P.J. Carlesimo hasn't had to explain away much bad play since taking over for Avery Johnson as Nets coach, but he showed Wednesday night that he can do that with the best of them.
The Nets' seven-game winning streak crumbled in a 109-95 loss that didn't feel even that close over the course of the night as the Hawks ran the Nets off the court. Carlesimo was quick to point out that the Nets were tired after playing the night before, a reasonable explanation that had just two big flaws.
Number one was that the Hawks were playing without Josh Smith after suspending their best player for conduct detrimental to the team earlier this week. The Hawks have thrived since trading Joe Johnson by balancing out their attack across the first eight or nine players in their rotation, but Smith and Al Horford are the extra-special talents that allow such a flat Earth approach to actually succeed.
So fatigue isn't really a card you can play when the Hawks can counter with not having an essential part of their attack on hand. And it's even harder because the second flaw in Carlesimo's rationale for the loss is that all the old Nets flaws were front and center in the loss.
The defense, which has looked good against the likes of the Wizards and Raptors, was a freak show on Wednesday night. Deron Williams got beaten off the dribble by Jeff Teague and Devin Harris every single time the two Hawks point guards squared off with him, something that must have been especially embarrassing when Harris, dealt to Utah for Williams in 2011, did it.
Brook Lopez had another strong night offensively, scoring 22 points on 10-of-14 shooting, but his old issues when it came to protecting the rim came rushing back. Horford and Zaza Pachulia combined for 12 offensive rebounds and the Hawks successfully rebounded 16 of the 33 field goals they missed all night.
Those numbers do suggest some fatigue on the part of the Nets, but such is life in the NBA and they'll only have one day off to rest before the Hawks come calling in Brooklyn with Smith likely to be part of the lineup. Then they'll have four straight road games next week, although the first blow is lessened a bit with Monday's game being at the Garden.
These are the stretches that determine whether you're really in the mix for success in the NBA or if you're just better than the dregs of the league. The first step was in the wrong direction and the whole thing will go up in smoke if we're hearing more excuses from Carlesimo in the next five games.