The New Jersey Nets snapped their eight-game losing streak the hard way.
After surging to a 23-point lead against the Washington Wizards, who are winless on the road, the Nets saw the Wizards pull even in the fourth quarter. The Nets prevailed, however, by getting to the free-throw line and receiving some timely defense.
Devin Harris scored a game-high 29 points and dished out nine assists in the Nets’ 97-89 win Thursday night at Prudential Center.
Brook Lopez battled through foul trouble to score 18 points and Kris Humphries notched a double-double with 12 points and 17 rebounds.
After a first half in which the Nets poured in 55 points, nothing came easy.
“For us the game comes in cycles,” Avery Johnson said. “We had a pretty high cycle early in the game and then we had a really down cycle there in the third and fourth quarter, but our guys hung in there and stayed positive. We stayed positive with them in the timeouts and we got the win.”
The struggling Wizards (6-18) dug out of the 23-point hole and knotted the game, 75-75, with 8:52 left in the fourth quarter. The Nets regained their composure, though, and prevented the Wizards from grabbing the lead.
Despite another looming disaster, Johnson’s message remained positive.
“[Johnson] told us to calm down, we were right there (and) everybody makes runs,” Lopez said. “Just defend and get back to what we were doing in the first quarter.”
The two reeling basketball teams exchanged buckets down the stretch before a Lopez dunk gave the Nets an 86-81 lead with 3:21 left.
With an 88-87 lead and 1:47 left to play, the Nets went on a 9-2 run to close the game. The Nets scored all nine points from the free-throw line and missed only one in that stretch.
The win moves the Nets to 7-19 and out of the Eastern Conference basement.
“This is one that we had to have,” Harris said. “From here on out we have to fight for every one that we’ve got to have. I liked the effort that guys had, we didn’t get down when we lost the lead. They continued to fight and that’s the kind of fight we’re going to need moving forward.”
“We didn’t play perfect… we choked up a lead but at the end of the day, it’s a win and we’ve got to build on something,” Humphries said. “We’re building right here.”
The Wizards turned the tables on the Nets in the third quarter.
The Nets’ lead dwindled to seven points after the third quarter. The Wizards came as close as five points following a pair of Nick Young free-throws.
Johnson used two timeouts to try and break up the extended 23-12 Wizards’ run but to no avail.
Gilbert Arenas and Kirk Hinrich combined for two points in the first half and responded with 17 points in the third quarter alone.
The Nets dominated the first half, opening up a 55-38 lead after two quarters. They shot 48.6 percent from the field while limiting the Wizards to 30.6 percent.
Farmar’s lay-up with 4:46 left in the second quarter gave the Nets a 48-25 lead, their largest of the game.
Despite trailing by 17 at half, Young led all scorers with 15 points.
The Wizards jumped out to a 4-2 lead in the first quarter, but the Nets exploded with a 20-2 run. Travis Outlaw scored 10 of his 13 points in the first quarter.
Both teams entered the game severely hampered by availability.
Sasha Vujacic was not eligible to play because Terrence Williams did not complete his physical. Anthony Morrow is sidelined at least two weeks with a strained hamstring, and Damion James is out a minimum of two months with a foot fracture.
The Wizards were virtually missing a starting lineup due to knee injuries.
Rookie sensation John Wall missed the game with right knee tendonitis and Net killer Andray Blatche sat out with left knee soreness.
Former Net Yi Jianlian suffered a sprained knee in the Wizards’ 103-89 loss to the Lakers Tuesday night. Josh Howard remains out after tearing his ACL last season.
Arenas on rebuilding
With the Nets and Wizards sporting a combined 13-37 record, Wizards’ guard Gilbert Arenas gave his view on teams in rebuilding situations.
“No matter how mch you’re down you still have to play the right way and that’s how we came back,” Arenas said. “I got picked on a veteran team… I got to learn from sitting and watching. I feel that some of these players do need to sit and watch the game and they learn. They’re not learning by playing.
“Some players need to learn, sit, watch what veterans do, then go in and do that, but when you’ve got everyone’s young, there’s no sitting.”