By Dave D'Alessandro
If the season were to end today, the Nets would face the Milwaukee Bucks in the opening round in 13 days--which undoubtedly be welcome news for the Nets, if not any upper seed.
The Bucks have lost four straight games to slip to 37-40--that's a half game ahead of Indiana, which is slipping even faster--and since opening night, the nets have clobbered them three straight times, including twice at the Bradley Center.
"When you look at New Jersey, they're definitely taking their game to another level," T. J. Ford said after his team's 94-83 loss yesterday. "They've improved and they're going into the playoffs with a lot of confidence and that's something we're lacking. You want to go in with confidence not go in struggling."
Charlie Bell, who has taken over Ford's job as starting point guard, was more blunt.
"Right now, we're playing like we're ready for vacation, like we're getting ready for a lottery pick or something," he said.
The Ford situation is hard to figure. For reasons unbeknownst to anyone but the Bucks coaching staff, Terry Stotts decided to bench Ford for the first 11 minutes of the game, even though the pocket rocket makes it a habit of wrecking the Nets. By the time he hit the floor yesterday, the Bucks were in a 27-12 hole, never again to emerge--despite the best efforts of Ford, who was generally the best player on the floor.
So why not start him? "Charlie has just been playing really well," Stotts explained.
The Nets probably hope Bell plays really well for the rest of the regular season and the Bucks stay sixth.
"T. J. Ford helped change the game offensively and defensively," Lawrence Frank said. "They got after it" with him in the game.
Antoine Wright pulled up lame after only 4:23 of duty in the second quarter, and the club is calling it a strained quadriceps. "I was going back on defense and I twisted it a little bit and I strained it," the rookie said. "I'll be all right. The doctor just came in and said it's probably just a strain."
Lost in the aftermath of the Cleveland loss: That was the Nets' first defeat after 36 straight victories when leading after three quarters. More Minutiae: the Nets have won six straight on the road, the longest streak in their NBA history. But they return to the scene of their last road loss (United Center) tomorrow night.
Jacque Vaughn was called for a traveling violation by Ken Maurer in the third quarter after faking a pass, losing the handle (briefly), but recovering the ball before his feet ever moved. "It's a good thing we can learn from each other," the Nets point guard said. "He apologized."
Jason Collins attempted another three-pointer yesterday. "My new nickname should be Downtown Set Shot Willie," he said.