(November 23, 2013)
BROOKLYN—There’s no way to sugar coat this: The Brooklyn Nets play the most important game of the season to date on Sunday (2 p.m.; YES) when they host the Detroit Pistons.
If the Nets don’t win today they run the risk of becoming the worst thing a pro team can be in this town – irrelevant.
You know the gory numbers. The Nets have lost four straight and 7-of-8. They are coming off a 30-point loss in Minnesota. The Timberwolves are a good team but they aren’t the Heat.
Worst of all, the Nets haven’t won in Barclays Center since Nov. 5. In other words, the Nets have not proven they can hold home court, which means they have no chance of succeeding in the playoffs.
Go ahead. Laugh.
The Nets are 3-9, in last place in the Atlantic Division, and we just mentioned playoffs.
But let’s remember that the season is 12 games old, not 36. Let’s remember that the Nets have used more starting lineups than the Mets have used third basemen. There is time, but the bleeding must stop today.
Because if the Nets do not win today - in front of the fans that have put their hearts and souls into believing that this could be a very special year in Brooklyn - they run the risk of losing those fans.
New York sports fans aren’t mean-spirited. Are they passionate? You know it.
They’re too sophisticated to get mean. If a New York team isn’t getting it done there’s a sigh of disappointment, a couple of outraged callers to talk radio, and then we’re on to bigger things.
The Nets won’t lose any chance of playing in postseason with a loss today. They’ll lose their building. Maybe not for the entire season but certainly until they can prove they’re worth coming to see.
Remember when the Nets won their first home game, a thrilling, gritty, 101-100 over the Miami Heat. The building vibrated. It wasn’t electric; it was nuclear.
“We’re trying to establish something here, where teams don’t want to come in here, are scared to come in here,’’ said Paul Pierce.
No one fears the Nets, these days. Not the Washington Wizard or the Cleveland Cavaliers or the Orlando Magic.
Before there is fear, there must be respect. The Nets have to show they respect themselves.
They have to show that even if Brook Lopez or Deron Williams or Andrei Kirilenko is injured, the Nets will play hard with what they have.
Remember the team that ended the Nets 2012-13 season? The Chicago Bulls pulled their team ambulance into the building and unloaded a gimpy, undermanned team.
Derrick Rose was out. Luol Deng, out. Kirk Hinrich, out. Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson were aching. The Bulls showed up and stood up.
That’s what the Nets must do Sunday.
They must show up, from the opening tip.
They must defend the paint, which coach Jason Kidd has been preaching all season. They must write their name on the backboards. They must play defense for 24 seconds. They must come out in the third quarter with purpose.
Nets fans need a reason to believe. The Nets need a reason to believe.
No one looked at this game before the season started and circled it as a must-win. It is. It is the most important game the Nets have played to date.