By Fred Kerber
New York Post
HOUSTON - All they wanted and needed was a chance. They got it and seem determined to make the most of it.
At different stages of the season, rookie guard Antoine Wright and third-year guard Zoran Planinic were the Nets' invisible men. Wright, through 32 games, played once for a grand total of two minutes. Planinic, in the rotation when the season began, fell from favor then was used about as much as a muffin tin.
Wright, though, has become a regular. And Planinic is hoping his effort Sunday against the Hornets can be the start of something, well, regular. For the first time in eons, Planinic felt at ease going into a game. No pressure, no worries about making a mistake. After all, what was the worst that could happen? It's hard to get fewer minutes than none.
"I was on the bench so long it didn't matter any more," said Planinic, who scored a season-high 11 points in the 95-84 victory over the Hornets in Oklahoma City. "I didn't think that [making a mistake]. I just tried to go out and play."
He did. Planinic helped the Nets maintain an early lead with four points at the end of the first quarter. His 11 points marked only the third time since Jan. 21, covering 23 games, that a sub other than Cliff Robinson scored double figures. Jacque Vaughn and Scott Padgett did it once. Robinson did it nine times.
The Nets, in a reversal of late, played from strength from start to finish and came to Houston in a good frame of mind to face the Rockets last night. Houston was without Tracy McGrady (back) but with rampaging Yao Ming (27.5 points, 13.3 rebounds in his 10 previous games).
For Wright, the Rockets game was special - he was about an hour's drive from his Texas A&M college stomping grounds and figured to have a healthy supply of friends on hand.
"It feels great. This has been a long process. This is like the icing on the cake, to be able to go back and play," said Wright, who is making his name as a defender, even though the Nets drafted him as a shooter/scorer.
Hey, the Nets drafted Planinic to be Jason Kidd's backup. Hasn't quite happened, as they've tried Robert Pack, Anthony Goldwire, Doug Overton, Travis Best, Vaughn and any number of two guards since Planinic arrived.
The bench - to use Kidd's observation - "has been under some scrutiny of late." Starters were in need of oxygen and IV drips nightly as minutes mounted. Robinson, Vaughn and Padgett, sometimes, were the guys coach Lawrence Frank trusted. Finally, the coach tried something new. Wright got his chance and produced. Planinic, who had numerous chances in the past, hopes to follow. If nothing else, the pair want to bring the sort of energy they supplied Sunday.
While Yao Ming's recent numbers impress, Jason Collins has a strong history against him for the Nets. Last season, in two games, Yao totaled 12 points and 11 rebounds. "It's not just on me. It's a team effort," said Collins, who stressed the importance of positioning against Yao, making him set up beyond his comfort area. "When you have somebody that size and skilled you play through him. Even though he is heavy, you have to be physical with him. You've got to push him all the way to the basket, make it tough for him from the start, let him know it's going to be a physical ballgame. You definitely meet him up high. I'll meet him by the free throw line and try and push him out."