Thursday December 3rd, 2009

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Move on, mind your business, nothing to see here ... isn't that what police tell the gathering crowds after an accident has been cleared?

But this is not that kind of accident. The pile-up of the New Jersey Nets goes on and on and on, and it attracts little to no crowd. Their 117-101 (RECAP | BOX) loss Wednesday to the visiting Mavericks left the devastated Nets at 0-18, breaking all records for the worst start to any NBA season. The crowd at Izod Arena wasn't anything so large as the listed attendance of 11,689, and the couple of thousand who remained to the end pelted the Nets with a booing that drove them off the court and into their locker room faster than they'd run back on defense throughout the second quarter.

"I'm at a loss for explaining what's going on,'' said second-year guard Chris Douglas-Roberts, who led the Nets with 24 points (and five turnovers). "You have to have heart to overcome something like this. It's simple -- we're the only team without a win.

"We don't have any heart, we're lying down, we're weak.''

They'd entered that shameful second quarter on the crest of their most prolific opening period of the season and a promising 28-28 tie. From there, the Mavs sank their first five shots of the quarter and then 10 straight attempts to end the half. If not for Erick Dampier's failure to finish an alley-oop and Dirk Nowitzki's clanging of a short runner, the Nets would've had no consolation at all. Altogether they invited their guests to convert 17-of-19 field goals in the quarter (89.5 percent) as their overall percentage climbed like a fever, topping out at 80.6 percent (29-of-36) at intermission. No Maverick missed more than one shot in the opening half.

"Sometimes it's just about hustle,'' said backup interim coach Tom Barrise, who was filling in for Kiki Vandeweghe, who will make his debut as the starting interim coach Friday against the visiting Bobcats. (Nothing is easy for this team.) "Get your knees dirty. Get in your stance. Guard somebody. Maybe it was a good lesson learned.''

There have been more lessons than the Nets can keep straight. They were outscored 49-22 in the second quarter for their fifth straight loss by double figures. Over the first month, they'd put up more of a fight, starting with a 95-93 loss opening night at Minnesota and later an 81-80 loss in the last second at Miami to bookend a pair of losses by three points each to the 76ers, both at home and away. "What happens is it wears on you,'' said Barrise of the losing. "It's every day, or every other day.''

The shame of it is that the Nets shouldn't be nearly so bad as they've been made to look. For much of this streak, they've dressed eight healthy players. "We lost all of our shooters,'' said Nets president Rod Thorn, leaving his team bereft of scoring. Now they aren't defending, either, which leaves Vandeweghe with a lot of work ahead.

The Nets fired non-interim coach Lawrence Frank on Sunday before he could be associated with the record-tying 17th loss in Los Angeles against the Lakers. On Tuesday, they named their GM (Vandeweghe) as the interim replacement but gave him Wednesday night off, which kept him from being associated with the record-breaking loss. He needed the extra time to prepare while awaiting the arrival of Del Harris, who will be providing crucial technical advice as Vandeweghe's lead assistant.

For this game, the Nets were missing Yi Jianlian (sprained knee), Jarvis Hayes (strained hamstring) and Keyon Dooling (hip), while Devin Harris, Courtney Lee and Eduardo Najera had previously missed weeks of play. Altogether, the Nets had lost 89 games to injuries, etc., this short season. It is nonetheless interesting that New Jersey all of a sudden had 15 players show up to shootaround Wednesday now that the old coach was gone with the new one on his way in. Coincidence? You be the judge.

Vandeweghe was a development coach for the Mavs back when Nowitzki, Steve Nash and Michael Finley were all up and coming, and in his new role he plans to feed big minutes to New Jersey's young players. "Any rebuilding process has painful times,'' Vandeweghe said while standing on the court near the Nets bench during the pregame Wednesday. "Right now wins and losses are not our priority. Everyone wants to win, but the way we'll win is by helping our young players get better. It's the right thing to do.''

Some of that talent may be irredeemable, as exemplified by Sean Williams' idea to grab the rim before a shot which awarded Nowitzki (24 points) with a three-point play. "That's a heads-up play, Sean, keep it up,'' yelled a courtside fan, hand flat against his cheek.

Believe it or not, the Nets have an imminent 20-10 center in second-year big man Brook Lopez, an All-Star in 26-year-old point guard Harris, a reliably versatile shooting guard in Lee as well as power forward Yi, who is not without potential. They'll have a high pick coming in the next draft, followed by max cap space to be spent by their likely new billionaire owner from Russia. They may even enjoy the next two years playing before more hospitable crowds in Newark before their anticipated move to Brooklyn in 2012-13.

In the meantime, they still have 64 games and more than four harrowing months left in which to play them. Douglas-Roberts has been thinking about raising his voice to his teammates, because it's not like things can get any worse. "My emotions may take over,'' he said. "The smart thing is to keep it cordial and calm, but that's not really working."

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