By John Torenli
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Two straight losses shouldn't sink the Brooklyn Nets into panic mode just yet, according to Deron Williams.
But a victory in Orlando Friday night might put some of the team's early season concerns to rest as they continue to search for an identity during their initial road trip as Brooklyn's first major pro sports franchise since 1957.
"It's still early in the season. We're 1-2. It's not like it's time to start panicking," the Nets' $100 million point guard insisted following Wednesday night's humbling 103-73 defeat to the world champion Heat in Miami.
"We came out pretty well in the first quarter, but we just have to be able to sustain it for 48 minutes of basketball," added Williams after scoring 14 points, but committing seven of Brooklyn's 19 turnovers, which led to 31 points for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and company before a crowd of 19,627 at AmericanAirlines Arena. "[The Heat have] played together for a while and we're still trying to put ours together. This team shouldn't be losing by 30 [points] to anybody. We can all play better defensively, and we all know that."
The Nets hung with the champs through the first half, trailing 50-41 at intermission, but Miami used a 29-15 third period to pull away for good, leaving Brooklyn winless since an Opening Night victory over Toronto at the Barclays Center last Saturday night.
An inability to hit their open 3-pointers (3-for-21), coupled with the giveaways, left the Nets vulnerable against the best fast-break team in the sport, not to mention one that has won its first four home games for the first time in franchise history.
"We didn't do a good job of taking care of the ball," lamented Nets coach Avery Johnson, who hopes to have forward Gerald Wallace (sprained ankle) back Friday against the Magic. "Too many points off turnovers. We had a decent first quarter, but in the third quarter, they jumped all over us. We need to make those [3-pointers]. The more we play together, I think we'll all get on the same page. They're tough when you're turning the ball over. When your shooters make shots, it opens up the floor."
Following their historic win over the Raptors, the Nets were cruising toward a second straight victory at home against Minnesota on Monday, but squandered a 22-point halftime lead en route to a stunning 107-96 defeat.
Two nights later, they only seemed capable of putting up half a fight against the NBA titleholders, who got 22 points from Wade, and near triple-double from reigning MVP James (20 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists).
Nets guard Joe Johnson, who is still struggling to find his niche, as well as his shooting touch, managed just nine points while making just 4-of-14 attempts from the floor. The Nets were a minus-19 when Johnson was on the floor against the Heat, leaving Williams' backcourt mate frustrated, but pragmatic following the team's second straight defeat.
"Obviously it doesn't feel great," Johnson noted. "This is a tough loss for us. I thought the effort was there but we missed a lot of easy shots. We had a lot of wide-open looks and I missed a few myself. We knew coming into the game we were going to need to take care of the ball."
Center Brook Lopez, who poured in a team season-high 27 points in the opener against the Raptors, has slipped significantly the past two games as the T-Wolves and Heat concentrated on denying easy entry passes to the longest-tenured Net. Lopez was limited to eight points against the Heat after scoring 13 vs. Minnesota on Monday.
"We couldn't establish anything inside tonight. That's why we struggled," coach Johnson admitted following the Nets' 11th straight loss to the Heat. "Give them credit. You have to always give your opponents credit."
Eager to establish themselves as contenders rather than pretenders as soon as possible in wake of five consecutive non-playoff seasons, the Nets turn their attention to an Orlando team that has split its first four games in the post-Dwight Howard era.
The perennial All-Star center, who nearly landed in Brooklyn this past summer after several rumored deals fell apart, is in Los Angeles now with the Lakers, who are off to an inauspicious 1-4 start themselves.
The Nets learned Wednesday night that they are still a safe distance from challenging battle-tested teams like the Heat, but there's still plenty for them to discover about themselves as they wrap up this two-game trip in Orlando before welcoming the Magic to the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues on Sunday.
"It's early," Joe Johnson reminded everyone. "This [was] our third game. We've lost two in a row. Good teams have a tendency to bounce back. You never want to be on a losing streak. We're going into Orlando and we need to show some toughness."