USA TODAY Sports
Hello Brooklyn? The way things are going Kings County may want to say adios, Brooklyn Nets. That swagger and bluster entering the season as the new kids in the big city with the hip colors, rebuilt, expensive roster and promises to emerge as a serious title contender has dropped eight of its last 10 and stand one game over .500.
Deron Williams and Joe Johnson are far from what Johnson proclaimed as "the best backcourt in the NBA." Want some proof? In last Sunday's nine-point loss to the Milwaukee Bucks at Barclays Center, the Bucks' backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis outscored Williams and Johnson, 50-24, and made the critical plays Brooklyn's duo failed to produce in the final minutes. The Nets offense has lacked creativity and defensively has been more generous than Santa Claus following a sizzling 11-4 beginning.
And what usually follows losing are fissures within. Williams said on Monday he wasn't a good fit in head coach Avery Johnson's isolation-heavy system. For all the proclamations of how Brooklyn was going to paint all of New York City black and white, all Wednesday's 100-86 loss to the New York Knicks proved was glaring differences between contenders and pretenders.
The Knicks move the ball with fluidity, which unlike the Nets doesn't result in forced shots and stagnant isolation sets. The Knicks play defense with verve while the Nets defend the paint with the generosity of the holiday season. Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov spent $330 million on people in the summer. The return investment has been epic second-half collapses and open season for opposing sharpshooters.
This team lacks finishers, Joe Johnson's game-winning bucket in last Friday's win over the Pistons not withstanding. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Nets have lost six games in which they've led by at least 13 points, including blown opportunities last week against the Knicks (17) and on Tuesday against the Utah Jazz (13). Even in victories over the Pistons and Toronto Raptors, the Nets blew respective leads of 17 and 15.
"It's just bad habits," Williams said. "It's a bad habit that's forming. We can't keep giving leads away. We have to be mentally tougher than that."
Right now, the Brooklynites are broken at 13-12 and trailing the 19-6 Knicks by six games in the Atlantic Division.
"We're frustrated," Williams said. "We gotta change some things. We've gotta get better. It's on us. ... We've lost a little bit of our toughness, so we've gotta get that back.
"It's surprising. Especially with how we started. It seemed like we were rolling pretty well, and then we kind of just hit a snag and we can't figure out how to get our confidence back, and we're looking to do that."
The Nets are 2-8 in December following their stellar 11-4 November and are left hoping Wednesday in Manhattan was rock bottom. The Knicks outscored them 48-38 in the second half, scored seven straight points in the fourth and sealed the Nets' fate when J.R. Smith's three pointer followed up by four consecutive Carmelo Anthony points boosted the Knicks' lead to 18. One can argue that more time is required for the Nets to fully jell, and that's a fair point, but given their preseason boasts and swagger, time for the Nets, despite what the calendar indicates, may be shorter than it appears.
''We have a lot of season left. We'll get it turned around,'' said Avery Johnson, whose team has three days off to figure out exactly what's been happening. ''We're going to get back in the lab on Friday and work on some parts of our game and get this bad taste out.''
Follow Jon Lane on Twitter: @JonLaneNYC