Nothing but Nets as fadeaway shot hits

On The NBA

March 15, 1998|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

Just before a home-and-home series against the Miami Heat last month, the New Jersey Nets were talking about winning the Atlantic Division. And actually believed it. But the Nets went on to lose those two games and went on a nose-dive that, if the NBA season had ended on Thursday, would have left the team out of the playoffs.

The surprise team in the NBA the first half of the season, the Nets have started to resemble, well, the Nets. New Jersey had dropped seven straight games, the longest current losing streak in the league, before last night's 108-93 victory over lowly Dallas.

New Jersey isn't the only team that has faded. Both the Cleveland Cavaliers and New York Knicks also have stumbled to a point where there are five teams in the Eastern Conference fighting for the final three playoffs spots. The Washington

Wizards, despite a loss at Philadelphia on Tuesday, were in eighth place even before last night's win.

New York's poor play is closely related to being without a true center, with Patrick Ewing and Chris Dudley out with injuries. Cleveland, which edged the visiting Knicks in overtime last night, is showing the effects of starting three rookies, in addition to the inconsistent play of Shawn Kemp.

The Orlando Magic has climbed back into the playoff picture without Anfernee Hardaway (left calf strain), who continues to have his toughness questioned for not playing through injuries. With Hardaway out, it's been Nick Anderson who has kept the Magic in contention, averaging more than 25 points over 11 games before scoring 20 Friday.

"We're going to ride [Anderson] for as long as we can," said Orlando coach Chuck Daly. "We don't have many other options right now. We need him out there. What he has done is amazing."

As for the Nets, their playoff hopes look bleak. Starting center Jayson Williams, the league's second-leading rebounder, is out indefinitely with an abdominal strain. Rookie Keith Van Horn missed a game last week with a broken toe on his right foot. And Sam Cassell is playing with tendinitis in his left knee.

Not exactly the situation Rony Seikaly felt he was getting into when he was traded to New Jersey last month. So desperate are the Nets right now that Seikaly, recovering from a stress fracture, is considering an early return.

"We've started to slip a little too much, and the other teams are starting to move up," Seikaly said. "That's why I'm getting a little more antsy as each day goes by. So if it starts looking like we're going to be on the outside looking in, I may start playing and maybe rest in the summer."

Sending a message

Obviously frustrated by the team's play after the All-Star break -- including back-to-back road losses at New York and Washington -- Los Angeles Lakers general manager Jerry West decided to send a message to his team. When players arrived at the Great Western Forum before a game against the San Antonio Spurs last week, they found a letter from West that read, in part:

"Each of you are on the verge of letting this season slip right through your fingers. Only one team will be champion. That team will have worked their butts off to get there, that team will know each other's every move, every thought.

"That team could and should be the Lakers."

Did the letter have an impact? The Lakers have won five straight, the team's longest winning streak in two months. Still, the slide right after the break dropped the Lakers to third in the Western Conference standings (the Seattle SuperSonics are first, followed by the Utah Jazz), with a slim lead over San Antonio for fourth place.

The Lakers miss Nick Van Exel, the All-Star guard who had arthroscopic surgery on his knee Feb. 26. Van Exel was expected to return to practice next week, but his progress has the Lakers hopeful he will be back in uniform by then.

Around the league

It was just over two weeks ago that the Indiana Pacers, in back-to-back games, held the Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets to a combined 122 points. Since setting that NBA record, the Pacers are having a difficult time stopping anyone.

Before holding Milwaukee to 76 Friday, the Pacers had allowed over 100 points in four of five games, including 122 points in a 31-point loss to the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday. Before that game, the Pacers hadn't allowed more than 106 points or been beaten by more than 12.

"The Pistons played by themselves," Indiana coach Larry Bird said after Wednesday's loss. " 'We' wasn't out there."

The Pacers still hope to contend for the Central Division title in the Eastern Conference. Indiana is 2 1/2 games behind the Chicago Bulls, and plays nine of 13 at home.

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