By Chris Sheridan
As the New Jersey Nets get ready to play the Sacramento Kings tonight -- probably their last, best chance (since they play the Lakers next) to avoid tying the NBA record of 17 consecutive losses to start a season, it's worthwhile to take a look back at this Noxious November and point out three games that got away from the Nets.
If just one of those games had gone the other way, Lawrence Frank's job wouldn't be hanging by a thread, and Kurt Rambis would be the league leader in having to accept responsibility on a daily/nightly basis for his team's brutal record.
They'll never get Frank on game preparation, because that is one of his strong suits that team brass always pointed to in times of trouble during the past.
They'll never get him on lack of effort, because this is a guy who was coaching his tail off way back in the third game of the exhibition season, intentionally fouling throughout the final minute of a meaningless game in Boston to try to get his team within three points to get a shot at forcing overtime.
They'll never get him on attitude, because although he may occassionally clash with a player (Devin Harris stayed down on Frank for a long time last season after a particularly humiliating benching against Boston), he knows how to manage egos (as witnessed by Jason Kidd's and Vince Carter's unyielding support for Frank during the early stages of the franchise downtown that ultimately led to the ongoing revamping of the roster) and has not let the losing streak sap his grace or his sense of humor.
If they do get him (management could choose to take a cue from the New Orleans Hornets and go the Jeff Bauer route, making general manager Kiki Vandeweghe handle the coaching chores) what they'll get him on is recent results -- even though Frank has been without three injured starters (Devin Harris, Courtney Lee, Yi Jianlian) and several key reserves (Keyon Dooling, Jarvis Hayes, Tony Battie) for a majority of the season.
But let's face it: When the results are measured with a goose egg in the W-L column this far into the season, at some point the bottom line becomes that goose egg.
But that zero wouldn't be there if things had gone New Jersey's way in any one of these three instances:
Opening night: Timberwolves 95, Nets 93
The Nets were ahead by as many as 19 and were still up by 16 with less than 7 minutes to play, but Minnesota closed the game with a 24-6 run including a putback by Damien Wilkins at the buzzer. New Jersey made just one field goal, committed five turnovers and surrendered seven offensive rebounds to Minnesota during that span. The 1-14 Timberwolves haven't won since, and nine of their last 10 losses have been by double-digit margins.
Nov. 14, Heat 81, Nets 80
Quentin Richardson banked in a 3-pointer with 25 seconds left to tie it, Brook Lopez made it 80-78 on a tip-in with 4.1 seconds left, and Dwyane Wade hit a turnaround 3-pointer off an inbounds play, the ball passing through the net with one-tenth of a second left, to win it. Frank could be second-guessed for not putting a second defender on Wade to force someone else take the last shot, but Trenton Hassell had held Wade without a FG since the 1:22 mark of the 2nd quarter, so he got the single-coverage assignment and didn't swipe at the ball when Wade bobbled it before sinking the dagger.
Nov. 18, Bucks 99, Nets 85
Rookie Terrence Williams was on fire, hitting his final seven shots of the first half as New Jersey went to the locker room with a 48-41 lead. But rather than stick with the hot hand, Frank told the rest of the team at halftime to feed off the example being set by Williams. Bad idea. Milwaukee opened the second half with a 15-2 run before Frank put Williams back in with 6:35 remaining in the third quarter, and the rookie shot 0-for-6 the rest of the way.