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MARK HEISLER / ON THE NBA

Net games are simply Net losses

New Jersey is 0-17 after losing to the Lakers, tying the worst start in NBA history. The Nets could establish the record for early-season futility Wednesday against Dallas.

November 30, 2009|Mark Heisler

How do you like the honeymoon so far?

Ending the suspense -- about when they would fire Lawrence Frank, not their game against the Lakers, which was a foregone conclusion -- the New Jersey Nets terminated their coach Sunday morning, at least sparing him a long night in Staples Center and a share of history.

It's not often that a mismatch actually lives up -- or down -- to its potential, but this one did.

With Frank's longtime assistant Tom Barrise coaching his first, and possibly last, NBA game, the Nets did a group pirouette out of the way like toreadors as the Lakers led by as many as 34 points in a 106-87 romp.

The Lakers have won five in a row since Pau Gasol's return, leading by at least 20 points in all of them.

The Nets are 0-17, tying the record for the worst start shared by the 1988-89 Miami Heat and the 1999 Clippers, but they will be favored to break the record Wednesday at home against the Dallas Mavericks.

The Nets may not be as bad as they looked Sunday, but then, no one is.

"We lost our coach today and it was kind of unexpected," Devin Harris said. "It was a tough situation for all of us. We kind of came into the game a little scattered."

Their whole season has been a tough situation.

A cruel fate that took everybody but Brook Lopez, the only Net who hasn't missed a game, and sent them on a West Coast trip just as Harris and Courtney Lee were rejoining the starting lineup.

They also lost Chris Douglas-Roberts to the H1N1 virus at one point, when it looked as if someone could be struck by lightning next.

Said Douglas-Roberts before the game: "It was like the basketball gods were upset with us."

Against this backdrop, the Nets relieved Frank on Sunday morning, perhaps assuming he would lose the game anyway, or figuring that after six seasons with four playoff appearances, they owed him one.

For the young Nets players who hadn't gotten a coach fired before, it was anything but business as usual.

"Especially for the younger guys like myself, it's such a change and it happened so quickly," Douglas-Roberts said before the game.

"It's like a whirlwind. Your mind is in so many different places. At the same time you have to play the defending champs. I'm still trying to understand the whole thing. I understand it's a business and you have to find a way to move forward."

Well, maybe some other night.

Of course, Nets history is chock-full of this stuff. Phil Jackson noted that his longest losing streak was 15 . . . with the Nets, as an assistant coach in the '80s.

In 1999 the Nets offered Jackson the head coaching job, which he wasn't going to take for all the money in the world, which was almost what they offered.

As Jackson told the Nets' owners, coaching "a basketball team in the swampland is very difficult."

"I liked the personnel they had. . . . And the offer was the best offer I've ever seen as a coach.

"It certainly was enough. I just didn't think it had what a team has to have, a heartland, a fan base, an energy source.

"I don't even know if Jersey has a television station. They get their television feeds out of New York and Philadelphia. I think they really got one when [Sen. Bill] Bradley was there, he was really insistent on it, that New Jersey really needs something to hold it together."

The Nets are yet to announce who will coach the next game, or the rest of the season, with General Manager Kiki Vandeweghe one of the possibilities.

Maybe they should let someone come out of the stands every night. If there are many more like Sunday, no man should have to do more than one.

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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