On a night when the only thing worth winning was a few extra ping-pong balls for the NBA draft lottery, the Nets wrapped up their New Jersey years with barely a whimper.
Ben Uzoh had 12 points, a career-high 12 assists and 11 rebounds for his first career triple-double, and the Toronto Raptors routed New Jersey 98-67 in Thursday night’s season finale, a loss that slightly improves the Nets’ chances in next month’s draft lottery.
The game marked the final time the Nets played as a New Jersey-based team; they’ll move to a new home in Brooklyn next season.
”This is our farewell, for good,” Nets coach Avery Johnson said. ”Now we embark on a new opportunity, and it starts when the clock strikes midnight tonight. Even though we lost this game this is a new era in Nets basketball, and that’s what we’re focusing on.”
Johnson said Brooklyn fans will see a better team next year than this season’s 22-44 squad that finished by losing six straight.
”We like a lot of our guys,” Johnson said. ”We definitely need to upgrade in some areas, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Raptors fans were also told of brighter days ahead. Toronto-born center Jamaal Magloire addressed the crowd before the game, thanking fans for their support in a ”turbulent season” and promising a playoff berth next year.
”That’s what the plan is. That’s where we’re going,” Toronto guard Jose Calderon said. ”We know we’ve got some guys coming. We’ve got another draft pick and for sure a couple of free agents will be here. I think we’re not that far from being a really good team.”
Uzoh’s triple-double was the first by a Toronto player since Alvin Williams did it against Atlanta on March 23, 2001.
”He had a heck of a game,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. ”I doubted his point guard skills at times, but I just watched a young man grow in his two 10-day contracts.”
Johnson also had praise for Uzoh, who played 42 games for New Jersey last season.
”He played hard and he played well,” Johnson said. ”Hopefully he’ll be on an NBA roster next year. He’s just such a good kid.”
Ed Davis had a career-best 24 points to go with 12 rebounds, Gary Forbes had 23 points and Alan Anderson scored 20 as Toronto snapped a four-game skid and beat New Jersey for the ninth time in 12 meetings north of the border. Solomon Alabi set career-highs with 11 points and 19 rebounds, his first double-double.
Anthony Morrow and Armon Johnson each had 11 points, and Gerald Green and Jordan Williams added 10 apiece as the Nets lost their fifth straight and set a season low for points. The defeat ensured the Nets will finish last in the Atlantic Division, one game behind Toronto.
Johan Petro scored the final basket in New Jersey Nets history, a jump shot with 25 seconds left.
”This is the way to keep my name in some book,” he said. ”I was just trying to make the shot, I wasn’t thinking about the whole history about it.”
Uzoh entered the fourth quarter needing six points, two rebounds and one assist to complete the triple-double. After getting the assists and boards, he finished the job by throwing down a breakaway dunk with 6:19 to play, putting Toronto up 86-50.
”Easy basket always helps, right?” Uzoh said with a smile. ”It’s pretty cool. My teammates were rooting me on and pushed me to try and get there. That’s a big thing in this league. I’m definitely happy that it happened.”
Neither team was close to full strength in a forlorn finale. Deron Williams (right calf), Gerald Wallace (left hamstring) and Kris Humphries (right foot) were among the seven Nets players sidelined by injury. Toronto was without five guys, including DeMar DeRozan (left ankle) and Aaron Gray (back), as well as long-term absentees Andrea Bargnani, who’s been shut down for the year with a sore left calf, and Jerryd Bayless, out with a torn muscle in his left side.
In all, only seven of Toronto’s nine healthy players made it onto the court. Amir Johnson and Linas Kleiza both dressed, but didn’t play.
Anderson made a trio of three-pointers as the Raptors opened a 17-2 lead with 7:27 left in the first, but New Jersey cut it to 26-15 after one.
Forbes scored eight points in the second, Davis and Anderson had six each and the Raptors pulled away to lead 54-27 at the half. New Jersey shot just 4 for 19 in the quarter.
Alabi and Davis each scored eight points in the third as Toronto widened its advantage, taking a 73-43 lead into the fourth.
NOTES: Three Toronto players had double-doubles, the first time that’s happened since Dec. 31, 2010 at Houston. … Davis was the only Raptors player to appear in all 66 games this season. … Toronto finished with 23 wins, one more than they had in 82 games last season when they were 22-60. … Calderon missed his seventh straight game, sitting out to protect injuries around his right eye. … The Nets were without Jordan Farmar (right groin), Shelden Williams (right knee) and long-term absentees Damion Jones (right foot) and Brook Lopez (right foot). … New Jersey’s previous low for points was 70, set three times this season.