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BROOKLYN—Jason Kidd challenged his struggling team Monday night.
It could turn out to be the kick in the rear end this underachieving group needs. Or it could be remembered as the night the rookie coach started to lose this team.
Something has to give following a 103-86 loss to the Indiana Pacers in Barclays Center, the Nets third straight defeat.
The Pacers, along with the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls and Nets were supposed to be the elite of the Eastern Conference. Indiana and Miami have represented. The Bulls and Nets have not.
In the Nets case, their 9-18 record can’t be attributed to the season-ending injury suffered Friday night by star center Brook Lopez.
The Nets hadn’t established any identity long before Lopez broke the fifth metatarsal in his right foot.
Veteran forward Paul Pierce, and the rest of the Nets had yet to learn of Lopez’s injury when Paul described the Nets as bottom feeders following the 121-120 OT loss to the Sixers Friday night.
After the Indiana loss, Kidd, who never took losing well as a player, said the Nets seem comfortable there.
“I think it’s getting really close to just accepting losing,” Kidd said after the game. “We kind of get comfortable with losing and we have to make a stand with that because when things get tough, do we give in? Most of the time right now we do.”
Star point guard Deron Williams said he didn’t agree with Kidd’s assessment.
“I’m not. I’m not comfortable with losing,” Williams said. “It’s not fun. It’s not fun – not only when we’re losing in the game, but when we’re at home sitting and thinking about it.”
Kevin Garnett also didn’t side with Kidd.
"I wouldn't agree with that,’’ he said. “Personally, I can only control myself and I'd never step on the floor if I never was going to accept anything less than. I'm not built like that, and I don't think my teammates are built like that. Obviously we're going through a tough time. That's (Kidd's) assessment. I don't think it's true."
Pierce, who was ejected from the Indiana game after being assessed a Flagrant 2 foul for clothes-lining the Pacers George Hill with 4:22 left in the third quarter, wasn’t around to speak. He didn’t speak after practice on Tuesday.
Jason Terry (knee), who played for the first time in 15 games, acknowledged the Pacers simply out-toughed the Nets – Lopez or not.
“It was one of those types of games that the team that grinded the hardest was going to prevail,’’ he said. “As the game got tighter and tighter, they were the team that outlasted us. It just can’t happen.’’
Truth be told, it’s happened most of the season. That lack of grit – more then injuries that have severely hampered this team’s development - is why the Nets have lost 18 of 27.
That is why there is gap as wide as wide as the Hudson River between the Nets and the Heat and Pacers. The Bulls (10-16) have been devastated by the loss of Derrick Rose for a second straight year with a knee injury.
Life without Lopez looked a lot like life with him against Indiana. The Nets hung tough with the Indiana Pacers (23-5) for one half. But then the league’s best defensive team squeezed the resolve out of the Nets.
The game was over for all intent with 4:22 left in the third quarter and the Pacers leading, 66-47 when Pierce was ejected for a flagrant foul.
Either Pierce’s frustration gasket had blown or he was trying to send a message that the season didn’t end with the disheartening diagnosis that Lopez had fractured the fifth metatarsal for third time in his career.
The Nets got outrebounded, 46-35, by the Pacers. They gave up 34 points in the paint, although, on this night, they scored 34 inside, as well.
And the there was the third quarter collapse in which the Pacers outscored the Nets 30-19. This happened with Lopez and without Lopez.
It happened with and without Williams (ankle). It happened with and without Pierce. It happened with and without Terry and Andrei Kirilenko, who has been out with back spasms since for all but two games.
Of course, only Kidd knows if his words were premeditated. He took an unusually long amount of time after the game before meeting with media.
There was enough time for emotion to subside and for Kidd to think about the pros and cons of sending a message, if that was his intent.
If so, time will tell how it was received.
If the Nets respond, Kidd can start thinking about writing motivational books. If they don’t, well, Kidd, loves to golf.
NOTES: Terry returned after a 15-game absence (knee). Her scored 11 points on 3-of-6 shooting on 3’s.