PHILADELPHIA -- Brook Lopez tossed up a soft floater, only to see it be emphatically rejected by Nerlens Noel.
Noel's block ignited a Sixers fast break and Jason Richardson, who amazingly is still in the league, felt it was a good opportunity for a little showtime, throwing the ball off the backboard so a fast-charging Robert Covington could flush it down. Though it was just the second quarter, the Nets were back on their heels, being thoroughly outplayed by a 76ers team that's tanking.
After five straight losses this was a game the Nets knew they badly needed or their fledgling playoff aspirations would suffer another blow. On the strength of a 23-10 third-quarter advantage, riding big shots late by Deron Williams and Thaddeus Young, and benefitting from Lopez's aggressiveness in crunch time, the Nets had just enough to knock off the Sixers, 94-87, at the Wells Fargo Center last night.
Young, playing against his old team, had 21 points and 9 rebounds to lead the Nets (26-38), who clawed to within three games of the eighth-place Hornets. Joe Johnson added 15 points.
Noel paced the Sixers (15-51) with 17 points.
Here's what made this one even more of a head scratcher: Sixers coach Brett Brown switched up his starting lineup in part to give Luc Mbah a Moute a day of rest and bring Covington off the bench a night after he scored a team-high 24 points in a win over Sacramento. In other words, Philadelphia was supposedly still in tank mode and making moves like only increased the Nets' chances of possibly aiding in the Sixers getting an extra ping-pong ball or two for May's draft lottery.
But it still took the Nets, who coincidentally may be lottery-bound themselves and won't have control of their first-round selection since they gave the Hawks the right to swap the pick with theirs as a condition of the 2012 trade landing Johnson, a while to get it going.
They erased a 56-51 halftime deficit with the third-quarter splurge -- canning 11 of 21 shots and holding the Sixers to those 10 points -- and carried a 74-66 edge into the fourth quarter for control of things. Temporarily, anyway.
Since they rarely do anything the easy way, they found themselves leading by 87-85 with 3:35 left following a Noel alley-oop. But Williams sank a huge pull-up from 18 feet out to put them ahead 89-85 and Lopez was fouled after snatching a clutch offensive rebound. He made a pair of free throws with 2:20 remaining to hand the Nets a 91-85 advantage.
Notes & quotes: Young reiterated he's enjoying his time in Brooklyn and isn't averse to being a part of the franchise's long-term future. "I like the guys on the roster,'' he said. "We have some veterans on the team. We get up and down. We do a lot of different things. It's one of those things where they want me for the future. They want to keep me around. It's a mutual feeling and mutual relationship.'' . . . Alan Anderson, who sat out Wednesday's loss with a bruised tailbone, returned to action and had 10 points off the bench . . . Thomas Robinson, whom the Nets were going to ink to a 10-day contact last month before Philadelphia swooped in and claimed him off waivers, posted 7 points and 12 rebounds.