They trail the Chicago Bulls 2-1 after back-to-back losses and will fall into a really big hole in this best-of-seven series if they lose Game 4 on Saturday afternoon.
It’s a tough spot for a team that won 49 games in its first season in Brooklyn and ended a six-year postseason drought.
The Nets answered one question by announcing a contract extension for general manager Billy King on Friday. Now they need to find their touch after shooting 35 percent the past two games.
Williams is having trouble getting to the paint. Johnson’s ailing left foot is feeling “a lot better,” but remains a concern. And Gerald Wallace is not sure where he fits in.
Even with all those questions, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said: “We know how good they are.”
The Nets just aren’t showing it at the moment, and the frustration appears to be mounting.
A slasher who prefers playing in the open court, Wallace went from 14 points in Game 1 to just two on 1-of-7 shooting, with Brooklyn unable to push the ball in a 90-82 loss on Monday night. And things were no better for him or the Nets in Game 3 on Thursday.
Wallace hit just 2 of 8 shots for five points and joined Reggie Evans on the sideline for the entire fourth quarter in a 79-76 loss, watching as C.J. Watson’s 3 at the buzzer missed and a late rally came up short.
“I couldn’t tell you my role now,” Wallace said at the team hotel. “I don’t have a clue what my role is on this team.”
It was a surprising comment so late in the season, but interim coach P.J. Carlesimo basically shrugged it off and pointed the finger at himself.
“I just think we’re going through a tough time right now. That’s what playoffs are all about,” Carlesimo said. “We’re all frustrated. And we have to — I have to—do a better job constantly defining roles and redefining roles so we can perform the way we’re capable.”
It hasn’t been easy for Williams, either.
He turned it on in the second part of the season, going on a surge that carried right through his 22-point, seven-assist performance in the series opener. But he’s struggled in a big way the past two games, shooting a combined 6 of 23, with the Bulls clogging the paint.
He knows he needs to do better. He’s also trying to strike a balance.
Williams knows the Bulls will continue to zero in on him, and he has to find a way to the rim. He also can’t afford to force shots.
“After Game 1, they’re definitely keying on me,” he said. “It’s tough for me as a point guard. I don’t want to go out there and just shoot 20 bad shots. But pretty much every shot I’m going to take is going to be contested (with) two people around me, three people around me. I just have to find ways to be more aggressive and get to the basket, but it’s tough right now.”
That’s where the lineup the Nets used down the stretch in Game 3 could help.
“I would think they’d probably go back to that,” Chicago’s Nazr Mohammed said. “Reggie and Gerald, that’s huge for them, too. They contribute in different ways.”
For all Wallace and Evans contribute on the glass and on defense, the Bulls can sag off them in the half court. That limits room for Williams, Johnson and center Brook Lopez
Carlesimo considered changing the starting lineup but indicated he would keep it in place unless Johnson’s plantar fasciitis keeps him out on Saturday.
Changing the rotation is another matter. Carlesimo won’t hesitate to do that if the problems on offense continue.
“It’s a tough balance because some of the problems that we have are not because those guys (Wallace and Evans) aren’t scoring,” he said. “It’s because other guys aren’t. If we do some of the things that we normally do—if we make some 3s or finish in the paint, then we’re OK. And we can take advantage of other guys’ skill sets and not just say, `To hell with it, we’ve got to put an offensive team out there.’ That can also get you in trouble where all of a sudden we’re not as good defensively. Or, we’re not as good rebounding anymore.”
As for Johnson, he sounded as if he will be ready.
Bulls center Joakim Noah is expected to be available, too. Thibodeau expects to keep him to about 25 minutes again in Game 4 because of the plantar fasciitis in his right foot.
“He said he feels fine,” Thibodeau said. “I think he’s encouraged by how he feels and was not great, but he’s not having that soreness like he did previously when he played, so that’s a good sign.”
Johnson seemed encouraged, too, although he’s not completely in the clear.
“I still have my concerns,” he said.