a City Council proclamation to Brooklyn native and Olympic fencer Nzingha Prescod on Friday morning at P.S. 109 on East 45th Street.
The Flatbush resident and Team USA member from the 2012 Summer Olympic Games is also a junior at Columbia University. Prescod competed in the women's foil competition in London. The presentation will occur in front of hundreds of third to fifth grade students from PS 109, in the hopes of inspiring the next generation to reach their highest potential.
Also part of the assembly will be a fencing demonstration involving Council Member Williams and several local youths.
Hoop du Jour: With G Jerry Stackhouse missing his fifth straight game due to a sore knee, fellow veteran G Keith Bogans gave the Nets a lift off the bench at MSG on Wednesday. Bogans scored 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting, including a 3-of-5 effort from 3-point range. ... After hosting the 76ers on Sunday, the Nets will prepare for a high noon Christmas Day showdown with the five-time defending Atlantic Division champion Celtics at Barclays Center. Boston and Brooklyn haven't met since Nov. 28 in Beantown, when the Nets improved to 2-0 against the Celtics this season with a 95-83 win. That game was marred by a near-brawl under the Nets' basket after F Kris Humphries shoved Kevin Garnett to the ground on what was called a flagrant foul. The Celtics' Rajon Rondo responded by taking a swipe at Humphries and pushing him into the courtside seats, resulting in ejections for both players. Boston coach Doc Rivers took exception to the Nets' tactics, setting up what should be an intriguing holiday rematch. "All that stuff, that's not toughness,'' Rivers said before calling his team soft. ''That foul was a hard foul. It was an unnecessary foul. The play was over and then he pushed him down in the air. But I think that's what they think of us: They think they can push you around.''