Nets look like playoff pretenders in ugly loss to Hornets

By on March 5, 2015

HORNETS 115, NETS 91

The Nets have flirted with disaster all season.

On Wednesday, they officially kissed catastrophe on the lips, with a 115-91 loss to the Charlotte Hornets at Barclays Center, losing their grip on the eighth playoff spot and falling a full game behind the Hornets in the Eastern Conference standings.

For all of Wednesday’s significance- Joe Johnson called it “probably one of the most important games of the season” on Tuesday- the Nets started the game with the urgency of a sleep-walker.

With a playoff atmosphere in the air- or at least the expectation that something important might happen- the Nets quickly fell into a 13-2 hole that soon became a 31-8 crater on a dunk by Al Jefferson.

While the Hornets (26-33) were zipping to the basket for dunks and whatever they wanted, hitting 13 of their first 15 shots, the Nets appeared a step slow, unable to keep up.

The Nets (25-34) hardly had a chance, trailing by as many as 23 points in the first quarter and 27 in the third.

They were embarrassed, one of the many low-points coming as Brooklyn-product Lance Stephenson tried to ram the loss down their throats on a fancy tomahawk dunk on a drive with the Nets reserves on the floor and Charlotte up 34 in the fourth.

Stephenson missed the dunk and went flying but the message was clear: “Not tonight.”

The Nets couldn’t shoot straight on Wednesday: Johnson missed five of six shots; Alan Anderson went 1-of-5; Jarrett Jack was 4-of-13; and Deron Williams led the Nets with 12.

It was a head-scratching effort for the Nets, who had much to play for and also much to be thankful for.

Despite losing seven straight in January and struggling in the first-half of the season, the Nets still remained in the playoff hunt, protected by the dreadfulness of the Eastern Conference.

Then, the Nets seemed to turn a corner after the All-Star break, switching to a smaller lineup and proceeding to go 4-2 with big wins against Western Conference foes Dallas and Golden State on Monday. Things seemed to be falling into place.

After sleep-walking through the first half of the season, the Nets found themselves battling Charlotte for the eighth playoff spot on Wednesday in a game with post-season implications.

That is what made the start so peculiar.

The Hornets hit on 65.2 percent of their shots with the recently acquired Mo Williams dishing out nine assists, all in the first quarter. Meanwhile, the Nets missed 14 of 20 shots and were getting out-hustled.

Boos started to rain down with nearly 10 minutes left in the half after Cody Zeller grabbed his own miss and ran in for an unimpeded lay-in, putting the Hornets up 39-18.

The Nets briefly woke up, running off 10 straight points with Thaddeus Young hitting a three to cut the deficit to 44-31 with 5:49 left in the half and Charlotte led by just 12 at the break.

But the Hornets opened the third quarter on a 12-2 run to increase the lead to 22, all but ending any chances the Nets had of a comeback.

Bronx product Kemba Walker (left knee surgery) didn’t suit up for Charlotte. But Charlotte Coach Steve Clifford revealed before the game he has been cleared to start basketball activities and Walker is expected to return to practice on Saturday without any limitations.

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