By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Nets' lofty vision of a 7-1 road trip disintegrated in Denver and Utah over the weekend as Brooklyn ended the Western portion of its epic eight-game, 17-day odyssey with back-to-back losses.
Whether it was jet lag, homesickness or simply playing a couple of grueling games in high altitudes in mountainous Colorado or the Mormon state, Brooklyn looked like a team that needed the brief three-day pit stop back home before completing the longest road trip in franchise history Wednesday night in Cleveland.
''Our defense wasn't good enough,'' Nets interim coach P.J. Carlesimo admitted following Saturday night's 116-107 loss to the Jazz in Utah, which dropped the Nets to 4-3 on the trip. ''Their offense had a lot to do with it. Fatigue has a little bit to do with it. Joe Johnson not being here has a little bit to do with it.''
Johnson, who continues to sit out with a quad contusion and the aftereffects of a nagging heel issue, could only watch as backcourt mate Deron Williams dropped to 0-4 against the Jazz since moving to the Nets in a blockbuster deal back in 2011.
Williams scored 21 points and dished out 11 assists against his former team, continuing his stellar play since the All-Star break, but Brooklyn was unable to bounce back from a sound 109-87 thumping in Denver one night earlier.
'You don't like to make excuses, but the Jazz play really well in this building,'' Williams said. "(When Randy) Foye (26 points, eight 3-pointers) went nuts in the third [quarter], we just never fully recovered.''
Recovery is something the Nets were hoping to experience during their homecoming.
After the circus forced Brooklyn to spend most of the past three weeks on planes, in hotel rooms and without the comforts of home, April will provide an opportunity for local hoops enthusiasts to become re-acquainted with our borough's first major pro sports franchise since 1957.
In fact, after taking on the Cavaliers Wednesday night, the Nets will play five of their last eight regular-season games on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues.
Though they've likely fallen out of serious contention for the Atlantic Division crown since the Knicks, winners of eight straight, have opened a comfy 4 1/2-game lead (five in the loss column), the Nets can still make sure the first-ever playoff game since their historic relocation will be at Barclays Center.
Brooklyn holds a one-game lead over Atlanta for the coveted fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, giving it the inside track to home-court advantage in an opening round series.
Carlesimo, who is being mentioned as a potential Coach of the Year candidate after helping the Nets reach the postseason for the first time in six seasons after replacing Avery Johnson in late December, doesn't believe the tail end of the Nets' long journey should obscure what they accomplished in winning four of the first five games on the trip.
“I liked where we were for most of this trip," he said. "To me, you’re going up a hill, and you go up and you go down and you go back up. We were going up pretty steadily for a while, and then we took a couple steps back [Friday and Saturday]."
With a 29-14 conference, a chance for the winningest road record in franchise history and a 9-4 mark against Atlantic rivals, the Nets are set up to make a legitimate run in the playoffs. They've survived the toughest portion of their 82-game grind, and still have a good chance to finish the alleged trip from hell with a solid 5-3 mark heading into Thursday's much-anticipated home game vs. the Chicago Bulls.
“I don’t think we fell off, and we’re not back to where we were before the trip started, but we took a couple steps back from where we were," Carlesimo said.
Hoop du Jour: With a win in Cleveland -- or in any of their remaining four road contests -- the Nets will establish a new franchise record for road wins after tying the previous mark of 20 with last Wednesday's victory in Portland. ... All-Star C Brook Lopez led the Nets with 27 points against the Jazz and G C.J. Watson, seeing extended playing time in G Johnson's absence, added 22 off the bench. ... G Williams, who had six All-Star seasons in Utah, still gets jeered by Jazz fans nearly every time he touches the ball. To his credit, Williams refused to lash out at Utah fans for their show of emotion for his perceived forced exit to Brooklyn. "It wasn't as bad as last year. It's getting better," Williams jibed when asked about the booing. "Maybe next year I'll get some boos, maybe a couple of cheers. It's good. No animosity. I had a great time in Utah. I don't have anything bad to say about the fans.I've got a lot of love for them." ... The Nets announced Tuesday that they signed F Kris Joseph to a 10-day contract. Joseph becomes Brooklyn's second NBA D-League Call-Up of the season, joining the Nets from the Springfield Armor. In 27 combined games for Springfield and Maine this season, Joseph averaged 18.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.7 steals in 34.0 minutes per game. Acquired from Maine on Feb. 11, Joseph has started 15 games for the Armor, averaging 19.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.7 steals in 34.1 minutes per game. The Syracuse University product, whose alma mater will compete in next weekend's Final Four in Atlanta, was selected in the second round (51st overall) of the 2012 NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics. In six games for the Celtics this season, he averaged 1.2 points and 0.8 rebounds in 3.8 minutes per game.