NEW YORK — Heading into Monday night’s home contest against the Bulls, the Nets sat in eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings, and were fully in control of their playoff destiny with two games remaining in the regular season.
After a disappointing performance in which Brooklyn was shredded 113-86 by a very good Chicago team, that is no longer the case.
“It was a disappointing loss, but the way I look at it, we have one more game left,” Nets head coach Lionel Hollins said afterward. “We have to win it. And the other teams have to win, too.
“Indiana has to win — if we win Wednesday and they don’t win both games, we’re still in. So that’s the way I’m looking at it.”
That’s the optimistic view, one that Hollins and the rest of the Nets are now forced to take. Brooklyn trails Indiana by a game in the loss column, so if the Pacers can manage to win their last two — at home against Washington Tuesday, and then at Memphis on Wednesday — the Nets will miss the postseason.
This was the second game in less than 48 hours where Brooklyn was blown out in the second half. After losing in Milwaukee on Sunday afternoon by 23 points, the effort at home against Chicago was just as discouraging. Hollins gave credit to his opponents’ strong defense, however, and essentially said that a loss, no matter how it comes, is simply a loss.
“It doesn’t really matter how you lose,” Hollins said. “It could have been a last-second shot; it still would have been a loss. It’s disappointing to lose like that, but we played two really good defensive teams, two athletic teams, two long teams. When you go in and shoot 20-for-50 in the paint, that means they have something to do with that, as well.”
In the Nets locker room, the players seemed to be taking the loss a bit harder than their head coach.
“I honestly can’t explain it,” said a dejected Joe Johnson, when asked about the way the team has dropped its last two games. “I don’t even know how it’s possible.”
Perhaps more telling of where the Nets are right now was Johnson’s answer to a question about whether or not the team has the mental toughness to be able to rebound from these two consecutive dismal performances.
“I have no idea,” he said. “I can’t answer that.”
Hollins is a veteran, both as a player and as a head coach, so perhaps his words about being shut down by two good defensive teams, as well as the fact that the Pacers need to win out for the Nets to be eliminated can be taken to heart by his players before a home game against the Magic on the final night of the regular season.
But on this night, many of the guys seemed to be coming to the sobering realization that an opportunity may have been lost.
“All we can do is just take care of that one game,” Deron Williams said. “It’s our fault. We put ourselves in this position.”