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Johnson's 26 Not Enough to Top Cavs; Final score: 95-91

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Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Brooklyn Nets have been struggling.They're losers in five of their last seven, averaging 89.3 points per game on 42.5% shooting. They've scored 100 points in one of their last 13 games.Unfortunately for them, they were up against the LeBron James and the Cavaliers, a team that averages 103 points per game and routed the Nets by 22 back on December 8th.

It was the same story, with a twist. Deron Williams left the game with a strained calf muscle.  He will have an MRI Saturday back home. He said team doctors don't think it's bad. The Nets have four games in the next eight days, vs. the Pistons, Nuggets, Celtics and Pacers, all of whom have losing records.

The Nets, once again, looked good early but squandered a double-digit lead and lost, 96-91. The Nets opened up the gate hitting on 7 of their first 9 shots, giving them a 16-7 preliminary lead over Cleveland -- eventually scoring 33 points in the quarter on 66.7% shooting and 4-for-6 shooting from three.

Mirage: something that appears real or possible but is not in fact so....

That's exactly what it was, and exactly how it's been for Brooklyn. Once the second quarter began, the Cavaliers regained control of the game, despite once trailing by 11. It was five three-pointers from Mike Miller that propelled Cleveland passed Brooklyn in the quarter, hitting on five of his first six three point attempts in the first half. As a whole, the Cavs outscored Brooklyn 28-16 in the second quarter.

Or as Andy Vasquez noted...

In the first quarters, the Nets are shooting 48.5 percent and outscoring opponents by an average of 2.8 points — a top five margin in the league. In second quarters, they’ve shot 42.7 percent from the field and been outscored by an average of 3.4 points — one of the five worst margins in the league.

The squandered lead was the least of the Nets' worries. Late in the second quarter, Tim Walsh assisted Deron Williams to the locker room. Williams was then deemed out for the rest of the game due to a right calf strain. With that, they trailed 54-49 heading into the half.

In the third quarter, it was a 10-0 run for Brooklyn that helped them to regain the lead, 56-55 at the nine minute mark of the quarter. But, Mike Miller was consistently making an impact. As the game continued to sway back and forth, Miller hit on his seventh three of the night, making him 7-for-8 through the three quarters.

The Nets trailed for most of the fourth quarter, but they continued to hang on the back of Joe Johnson. They trailed by six with 46 seconds remaining, when Joe Johnson notched his 26th point of the evening on a three-pointer which put Brooklyn back down three.

The Nets forced a turnover on the following defensive stance, which gave them possession with 17 seconds. They failed to execute, however, after Kevin Garnett was forced to chuck up a three with five seconds left. The Cavs gained the rebound and LeBron iced the game hitting one of two free throws. Game over, and it was all thanks to LeBron's eight points in the fourth quarter.

The Nets scored just 42 points in the second half, thus solidifying the obvious evidence that they've struggled to close out games on the offensive end. To go with that, the Cavaliers finished with 29 free throw attempts compared to the Nets' 12.

On a positive note, Joe Johnson was the man for Brooklyn, scoring 26 points, five assists and four rebounds on 10-for-18 shooting. It was his biggest outburst since his 34-point night vs. Detroit.

And for the fifth straight game, Mason Plumlee finished in double figures with 14 points and nine rebounds. He's averaging 13.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in his seven starts this season.

For Cleveland, LeBron James led the way with 22 points and nine assists, with Mike Miller also chipped in 21 points on 7-of-8 from three. Kevin Love was just 1-of-10, but finished with 16 rebounds, while Kyrie Irving chipped in 16 points of his own.

"There are a lot of teams in our division that are in the same boat as we are, trying to find their way," Hollins said. "And there’s three or four good teams in the Eastern Conference — and when I say good teams, I mean teams that are consistently on their games.

"Then, the rest of us are in the same pod," Hollins said. "We play three or four games pretty good, play three or four games pretty bad. Just kind of treading water."

Injury report: Brook Lopez (back). Deron Williams limped into the locker room during the second quarter. It was later determined that he would not return due to a calf strain. He will undergo an MRI back in Brooklyn.

Quarter by quarter summary:

First quarter ... It was a fun opening four minutes for the Nets. The ball was moving, Sergey Karasev scored seven points and Mason Plumlee blocked LeBron James on an aggressive drive. They were also up 16-7, hitting 7 of their first 9 shot attempts, forcing David Blatt to call an early timeout.

The Cavs hung around following a late 7-0 run, but the Nets maintained control. Their hot first quarter shooting isn't new. They scored 30 points and shot 59% Wednesday in Toronto. This time, they shot 66.7% from the field and 4-for-6 from three. Sergey Karasev finished the quarter with nine points on 4-for-5 shooting. Their highest margin of the quarter was 11.

The Nets led the Cavs, 33-26.

Second quarter ... The Cavs rediscovered their game while the Nets' starters once again watched the bench unit squander a decent lead. Cleveland went on a 12-2 run, tying the game at 35 within the first three minutes of the quarter.

This happens too often.

Luckily, the Nets had Joe Johnson and Sergey Karasev to keep them afloat. Johnson had 14, Karasev had 12, with the 12 being a career high for Karasev. They were the leading scorers for Brooklyn. Unluckily for them, though, Tim Walsh assisted the limping Deron Williams to the locker room. The Nets announced Williams out for the rest of the game.

At the 2:28 mark, the Cavs took their first lead of the night off a Mike Miller three. it was his fifth three, 5-of-6 from three on the night. The Cavaliers, behind their 9-19 second quarter shooting -- and Nets' horrid 7-20 second quarter shooting -- gave the Cavs control of the game. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving helped the cause with 10 points apiece. As a whole, the Cavs outscored the Nets 28-16 in the second quarter.

Score at the half: Cavs 54, Nets 49.

Third quarter ... It was a 10-0 run for Brooklyn that propelled them to regain the lead, 56-55 at the nine minute mark of the quarter. But, Mike Miller was making an impact. As the game continued to sway back and forth, Miller hit on his seventh three of the night, making him 7-for-8 through three quarters. Kevin Love on the other hand, was 1-for-9 with six points but 13 rebounds.

The Nets had the Cavaliers shooting just 38% from the field, but failed to regain complete control. Joe Johnson had 19 points, but with Deron Williams out, the Nets struggled to capture their offensive prowess. They trailed the Cavaliers, 74-71 heading into the fourth.

Fourth quarter ... The Nets were down five with five minutes remaining, but a quick 5-0 turn up from LeBron James put the Cavs up eight with four minutes remaining. The Nets would linger around, refusing to go down without a fight, but a Kyrie Irving bucket with 46 seconds put the Cavaliers up six, which was then answered by a Joe Johnson three-pointer.

The Nets stopped the Cavaliers on the following drive, but the Nets ran a sloppy final possession, resulting in a Kevin Garnett three-point attempt. It was yet again the same story: The Nets fought, but couldn't stay consistent enough on the offensive end.

Final score: Cavs 95, Nets 91.

For more on the Cavaliers, check them out at Fear The Sword.