Even starting out their critical five-game homestand with a monster win over the Golden State Warriors, the Nets finished up with an embarrassing 1-4 record, which probably ruins whatever chances they had to make the playoffs.
More depressing for the Borough of Brooklyn after the Nets followed their conquest of the West-leading Warriors with losses to Charlotte, Phoenix, Utah and New Orleans: They have a bleak future, with several grossly overpaid, so-called stars still on the books after this season, and without their own No. 1 draft pick for another four years.
By comparison, the Knicks are sitting pretty. And when the Nets ended the homestand at Barclays Center on Tuesday night two games out of the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, they got an up-close and personal view of the one rising superstar who could easily turn their fortunes around.
Anthony Davis could turn around a lot of teams, including the Knicks, and just about everyone else who needs an athletic 6-10 scorer/rebounder/shot-blocker/leader who very well could alter the entire NBA landscape before he’s finished.
Only 21, Davis wasn’t even dominant when the Pelicans recovered from an early 25-11 deficit and went on to drub Lionel Hollins’ cast of blatant underachievers by 20 points. This was just another case of the Nets failing to compete, and the real crime of it was that the Pelicans had played the night before in Milwaukee, didn’t get into New York until 3 a.m., and were finishing a brutal stretch in which they had played seven games in 10 days.
"Well, that's all year long," Hollins said in his post-game news conference. "I think competing is what this business is about, that's the reason I played, the reason I coach -- to compete. It's not about the money. It's not about the fame. It's not about anything, but just going out there competing and earning respect of your opponent. That's all that matters. People can write good or bad about you and you can make a lot of money or not make a lot of money, but the money doesn't matter when you get between the lines."
What made it even worse was that the Nets didn’t even see “the Unibrow’’ at his best. Beforehand, Hollins said what a lot of people around the NBA have been saying about the former Kentucky star, now in his third NBA campaign: “If he can stay healthy, he can be one of the all-time greats, I do believe that.’’
You know who else does? Davis’ new teammate, Norris Cole, who joined the Pelicans in a trade last month after spending three seasons in Miami and winning two titles with LeBron James.
“’AD’ still has a lot of upside, which is scary,’’ Cole told me at his locker afterwards. “He’s already a dominant force in this game. I’m just blessed to be able to play with him. I’ve played with a lot of talented guys, and he’s definitely one of the top ones. It wouldn’t be fair to compare him to LeBron. But what he does do, like LeBron, is that he plays with a high motor at both ends of the court. He can do it all.’’
A night after scoring 43 out in Milwaukee, Davis scored only 15 points in 28 minutes, as New Orleans pulled into a virtual tie for eighth place in the West with Oklahoma City. Late in the third quarter, as the Pelicans were well in control, Davis was inadvertently hit in the head by the Nets’ Deron Williams as Williams drove to the basket. After initially staying in the game, Davis pulled himself out and went back to the locker room to get examined for concussion symptoms. He was cleared to return, but the Pelicans did not need him at all in the fourth quarter.
Since returning from a shoulder injury last week, the only player who has dominated more in the NBA has been the Thunder’s walking triple-double, Russell Westbrook. Davis’ spectacular play at both ends -- he’s fourth in scoring at 24.7 ppg and is first in blocks at nearly three per game -- still isn’t getting him much consideration for the MVP award. It’s now is seen as a four-horse race between the Warriors’ Stephen Curry, the Rockets’ James Harden, the Cavs’ LeBron James and Westbrook.
Naturally, that doesn’t sit well with Davis’ coach, the former Knicks forward Monty Williams.
“’AD’ is not like anybody I’ve ever seen,’’ Williams told reporters beforehand. “That why I’m not frustrated, but I just kind of laugh at the MVP stuff. The guy dominates at both ends of the floor and we only talk about guys who are dominating at one end of the floor. It’s tough for me to listen to all of that when I’ve got a guy who actually dominates at both ends.’’
On this night, Davis didn’t dominate at either end. The shame of it was, the Nets still couldn’t stop their slide into oblivion.
Longtime New York columnist Mitch Lawrence continues to write about pro basketball, as he’s done for the last 22 years. His columns for NBCNewYork.com on the Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and the NBA, along with other major sports, will appear twice weekly. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch _ Lawrence.