Nets can't catch a break

Kobe Bryant laughed.

How else could he react after hitting that shot?

The Nets defended the inbounds before that shot about as well as you can defend an inbounds.

Didn’t matter.

With the Lakers about to get called for a five-second violation, Bryant flared out five feet behind the 3-point arc unguarded at the top of the key. Just 2.3 seconds remained on the shot clock.

So Bryant caught the pass and quickly let one fly.

The ball hit the back rim, then hit the front rim, bounced, hit the front rim and hit the back rim -- twice.

According to The Heat Index’s Brian Windhorst, the whole process took about 1.9 seconds.

Bryant took the shot with 10.1 seconds left. Somehow, someway -- after making its first carom off the rim at 8.7 seconds -- the ball finally fell through the netting with 6.8 seconds remaining.

Lakers 91, Nets 87.

That’s how it ended. The most agonizing of bounces going the other way.

The Nets’ three-game winning streak is over. The fact they came back from a 17-point deficit to put themselves in a position to get a win over the Lakers in Los Angeles? Impressive nonetheless.

Coach Avery Johnson said his team was going to play out the season trying to win every game the rest of the way. On Tuesday night, they almost did.

An 18-6 Nets’ run -- capped by a cold-blooded deep 3-pointer from Deron Williams with 1:29 left -- erased an 80-68 Lakers’ lead in the fourth quarter.

Bryant hit a pull-up jumper from the left wing over Williams’ outstretched arm 10 seconds later to make it 88-86 Los Angeles.

Gerald Wallace, the Nets’ heart and soul these days, got fouled on the other end, but split a pair of free throws.

Ramon Sessions missed a 3 on the ensuing Lakers’ possession, but Pau Gasol grabbed the offensive rebound. That’s when the Nets turned up their defensive intensity, forcing the Lakers to inbound the ball under their basket with less than three seconds remaining on the shot clock and 10.8 seconds left on the gameclock.

That’s when one of the greatest players to ever play the game got a little lucky.

Talk about a lethal combination.

In the end, the Nets (19-36, 12-17 road) can take solace in the fact that they appear to be coming together as a team. In the short term, Wallace has provided everything they’ve been missing: defense, versatility, hustle and leadership.

Unfortunately, it’s come too late.

The Nets have been decimated by injuries. They’ve been woeful at home. And pre-Wallace, they were on pace -- by one advanced metric -- to be the worst defensive team in 20 years.

The Nets had their chance to make a playoff push. They failed. Losses to New Orleans, Cleveland and Washington put them in the predicament they’re in right now: playing out a lost season with an uncertain future starring them in the face.

Williams, the most-coveted-prize-on-the-free-agent-market-to-be, who had 10 of his 20 points in the fourth, gave ESPN.com’s J.A. Adande basically the same answers he gave Yahoo! Sports a day earlier before the game. The same answers he’s basically been giving since he announced his intentions to opt out and become a free agent before the lockout-shortened season began.

He’s not ruling out the Nets. Brooklyn is enticing. He loves living in New York.

At the same time, Williams is going to keep his options open. And why shouldn’t he?

For the first time in his career, he holds all the cards, has all the control.

The Nets knew this when they pulled off the blockbuster trade to get him.

But they took a risk, a risk the Knicks would’ve been willing to take had they know Williams was available the deadline last season.

Hard to blame them. This is, after all, a superstar’s league. And the only way to get one is either getting lucky in the draft lottery, signing one via free agency or making a deal.

The caveat was that Williams wasn’t locked up. The Nets have done everything in their power to ink Williams to a max extension. They’ve treated him like a King, allowing him to have a say in who he plays with.

They wanted to pair him with Brook Lopez, but Lopez has been plagued by injuries and has only played five games in 2011-12.

They wanted to pair him with Dwight Howard and thought they had a deal done, but Howard changed his mind 8,000 times in the course of two days and ultimately ended up staying in Orlando.

Wallace has been far-and-away the best player Williams has played with during his time in New Jersey -- and he came at the expense of a top-3 protected first-rounder.

And now, now that they’ve finally got some sort of positive momentum building and are starting to come together as a cohesive unit, it may be too late.

All the Nets have asked for is a break or a bounce to go their way.

But that hasn’t happened all season -- so it certainly wasn’t going to happen on Tuesday night.