Nets still struggling in third quarter

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Brooklyn Nets have struggled so badly in third quarters this season that point guard Deron Williams recently suggested to interim coach P.J. Carlesimo that the team’s halftime speeches need to be cut down so the players would have a little more time to warm up.

“It didn’t really work,” Williams said Tuesday.

The Nets currently rank last in the NBA in third quarter scoring (21.7 ppg) and are tied for 28th in average scoring margin during the period (minus-2.0). They have been outscored by 10 or more points in the third 13 times this season, and are 5-8 in those games.

“I couldn’t explain it the other 100 times you asked me, and I can’t explain it now,” Williams said. “I wish I knew why. If we knew it would be easy to correct, but for whatever reason we just come out flat.

“I just think it’s a mentality. Teams come out and I think they know we’ve struggled in third quarters and they come at us a little bit tougher and we’ve gotta do a better job of responding and fighting back.”

• The Nets haven’t placed an emphasis on winning the Atlantic Division.

“It’s never been discussed,” shooting guard Joe Johnson said. “Right now, we’re not worried about winning the division. We need to worry about winning a game.”

Said Williams: “We just gotta take it one game at a time. That’s not our biggest goal. We’ve gotta just take it one step at a time and game by game at this point right now.”

The Nets (34-26) currently trail the New York Knicks (36-21) by 3 1/2 games in the division, and by five games in the loss column.

• Johnson, who has averaged 11 points in two games since returning from a sore left heel, talked about his health: “I just take it one day at a time. Like I said, I’m doing the necessary things I have to do to get back to where I need to be. I have good days and bad days. So we’ll have to see. We’ll keep icing and treating and just go from there.”

Is he close to getting back to being the go-to guy down the stretch?

“I’m right there. I just got to do what I need to do to treat my body right and to be ready to perform, so we’ll see,” he replied.