NEW YORK -- On Saturday afternoon, the Brooklyn Nets hit their lowest point since their move to Brooklyn four seasons ago. It was John Wall, the former Kentucky point guard the Nets hoped to draft No. 1 overall after a 70-loss season in 2010, who inflicted the majority of the damage.
Wall, who became the face of the Wizards after the Nets lost the lottery to D.C., scored 22 points and added 13 assists as short-handed Washington capitalized on nine fourth-quarter Brooklyn turnovers to claim a 111-96 victory at Barclays Center.
“I think we were just careless with the basketball,” said Joe Johnson, whose team has lost six straight games at home and seven of its past eight overall. “We caught an earful after the game, which we were deserving of.”
This is the first time in the Brooklyn era that the Nets (8-22) have been 14 games below .500.
“We have to be more consistent as a group, playing together-wise, defense-wise, rebounding-wise,” said Nets coach Lionel Hollins, whose team shot 5-for-17 from 3-point range and 5-for-16 from the free-throw line while committing 20 turnovers overall.
“It takes a lot of effort to win in this business," he said. "It’s not easy, and you can’t just play when you want to play. You have to play every night -- you have to play every minute. Every time you go on the court, you have to play hard, and it’s something that we have to get better at.”
The Wizards have been without core players Bradley Beal (eight straight games missed due to a leg injury) and Nene (15 straight games missed due to a calf injury) for a significant portion of the season. However, Wall has elevated his game to another level in December (22.8 PPG, 11.8 APG, 47.2 percent FGs) after struggling mightily in November (14.5 PPG, 7.8 APG, 36.9 percent FGs).
“I think my hard work and dedication is paying off, but also we’ve got a great group of guys to where no matter whose number is called, guys are stepping up," Wall said. "The most important thing is we’re playing Washington Wizards defense and giving ourselves a chance.”
Washington (14-14) has won four straight games while working back to the .500 mark. In particular, supporting cast members Marcin Gortat (25 points, seven rebounds) and Kelly Oubre Jr. (12 points) have been delivering of late.
“I think we should be a lot better,” Wall said. “We’ve lost a lot of games and dealt with a lot of injuries, but there are no excuses. But at least we got back to .500 with so many guys injured, and once guys get back healthy, we can get on a roll.”
Ultimately, Brooklyn traded 11 first-round picks (including Favors and pick swaps) and spent $123 million in luxury taxes to assemble championship-hopeful teams that included Deron Williams, Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Those teams won just one playoff round combined. Injuries and coaching changes, among other things, didn’t help the cause.
Now, the Nets are in the midst of a "bridge year" they hope will end with a significant splash in free agency. They have some nice pieces in Brook Lopez, Thaddeus Young, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (injured), Bojan Bogdanovic and Chris McCullough (injured), but throughout the organization, most things seem uncertain.
“It’s tough,” Wall said of Brooklyn’s current team. “You never know what’s going on in locker rooms and things like that, but you just have to try to find a chemistry and identity.
“At the beginning of the year, when we were trying to find our identity, we tried to outscore people, and that’s not our team. Our team needs to defend, get fast-break points and make open shots, and when you find your identity, it kind of helps everything out. And I think we’ve found our identity and have a chance to keep it rolling.”