Brooklyn players meet, then split after latest loss at Barclays
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
No longer able to explain their early-season malaise, the Brooklyn Nets opted not to following Monday night's 108-98 loss to the red-hot Portland Trail Blazers before a disgruntled sellout crowd of 17,732 at the Barclays Center.
The team with the NBA's highest payroll was picked by many to seriously challenge not only for the Atlantic Division crown, but the Eastern Conference title as well after acquiring the likes of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko this past offseason.
But instead, the new-look Nets have stumbled severely out of the gate, leaving neophyte head coach Jason Kidd to twist in the wind only three weeks into his first season at the helm.
Following Monday's Downtown debacle, during which the Nets scored 40 first-quarter points before managing only 35 over the final two periods, Brooklyn players remained in the locker room for approximately half an hour to discuss their problems among themselves.
When the media was finally allowed to enter, many of the key figures in the team's seventh loss in 10 games to begin the campaign, were absent.
The most notable post-game deserters were Garnett and Pierce, two battle-tested veterans general manager Billy King brought in specifically to add greater toughness and resilience to the Nets' talented but unproven roster.
That left Kidd to shoulder the blame for Brooklyn's disappearing act over the final 24 minutes.
The performance, or lack thereof, elicited boos from the crowd and mock chants of "Let's Go Blazers!" as Portland closed out its seventh consecutive victory behind 27 points from LaMarcus Aldridge and 24 off the hot shooting of Wesley Matthews.
"Just bad coaching," a frustrated Kidd said when asked to explain his team's meltdown after opening a 63-56 lead at the half.
"I take the blame for this," added Kidd, who was without starters Brook Lopez and Deron Williams for the second straight contest due to ankle injuries. "Guys played hard [but] we got a little stagnant on the offensive end."
A "little stagnant" is putting it mildly.
The Nets made only 3-of-18 shots in the third quarter as Portland put together a 27-15 run to take the lead for good.
Brooklyn was 9-of-41 from the floor overall in the second half, offsetting the fact that they committed a season-low seven turnovers and made all but two of their 35 free-throw attempts.
Garnett, who hit his first six shots and scored the Nets' first 10 points of the game, went 2-for-13 thereafter while Pierce added a 2-for-12 effort from the field, including 0-for-5 from 3-point range.
Kidd, who has been more vocal in shouting instructions from the bench after watching helplessly from his seat during his first week on the job, obviously can't be held responsible for putting the ball in the basket for his injury-plagued unit.
But he continued to fall on his sword for his players as Brooklyn dropped into the Atlantic division cellar at 3-7, one-half game behind the troubled New York Knicks.
"This falls on my shoulders," Kidd insisted. "We got off to a good start, and then in the third quarter, we came out a little flat and that falls on me."
The Nets will be in Charlotte on Wednesday night, hoping yet again to display some semblance of toughness and team chemistry, both of which have been notably absent during these first 10 games.
Joe Johnson, who saved the Nets from a potential 2-8 start by burying a clutch game-winning runner in overtime at Phoenix last Friday night, made just 4-of-13 attempts against the Blazers to finish with 13 points.
Terry had five points on 2-of-7 shooting, and was one of the few Nets with something to say afterward.
''It's been a tough month for us,'' Kidd's former backcourt mate in Dallas told the Associated Press. ''We're going to stay optimistic, man. We have a great situation here and we're just going to keep building.''
'We were hot [in the first quarter]. We had momentum. But you can go cold at any time in the game, so that's where we have to make adjustments,'' added Shaun Livingston, who has filled in more than capably for the injured Williams, netting a team-high 23 points Monday night.
It's difficult to imagine the Nets playing .300 basketball for much longer, especially if Lopez and Williams eventually return at full strength, taking some of the burden off Pierce and Garnett, who are clearly being overextended during this disturbing stretch.
Then again, the seemingly unimaginable has already become a stark reality for this high-priced thus far underachieving team.
Brooklyn fans, hungry for a legitimate title contender, can only hope that the Nets' closed-door locker-room meeting will be the first step toward leading this team out of the darkness.
If not, the Nets, to a man, will have a lot of explaining to do.
Nothing But Net: F Kirilenko sat out again due to back spasms on Monday, and has played in only four of the Nets' first 10 games, sitting out since a Nov. 8 game against Washington. ... G Johnson gave some insight into the players-only meeting, telling the New York Post, "We've just got to get some chemistry, because when we get stagnant to where we can't get a bucket, we have to have something we can go to and we've just got to figure it out." ... The Nets will visit Minnesota on Friday before returning home to host the Detroit Pistons on Sunday afternoon.
Read Thursday’s Eagle sports page for a peek at how the local colleges fared this past week, including a story on St. Francis’ NEC Men’s Soccer Championship and upcoming NCAA Tournament game.