- Mike Mazzeo, ESPN Staff Writer
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NEWARK, N.J. -- Avery Johnson always said he knew what he was getting himself into when he signed on to become the head coach of the lowly New Jersey Nets prior to the start of the season. Still, that hasn’t made any of the last 50 losses -- the latest by 25 points -- any easier to swallow. Especially for someone who came into 2010-11 as the most successful regular season head coach in NBA history (.735 winning percentage).
“I knew it would be a lot of long nights,” Johnson said after the Nets were blown out by the Houston Rockets, 112-87, on Tuesday night at the Prudential Center. “But that’s what the challenge was. When you’re a team that was decimated like we were, and we had to change of the roster, we knew we would have some long days. And it would be a process. And that’s why we’ve been preaching ‘process.’ We knew we would have some difficult moments, disappointing results and some embarrassing losses, but that didn’t sway us one bit. And it still doesn’t today.”
However, backup-turned-starting point guard Jordan Farmar, who inked a 3-year, $12 million free agent contract with the Nets in the offseason, had a different take. In his first four NBA seasons as a key reserve on the Los Angeles Lakers, Farmar had made the playoffs all four times, advanced to three NBA Finals and won two of them. He had a feeling it was going to be tough. But this tough?
“I didn’t know exactly what it was,” Farmar said. “When you sign, you expect to be a difference maker and someone that can help turn things around. And compared to last season, this is a pretty big turnaround. It’s just a matter of time and continuing to work and stay positive. You can stay positive, or you can go in the wrong direction.”
Following a dismal 12-70 campaign last season, the Nets had nowhere to go but up. And they have. Somewhat, anyway. Still, to a 24-year-old in Farmar that had never played a meaningless game before Tuesday night -- 364 of them to be exact -- it hasn’t felt much like progress.
“It’s been extremely tough,” Farmar said. “But it’s a growing process for me personally, on and off the floor. I think I’ve grown a lot this year. The basketball aspect has been tough, but I’ve also had the opportunity to play a little more. I’ve battled through some injuries. It’s been up and down all season, but that’s the nature of the NBA.”
Perhaps. Just not for Farmar -- until now. Until now, the words “playing for pride” had never entered the conversation. But for the last nine games, that’s what Farmar will have to do: play for pride. Or in his words, "for the love of the game.”
“I play basketball because I love the game,” Farmar said. “My father was a professional athlete. He played baseball. And I chose to play basketball because I love the game, and that’s still the reason I played now. That’s the reason I play now. It’s an awesome job. It’s been able to give me everything I’ve ever dreamed of in life. But I play because I love it.” Easier said than done, though.
Especially for players like Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries who have lost 120 of their last 155 games -- or 77.4 percent of them. And that has to make it tough to get motivated, no?
“Well, it’ll be a long nine games if we play without any motivation, pride or urgency,” Farmar said after the Nets were outscored 22-2 during a stretch of 6:18 late in the first and early in the second quarter -- they shot just 1-for-7 and turned the ball over five times during that span -- which allowed the Rockets to put the game away. “So I hope that’s not the case. For whatever reason, they were on, we were flat and we can leave it at that.”
If the Nets weren’t motivated on Tuesday night, you would think they’d be able to get up for their Wednesday night clash against the rival New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. After all, what more motivation do you need?
“That’s going to be a game of recognition,” said Sasha Vujacic, who like Farmar had played in the last three NBA Finals and won two of them. “We need to step up and show them that we’re right there somehow. But tomorrow is probably the biggest game of the season, and we can’t hide the fact that we gotta do everything possible to win it.”
The possible return of star point guard Deron Williams could aid their spirits and give them hope. And they need him, desperately.