CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The quality of play might not have mirrored that of the postseason, and the hundreds of empty seats certainly suggested otherwise, but there was a playoff feel in the closing moments.
The Nets, still scrapping for a spot in the playoffs and minus Thaddeus Young after he hyperextended his left knee in the third quarter, were in a dogfight with the Hornets, one of the teams they're competing with. They needed someone to come through in the clutch.
Brook Lopez was up to the task. Lopez scored 34 points, his fourth consecutive game with 25 or more, and had 10 rebounds to power the Nets to a big 91-88 win over the Hornets Wednesday night at Time Warner Cable Arena.
Lopez's floater in the lane with 47.4 seconds left propelled the Nets (30-40) to their fourth win in the last six games. Lopez also came up with the key defensive play, tipping Gerald Henderson's inbounds pass with 3.2 seconds left and keeping the Hornets (30-40) from getting off a potential tying three-pointer.
The Nets regained control in the third quarter despite getting a serious scare when Young went down writhing in pain. He was running down court on a fast break and got tangled with Henderson in the lane, inadvertently stepping on Henderson's right foot. Young's left knee appeared to buckle, but after a few minutes he was able to limp to the locker room with trainer Tim Walsh.
X-rays were negative, and he's expected to be re-evaluated again Thursday.
By getting back to moving the ball, swinging it around to open teammates rather than taking the first available shot, the Nets were able to keep the Hornets on their heels defensively. The Nets racked up 28 assists on their 39 field goals, and were particularly focused on staying away from too much isolation play in crunch time, compiling 16 assists in the second half.
"We have games where we look really good offensively and the ball is moving and or flowing,'' Deron Williams said before tipoff, "and games where the ball sticks and it doesn't move, and we look kind of selfish and nobody gets into a rhythm, nobody gets into a flow and you lose.''
That's been one of the Nets' biggest problems far too often, which is why they are fighting for their playoff lives.
"It's kind of who we've become,'' said Williams, who had 14 assists last night. "It's sad to say, but if we were 20 games in, you could say, 'Oh, it's something we could fix.' But at this point, it's kind of the way we trend and hopefully we can stop it. Hopefully, we should realize we are a better team when we [move the ball].
"So we've just got to be unselfish.''