By Julian Garcia
New York Daily News
THERE IS NO question that if the Nets are going to compete for the Eastern Conference title this season, they are going to need their trio of Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson to be effective. Even if they are, someone else is likely going to have to step up.
Last night, that person was Nenad Krstic.
Four of the Nets' five starters scored in double figures in a 91- 83 win over the Utah Jazz at the Meadowlands. Carter scored 21 points, Jefferson had 17 and Kidd added 11. The help came from Krstic, who finished with 18 points.
Jefferson fell just one rebound short of a triple-double. He grabbed nine boards and also had 12 assists.
The Nets went into the fourth quarter leading by 15 points. Though Utah got close down the stretch, the only real drama was watching Jefferson try to get into position to grab one final rebound.
Most importantly, the Nets played well coming off of a heart- breaking one-point loss to the Heat on Monday to improve to 3-2.
Utah came into the season with expectations far lower than those of the Nets, yet the Jazz won three of its first four games and continued its solid play in the first half last night.
After falling behind by seven early, Utah fought back to cut the deficit to 25-24 at the end of the first quarter. The Nets' defense helped, allowing the Jazz to hit 11 of 20 shots in the period.
Before the game, Nets coach Lawrence Frank said he was hoping that his team would continue to play defense the way it did in the final moments of Monday's loss to the Heat, when the Nets allowed just one field goal in the final 4:30.
"If we can build on that," Frank said, "hopefully we can continue to show some signs (of improvement)."
Though that wasn't the case early, the Nets compensated with offense, knocking down nine of their first 13 shots from the field. Though Carter hit three of his first four, the other Nets stars were relatively quiet. Neither Kidd nor Jefferson attempted a field goal in the opening quarter.
Instead, Krstic carried the team, scoring 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting in that time.
The Jazz took a 39-38 lead with 2:32 left in the second quarter on a 12-footer by Andrei Kirilenko, who led Utah with 18 points. Utah held a 43-42 lead when Carter attempted an 18-footer at the halftime buzzer, but the shot clanked off the back rim, sending the Nets into the locker room trailing.
However, the Nets came out firing in the second half, taking the lead back on a 10-footer by Jefferson, who scored eight points in the third. Kidd also came alive in the quarter, hitting an early layup before knocking down a three-pointer that gave the Nets a 58- 50 lead with 5:18 left in the period.
The Nets led, 69-57, after Utah's Keith McLeod hit a pair of free throws with just under two seconds left in the quarter. After receiving the inbound pass, Zoran Planinic threw up a long desperation shot from about 10 feet inside the baseline. As the buzzer was sounding, his two-handed heave sailed through the hoop, putting the Nets up 72-57 and sending the crowd into a frenzy.