Nets still trying to find themselves

WASHINGTON -- Paul Pierce was under the weather and his offense looked even more sluggish.

Kevin Garnett couldn't hit a basket either. There are going to be nights like this one in Washington, when Pierce and Garnett combine to shoot 3-for-16 and score a total of eight points. But it's on those nights when the Nets need to rely on their defense, Brook Lopez, Deron Williams and Jason Kidd's ability to push the right buttons and call the right plays.

So far, though, the Nets are still trying to find themselves like a confused teenager. They are more of a mixed bag than the ones kids brought home this Halloween. Through five games, the Brooklyn Nets are inconsistent. They've shown the ability to stand up to the defending champion Miami Heat yet struggle to handle teams they should be putting away.

The Nets (2-3) squandered an 11-point lead with 4:46 remaining in the fourth quarter before falling to the Wizards, 112-108, in overtime.

Saturday, the Nets get an opportunity to bounce back and measure themselves against the Indiana Pacers, a team that will stand in their way of trying to get to the NBA Finals.

But the Nets won't even sniff the Eastern Conference Finals if they don't start figuring out how to play more consistently and put away the Wizards and Magic.

"This is our issue right now," said Garnett, who finished with four points on 2-of-11 shooting in 24 minutes. "We're trying to figure it out. It's not so simple to hit a button or say this is it."

The man pushing all the buttons is only five games into his coaching career. Kidd is still learning how to coach let alone figuring out his team, his rotation and how to adjust.

Kidd likely learned some lessons in his first overtime loss. He got a glimpse of what his bench can do when his starters struggle. Shaun Livingston (12 points), Andray Blatche (10 points and 13 rebounds) and Jason Terry (11 points) all gave the Nets a big lift and erased a nine-point deficit in the third quarter when the starters came out of the half in a funk.

But Kidd is also going to have to figure out how to get Lopez more shots despite second-half double teams. Lopez made 8 of 10 shots and scored 18 of his 23 points in the first half. But the Nets' big man got just four shots off after halftime when the Wizards (2-3) doubled or pushed Lopez out of the paint.

Lopez did the right thing often times by passing out of doubles but the Nets missed some good looks. They won't always be able to control their shooting but they can dictate how they play defense.

"We had control of the game several times and just let it slip away," said Williams. "It's been kind of a trend for us to not close out quarters, not close out halves and we¹ve got to find a way to close out games on the road and so this is definitely disappointing."

The Nets erased that third quarter deficit and built a 92-81 fourth-quarter lead with 4:46 left. That's when elite teams put away the inexperienced ones like Washington. But then the Nets suddenly couldn't stop Nene. The Wizards' big man scored 10 points inside and the Nets fell behind 97-96 with 1:31 left in regulation.

Lopez made a free throw and Garnett hit a big 19-footer to put the Nets up by two with 37.9 seconds left. But the Nets couldn't get one final stop. Actually, they couldn't grab one final defensive rebound.

John Wall (17 points, 14 assists) drove and missed a shot past Williams but Lopez came over late to try to block the shot. That left Nene open for a tip-in with 1.2 seconds remaining to force overtime.

"Well I think we can look at just one play," Kidd said. "We could've got a rebound after Wall missed that shot. That kind of ends the game, a rebound could seal it there."

In overtime, the Nets led by one with under a minute to go but Washington rotated the ball to an open Trevor Ariza, who buried a three-pointer to push the Wizards up 108-106. The Nets never recovered and have a few hours to go over all the lost opportunities before they get to test their All-Star loaded roster against Indiana.

Unfortunately for the Nets, they have to go through early growing pains before they will truly know how they stack up against Indiana, which only looks like its getting better and better at 6-0.

"We're dealing with multiple things here," Garnett said of what the Nets need to improve on. "When we win, obviously it looks good. But teams are making adjustments to us as far as systematically defensively. Offensively, I don't think we're in a rhythm."

"Obviously it's a process," Garnett added. "It's not an easy process trying to figure it out. [Some] nights it looks great. Some nights it looks like tonight: pure crap."