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Moke Hamilton,

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

NEW YORK — Old habits die hard and the Brooklyn Nets are a testament. After playing the Dallas Mavericks evenly in the first half of Friday night's loss, the Nets began the second half looking lazy and lethargic and fell to the Mavericks.

"We came out and we had a couple of turnovers early, and we got really flat after that," P.J. Carlesimo said after the game. "We didn't execute well, but worse, we just didn't play with any defensive energy and the score went from like 10 to 20 in a very short time."

What Carlesimo was referring to there was the Nets allowing the Mavericks to end the third quarter on a 25-11 run. Dirk Nowitzki and Vince Carter combined for 14 of those points and the Nets let them do just about whatever they wanted. On the other side of the ball, the Nets shot just 5-of-17 in the quarter and committed four turnovers.

If you're looking for a reason why the Nets lost this one, look no further than the third quarter. The Nets lost it, 29-14 and ended up losing the game, 98-90.

"It's definitely frustrating," Joe Johnson said when asked what it felt like to know that the third quarter was again the Nets achilles heel. "It's been an ongoing thing the whole year, we talked about it after the game and hopefully we can come out tomorrow against Chicago and have a better effort."

The Nets trailed by 14 heading into the third quarter and allowed the Mavericks to open the lead up to 20 points. With about eight minutes remaining in the game, the Nets seemed to snap out of the lull and string together a few stops. C.J. Watson scored 11 points for the Nets in the quarter and Brook Lopez scored eight. It was too little, too late, though. Vince Carter and Dirk Nowitzki each scored 20 points for the Mavericks and made timely hoops down the stretch.

After the Nets managed to get the ball back, down five, Watson missed and eight-footer with 25 seconds remaining in the game. The Mavs eventually secured the rebound and iced the game with a few free-throws.

Though the Mavericks are far from the team that won the 2011 NBA Championship, they are a respectable group and there's no shame in losing to them. But for the Nets, after 59 games, it's reasonable to expect the team to not make the same mistakes and to not conquer something as silly as getting off to slow starts after halftime. That's cost this team games before and Friday night was just more of the same, so was Johnson saying that the Nets spoke about their poor third quarters after the game.

If there's a silver lining to all of this, it's that Williams has continued to look like an All-Star since the break concluded. Though he turned the ball over seven times, he himself played with more energy than we've seen at times. He looks healthier than he has in a long while and has led the Nets in scoring in four of the six games they've played since the All-Star break.

Another pro to take away from Friday's loss is the return of Joe Johnson. Afterward, Johnson said that he felt fine and that he did not think that he would face any minute-limit when the team played at Chicago on the second night of the back-to-back.

On Friday night, Johnson shot 5-of-12 and scored 11 points in 30 minutes.

But for the Nets, the pros stop there. The New York Knicks won at Washington, D.C. so the Nets now trail them by three games for the lead in the Atlantic Division. Entering play on Saturday, the Nets will be the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference and wouldn't host a first round playoff series. And in March, the schedule will only get tougher. The Nets will play 11 of their next 14 games on the road and seven of them will come against teams with winning records.

Friday's loss against the Mavericks may not qualify as a game the Nets were "supposed" to win, but it was a winnable game, and at a time when every win counts, the Nets should not still be having issues with effort and energy. The time for that has passed.

If they're not careful, instead of having designs on winning the Atlantic Division, they may be doing their best to avoid the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs.

Tags: Columns , Moke Hamilton
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