The Nets’ 2011-12 season is officially on life support.
And to think, just a few days ago, they were talking about the “playoffs.”
Enough. Not anymore. Not after Saturday night’s inexcusable debacle.
Not after they let a depleted 10-34 Hornets team come into their building, rally from a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit, outscore them 32-12 in the final period and steal a victory from their grasp.
And certainly not when they are 6.5 games out of the eighth and final playoff spot Eastern Conference with 20 games remaining.
“This is one we needed,” Deron Williams said dejectedly following Nets 102, Hornets 94. “It’s a tough loss to swallow, but we’ll bounce back.”
It’s hard to believe that. Even with the additions of Gerald Wallace -- who played extremely well in his Nets’ debut -- and Brook Lopez, who is supposed to return in about a week from a sprained right ankle injury, the Nets would need a near miracle.
There are five teams ahead of them in the standings, and the suddenly surging Knicks are 3-0 since Mike Woodson took over for Mike D’Antoni.
The reality is that the Nets (15-31, 6-15 home) have 12 home games left in New Jersey. That’s it.
They’ll say farewell to the Garden State on Apr. 23, head north to Toronto on Apr. 26 and then move across the bridge to Brooklyn next season.
Nets fans deserve better. Their team has battled injuries and inconsistency all season.
But on Saturday night, there were no acceptable excuses. The Nets scored the final seven points of third quarter -- capped off by a buzzer-beating corner 3-pointer by Wallace -- to take an 82-70 edge into the final period.
There was absolutely no reason for them to implode, yet they did anyway.
They shot 5-for-23 from the field in the fourth and didn’t score in the final 2:21.
The Hornets kicked off the final period on an 18-6 run to tie the game at 88 with 3:49 remaining, and took their first lead since the 4:12 mark of the first after Jarrett Jack buried a 3-pointer to make it 95-94 with 1:28 left.
From there, D-Will missed three makable shots -- including two layups and an open jumper -- and Chris Kaman and Marco Belinelli inflicted the final daggers from the outside.
“We showed that we’re a team that has some potential, but we also need a lot of work,” coach Avery Johnson said.
The same can be said for the team’s prospects moving forward. The Nets have a star in D-Will and several young assets like Lopez, MarShon Brooks and Gerald Green with which to build around.
But they have to re-sign Williams first and hope he doesn’t bolt for Dallas. Same goes for Wallace, who can also opt out and go elsewhere. And then there’s the whole “Dwightmare: The Sequel” that seems inevitable.
Things could get better, or they could get worse. Much, much worse.
GM Billy King traded for Wallace and gave up a top-3 protected first-round draft pick because he felt like the Nets were ready to “win now” and make a playoff push.
Until they’re completely out of it, the Nets aren’t out of it, King said.
Well, they aren’t mathematically out of it just yet. But they’re on life support.