Contending Nets start tough stretch against Heat

Contending Nets start tough stretch against Heat

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) P.J. Carlesimo is convinced after a month on the job: The Brooklyn Nets are a winning team.

He still needs to see, even after one of the best months in franchise history, if they can consistently be one against the teams already at that level.

Well, here comes their chance.

The Nets begin a tough three-game stretch Wednesday night against LeBron James and the NBA champion Miami Heat, who have won the last 12 meetings and remain the league's standard in Carlesimo's eyes.

``They're the best team in the league until somebody beats them,'' Carlesimo said Tuesday after practice. ``Maybe when the year's out and we've played 82 games, somebody will have a better record than them. But they're still the champions and they're still going to the finals on a pretty regular basis, so until somebody knocks them off, this to me is the barometer you measure against and we haven't shown yet that we can beat these guys. So that's a huge challenge for us.''

So are the Chicago Bulls at home on Friday, and the Los Angeles Lakers next Tuesday. Starting Wednesday on ESPN, it's the kind of high-profile stretch that can earn the Nets, who may be a little overlooked despite a 27-18 record, some added respect within the league.

``It's a nice stretch for us,'' guard Joe Johnson said. ``I wouldn't say a tough one, but it's a nice one and we should be ready and prepared for this challenge. But we're going to start first with Miami and try to get over that hump.''

The Heat already beat the Nets twice this season - ``smacked,'' says Carlesimo, who described another Nets defeat as ``annihilated,'' apparently believing that when the Nets fall, ``losing'' isn't enough of a description.

Luckily for them, it hasn't happened often since Carlesimo was promoted to interim coach when Avery Johnson was fired on Dec. 27.

They have since gone 13-4, winning eight straight at home and pulling within 1 1/2 games of the neighboring Knicks for first place in the Atlantic Division. The Nets have tied a franchise record for the most wins in January and can equal their best total in any month with a victory Wednesday.

Along the way, they won at Oklahoma City and New York, the kind of performances that give the Nets reason for confidence going into this stretch.

``When we play the way we're capable of playing ... we've beaten a couple of the better teams in the league, even on the road, so we just got to play,'' Carlesimo said. ``We're playing in our place, which is a huge plus for us.''

The Nets rebounded from their first two-game losing streak under Carlesimo with a 97-77 victory over Orlando on Monday. Yet Carlesimo was still dwelling Tuesday on the losses last week at Memphis and Houston that saddled them with a 2-2 mark on a road trip which began with an impressive victory over the Knicks.

``After the steps we took back last week, we have to show that we can be - not that we can be good, we've established that - but that we can be good consistently and that we can be good against the better teams,'' Carlesimo said.

Carlesimo was looking beyond the three-game stretch all the way to the All-Star game. The Nets have another difficult patch leading into the Feb. 14-17 break, facing San Antonio, Indiana and Denver over a four-night stretch.

They seem far more prepared, and a certainly more stable now than in the final days under Johnson, when they fell apart in December after he had led them to 11 wins and Eastern Conference coach of the month honors in November.

``I think we're starting to really finally find out who we are as a team and who we are as individuals and what we can do to help this team win ballgames,'' Johnson said.

Carlesimo still needs to see more, and this would be a nice time.

``Am I happy where we're at? Yes, but very, very sure that we've got a long way to go,'' he said. ``I like where we are, relative to where we were, but we're not anywhere where we need to be.''

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Tarik's 3 Stars: Wilson and Backstrom shine in Caps 3rd straight win

Tarik's 3 Stars: Wilson and Backstrom shine in Caps 3rd straight win

Tom Wilson scored twice, Nicklas Backstrom recorded four helpers and the assistant coaches chipped in with a big assist in Montreal, where the Caps earned a 6-4 victory over the Canadiens on Saturday night.

The win was Washington’s third in a row and seventh in eight games as they close in on another Metro Division title. Caps Coach Barry Trotz, meantime, claimed victory No. 200 in Washington; his next win will equal Bruce Boudreau for second all-time in franchise history.

Tarik’s three stars of the game:

1-Tom Wilson, Capitals

Wilson’s all-around game continues to blossom…and the Caps’ big winger continues to fill up the scoresheet. At Bell Centre, he scored back-to-back goals less than four minutes apart in the first period to put the Caps in command. Wilson also missed an empty net in the closing seconds by just a few inches. The soon-to-be 24-year-old now has 13 goals—six more than his previous career high.  

2-Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals

Backstrom notched four assists and, as usual, he did it quietly. And they weren’t cheapies—three of the four helpers were of the primary variety. Backstrom, who has four goals and 12 assists in his last 12 games, has now notched four or more points 20 times in his career. It was also his 11th-career four assist game.

3-Leonhardt and Ohashi, Capitals

That’s right, I’m giving the third star to assistant coaches Brett ‘Stretch’ Leonhardt and Tim Ohashi. They quickly spotted that the Habs were offside on their second goal. And, after a coach’s challenge, the refs agreed. Instead of 2-0, it remained 1-0 and the Caps took full advantage of their second chance, scoring the game’s next four goals.

Agree? Disagree? Tell us what you think in the comments.

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Growing rumors that Redskins will land Pernell McPhee

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Growing rumors that Redskins will land Pernell McPhee

Every team in the NFL would love to add to their pass rush, and the Redskins are no exception. The team withdrew its contract offer to Junior Galette, spurring rumors that they were looking elsewhere.

The Redskins recently had linebacker Pernell McPhee in for a visit, and rumors are swirling that the former Bear is close to joining the Burgundy and Gold.

Nothing has been confirmed, but if McPhee does come to Washington, it would be in the hopes that he can provide a boost to the team's pass rush. The linebacker has proven himself capable of getting to the quarterback in his seven seasons in the NFL, recording 31.0 sacks in his career, with 21.5 of those coming in the last four years. He's also forced at least one fumble in each of the past five seasons.

Playing in the DMV again would mark a homecoming of sorts for McPhee, who played in Baltimore for 4 seasons after being drafted by the Ravens in the 5th round of the 2011 draft before signing in Chicago as a free agent.