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Lichtenstein: Nets' Playoff Hopes On Brink Of Being Hi-Jacked

By Steve Lichtenstein
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For those who require a shining example of the high level of frustration Nets fans have felt about their team all season, look no further than Wednesday night's 114-111 home loss to the Hawks.

The Hawks--despite being, uh, handcuffed by the unavailability of several key players--looked like an older brother teasing his naive sibling for three-plus quarters. Whenever the Nets got a little too close, the Hawks scored so easily it made Nets fans believe a fourth rout in as many meetings this season was imminent.

But the Nets did more than just hang around this time, they actually took a lead with 33 seconds left in the game on a tough bank shot by point guard Deron Williams.

Unfortunately, these are your 2014-15 Nets, folks. Every time you think they've righted the ship, they ram into the next iceberg. The Hawks closed a game the Nets had to have (the loss dropped Brooklyn into eighth place in the Eastern Conference, just one game ahead of Indiana and Miami with four games remaining), scoring four unanswered points.

It's beyond frustrating.

And if there's one player who embodies the Nets fans' frustrations, it's Jarrett Jack.

Without the 31-year old reserve guard's eight points, two rebounds and two assists (without a turnover) in the fourth quarter, the Nets would never have been able to keep pace with the high-scoring Hawks to even make the end game exciting.

Unfortunately, with Jack, you get the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Sometimes all within a 20-second span. Like with a little more than seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Jack lazily got caught on a screen set by Atlanta star center Al Horford that let Hawks guard Shelvin Mack get into the paint. Fortunately, Nets center Brook Lopez was able to help and forced Mack under the basket. Mack's subsequent pass was deflected by Jack, who then took off with the ball on a fast break.

With the Nets down by eight at that point, they could ill afford a bad possession. So what did Jack do in transition? He pulled up from 16 feet and took a jump shot.

Air ball.

However, Lopez was again in a good position, saving the ball from going out of bounds and passing it out. Jack was fed the ball on the perimeter, but this time he put his head down and drove inside the foul line, where his patented floater cut the Hawks' lead to 105-99.

So I guess you can call that sequence: The bad, the good, the ugly, and the good.

In crunch time, the labels have usually come in one of two forms: Marvelous or God-awful. Jack won several games earlier in the season with clutch shot-making in closing seconds.

Wednesday night's game, though, we can all agree goes in the latter category.

Following D-Will's bucket, the Hawks found forward DeMarre Carroll in the right corner for a three-pointer. Carroll's shot was short, but neither Jack nor Joe Johnson went after the rebound, allowing Carroll to retrieve his own miss and giving the Hawks the extra possession they needed to take the lead on the ensuing Horford dunk.

OK, so the Nets were down by one with 19 seconds left. They had options. Joe Jesus was chosen as the focal point. He drove into the paint and passed the ball to the right corner to Jack.

Maybe Jack wasn't a math major at Georgia Tech. Still, in the waning moments of a one-point game, it doesn't take a Rhodes Scholar to know that there's no need to take a three-pointer when a closer two-point field goal is not only just as effective, but more efficient.

Especially for someone who came into the game shooting 25 percent from three-point territory this season (though Jack had been 8-for-14 from the right corner, per

Atlanta swingman Kent Bazemore closed hard on Jack, who chose to fire away from behind the arc. It—as well as more-desperate subsequent attempts by Bojan Bogdanovich and Johnson--did not go down, and the Nets blew a unique opportunity to defeat an elite team that had given them fits all year.

Now, it's not fair to pin the entire blame for this loss on Jack. The Nets couldn't stop the Hawks in the first half, allowing 65 points on 59 percent shooting. Lopez was abused by Horford all night and got caught in no-man's land on his game-winner. Lopez and Thaddeus Young failed to convert on four consecutive tip-ins at the rim with a little over a minute left. Williams was pick-pocketed an unsightly four times by counterpart Jeff Teague. And it would be nice if Nets fans were rewarded with a home-court call by the refs once in a while.

That doesn't take away our frustration that this team's fate might live or die at the hands of someone as erratic as Jack.

While Jack can take solace that on Wednesday he ventured into plus territory for just the sixth time in the Nets' last 15 games (during which the Nets have gone 11-4), I noted in my last post that Jack's minus-8 rating (per 100 possessions) this season ranks as the fourth-worst among all point guards who have played over 50 games.

He's equally bad at the end of close games, per, with a minus-7.4 rating in the last five minutes of fourth quarters when either ahead or behind by five points.

Yet Brooklyn coach Lionel Hollins absolutely LOVES putting the veteran Jack on the floor in these moments, often pairing him with Williams despite all metrics showing how bad an idea that is.

So if you're wondering why Nets fans on Thursday morning are banging their heads against the elevator wall on their way to work, it's the season-long frustration of watching a team that shouldn't be on the brink of missing the playoffs, but is one more misstep from it actually happening.

In other words, their season is on the verge of being hi-Jacked.

For a FAN's perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.

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