NEW YORK -- Maybe home cooking isn't all it's cracked up to be?
After dropping Wednesday night's 104-98 decision to the visiting Miami Heat at Barclays Center, the Nets closed out a nine-game stretch in which they slept in their own beds by going just 4-5. Although the team played the Los Angeles Clippers and the Heat fairly closely, in the end, they walk away with exactly the same thing that the Cleveland Cavaliers got after losing in last season's NBA Finals: nothing.
In Brooklyn, things seem to be unraveling. Worse than the losses is the body language. Lionel Hollins gets frustrated in every press conference and Joe Johnson, the man that Hollins desperately needs for this team to have any chance at making the playoffs, seems to have already somewhat checked out. Perhaps Johnson was despondent because of the poor shooting night (2 for 9 from the field, five points) that he turned in against Miami, but in tough times, teams need tough leaders.
More so, teams need answers, not players that have no interest in finding them. The most Johnson would offer after Wednesday's loss was him admitting to not remembering why the Nets failed to foul the Heat when the team was down by five points with about 35 seconds remaining.
"I don't even remember, honestly," Johnson said.
He also didn't have any answers for why, as he put it, the Nets "have a tendency to second-guess ourselves," and that "rather than taking the shots that we've been taking throughout the whole game," the team hesitates.
Johnson also had no idea why the team didn't play more through Brook Lopez. Lopez converted 12 of the 16 shots he took. That's pretty good. What wasn't good, though, was the fact only two of those attempts came in the fourth quarter. That's where things seemed to unravel for the Nets after they cut what was an 11-point deficit to just a single point with about 7 minutes remaining in the game. From there, Dwyane Wade found the fountain of youth and sent the Nets to 7-18. Only the Philadelphia 76ers (1-26), New Orleans Pelicans (6-18) and Los Angeles Lakers (4-21) have worse records.
With the homestand having come and gone, and the team failing to make any inroads, the upcoming stretch in which they will play give of their next eight games on the road will be especially tough.
In there, somewhere, are things the Nets can feel somewhat good about. Lopez has quietly rediscovered his health and effectiveness, while Jarrett Jack has proved he is a capable starting point guard that will give his team an opportunity to win on any given night.
The Nets have proved they can play with some of the better teams in the league. Six of the team's 18 losses have come by six or fewer points. Had the ball bounced differently a few times, the Nets could have been 13-12 and right in the midst of the jumbled playoff picture that has developed in the Eastern Conference.
But at the end of the day, the losses still count. Miscommunications and failed directives that have directly contributed to diminished opportunities to win games are troubling. At a certain point, that falls on the head coach, so as the Nets pass the 25-game mark, there is certainly room for improvement from top to bottom.
The Nets are not as bad as their record suggests, but righting the ship will require astute leadership both on the court and on the bench. Can the team count on Johnson and Hollins to deliver it?