By John Torenli
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
For the first seven quarters in their new home, the Brooklyn Nets looked like championship material, outlasting the Toronto Raptors, 107-100, on Opening Night at the Barlcays Center Saturday before running out to a commanding 86-75 lead over the Minnesota Timberwolves through three periods Monday night on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues.
Then, without warning, they morphed into the "Same Old Nets" as the shorthanded T-Wolves rallied for a stunning 107-96 victory, sending Brooklyn off to Miami for Wednesday night's showdown with the NBA champion Heat with a bad taste in their mouths that won't be washed away so easily.
At least that's what coach Avery Johnson hopes his team's attitude will be as it takes off for a two-game trip in the Sunshine State, concluding with Friday night's visit to Orlando.
"We just relaxed defensively. We stopped scoring and they continued to score," said a disgrunted Johnson, who watched his team get outscored 32-10 over the final 12 minutes by a Minnnesota squad that was missing star forward Kevin Love and point man Ricky Rubio due to injury.
"Defensively, we've got a long ways to go. We have a lot of stuff to watch (on tape), a lot to correct. I think for our team, losses like this have to really sting more than they have in the past. Losses like this come back to bite you at the end of the year. We're trying to get a homecourt advantage and a rhythm at home."
Having failed to reach the playoffs in any of their last five seasons, the Nets are eager to begin a new chapter in Brooklyn, one that will carry them back to the postseason and potentially as far as the Eastern Conference finals, which was owner Mikhail Prokhorov's admitted goal for the team during season one here in our fair borough.
Though they were without starting small forward Gerald Wallace -- one of the team's most hard-nosed hustlers on the hardwood -- due to an ankle injury suffered against the Raptors, the Nets appeared primed to take flight to Miami with a perfect 2-0 mark in their state-of-the-art arena, which welcomed just over 14,000 fans for Game 2 on the 41-game home slate, not including playoffs.
Center Brook Lopez, who led the way Saturday night with a 27-point effort, managed 13 points and nine rebounds against the T-Wolves, who whittled away at a 22-point second-half deficit before tying the game at 96-96 late in the final period. Minnesota finished the game on a startling 11-0 run that left the crowd stunned, and forced Lopez to admit the obvious.
"They just outplayed us (in the fourth quarter)," said the 7-foot Stanford product. "I feel like we really gave the game away. It was tough. I think it was a lot of what we didn't do opposed to what they did."
Deron Williams finished with 18 points and 13 assists and Joe Johnson poured in a game-high 19 points for the Nets, who put up 31 points in each of the first two quarters before disappearing in crunch time.
"It was just one of those games where they just outran us to loose balls and rebounds (in the fourth quarter)," said Williams, who suffered through many a similar loss last season as the Nets put up just 24 wins during their final campaign in Newark. "The fourth quarter was just a big collapse. We were up (22), we should be able to keep them at a distance. They executed well, we didn't. But it's still early. Every team has one or two or three games a year (that they let get away). We just have to get better and find a way to have a 48-minute effort."
laying the world champs on their home court should help the Nets maintain their intensity from start to finish, but as coach Johnson noted, there is no telling how many games Brooklyn can afford to give away if it hopes to play beyond the regular season for the first time in six years, and the third on his watch.
"We just kind of ran out of gas at the end. We lost our way at the end of the game," he said.
Hoop du Jour: Wallace, who remains listed as day-to-day with a left ankle sprain, certainly could have helped the Nets stave off Minnesota down the stretch, according to Lopez: "There's no way you can replace him. He really brings a lot of energy to our team." ... On a lighter note -- no pun intended -- Brooklyn's own John Forté, a Grammy-nominated singer, songwriter, and producer, released the new team anthem for the Brooklyn Nets entitled Brooklyn: Something To Lean On at Saturday's opener. The new anthem, written and produced by Forté, will be played at Barclays Center at the beginning of every home game for the 2012-2013 NBA season. "Creating the team's song felt like a way of saluting my birthplace and the beauties and complexities the borough represents," said Forté. "Most important, however, I wanted to salute the multifarious swaths of culture that elevate Brooklyn to the international level of notoriety, which it deserves. My love for Brooklyn made this an easy job – that, and becoming the Nets new number one fan!" ... G Keith Bogans, starting in place of Wallace, scored nine points in Monday's loss. ... Rookie G Tyshawn Taylor made his regular-season debut against the T-Wolves, scoring two points and handing out an assist in just under six minutes of action.