Do we really need an intro? Really? I mean, we’ve been doing this for a while now. You all know what’s up. Still, I guess it can’t hurt.

Live from the Continental Airlines Arena (official transportation provided by the Port Authority), it’s Monday night afternoon!

By Jake Appleman (italics) and Russ Bengtson (not italics)

As I believe I’ve stated before on this very website, pregame media access is pretty pointless most of the time. Hardly any of the big-name guys talk—or come out of the trainer’s room, for that matter—and the rest of the players are usually either on the court shooting, in front of their lockers sorting out tickets, or in the back getting taped up. Sometimes you get an interview, sure, but most of the time you just…listen.
Over on the Pacers side, it’s pretty much all young dudes, all watching tape of the Nets/Timberwolves game. Ballboys come in with pre-game meal orders—mostly chicken fingers with fries. Healthy fare. No need to interrupt.
In the home locker room, Richard Jefferson is seated at his locker doing…nothing? Hard to believe. We exchange hellos, and he resumes a conversation he was having with rookie Josh Boone. The topic is Phoenix, where Moore is considering buying a house. There’s talk about the heat, and the fact that you could only be there during the summer. “But when you retire…” Jefferson says to the 22-year-old Boone. Uh, yeah.
From there, Jefferson starts offering the youngster tips on how to defend Al Harrington. He mentions that, unlike Jermaine O’Neal, who generally doesn’t make a move until a play starts, Harrington is always in motion, going from block to block. “He’s a good player,” Boone says.
It’s then that Eddie House, freshly taped and just sliding his first pair of three socks on, offers up his opinion. “F–k that n—a!” he exclaims. Jefferson and Boone just look over, amused. Boone is unsure whether House is referring to Harrington or Jefferson. House gestures at the TV, which is playing back the last meeting between the two teams. “THAT n—a,” But he’s quick to clarify, pointing at Jefferson. “If I was on the other team, I’d be sitting in that other locker room saying f–k THAT n—a.” Jefferson laughs. “Yeah, I used to say ‘f–k E. House.’”

Gary Sussman, the same Gary Sussman that said getting me a copy of a 1996 game that featured Chris Childs accidentally throwing a pass at my face would be as possible as seeing Jesus in the flesh hands me a DVD of that game. Big ups, Sussman. You go, Gary Sussman. Just for that, the pregame food review, which would have ended up around a B+ (solid turkey, mashed potatoes, steamed carrots, the staple hot dogs) gets bumped up to an A. That’s right, Sussman’s crew is temporarily on the honor roll. At least in my book. It’s just too bad this culinary critique has two reviewers.

Well, actually it’s all good. Turkey with gravy, mashed potatoes, glazed carrots (step your cuisine game up, Jake!), and the usual accoutrements—salad, the hot dog setup, and the criminally underrated Vitamin Water fridge. Solid B+ tonight.

One little gripe—the Nets need to have more than one TV in the press dining room. Or figure out a place to put the one that’s in there so it’s not obstructed from any of the tables. Because of course we were at the one table where the TV was blocked, and the Knick game was close down the stretch—and yeah, we had to move. Step up, Vonage, and hook up some flatscreens. Stat.

Courtside sightings before the game: Danny Granger making bets on three pointers with ex-Pacer Chuck “The Rifleman” Person and Mikki Moore working on his post offense with Net assistant Bill Cartwright.

I swear, I think former Celtics coach Chris Ford might be stalking me. So far this year, I’ve seen him in media dining rooms in Boston, New York, Washington and Jersey. I’m sure he feels the same way—that is, if he has any idea I exist.

We watch the Jamal Crawford fourth quarter express float over the Kings.

I need to double-check, but I’m pretty sure this is my first game with the leather ball in ’07. Good times.

Introductions. For starters, the Nets intro is WAY too dramatic for a lineup that includes both Mikki Moore and Jason Collins. This sort of thing has been building for a long time, but I’ve finally pretty much completely had it. Save the fireworks and confetti (are you kidding me?) for the playoffs. Please? Better yet, save stuff like that for AFTER the game. Like, if you win.

The crowd? Not so good. Given, it’s a 3:30 p.m. start (awful) but it’s a dreary Monday holiday. It’s not like there’s much else to do.

FIRST QUARTER

The Nets actually START the game with a defensive three-second violation. This is obviously a wrinkle thrown in by Lawrence Frank to throw the Pacers off their offensive game. Brilliant! Except for the fact that Stephen “Whooo!” Jackson hits the free throw, and Jamaal Tinsley buries a jumper. On the other end, Vince Carter throws up a horrific fallaway airball, and Jermaine O’Neal comes right back and hits. 5-0, Pacers.

Thanks to an illegal defense and a three, the Pacers jump out to a quick 4-0 lead before the Nets even touch the ball. When they finally do touch the ball, Vince Carter airs a poorly selected shot. Come on Vince, poor choices are for college. Or Gilbert Arenas’ birthday.

Jason Kidd, for three. Eff an assist.

VC either forgets to screen or cut for Richard Jefferson on NJ’s second possession. He mouths the words, “I’m sorry.” On Jersey’s third offensive trip, he frowns at something a teammate does/doesn’t do. He looks worried. I really hope we’re not in for a “Vince didn’t feel like trying” matinee.

Shockingly, Jermaine O’Neal fouls Jason Collins before he gets fouled by him. Unshockingly, he goes 1 of 2 from the line. And a Jack trey makes it 10-4, good buddy. But Jefferson hits a long two and swipes the ensuing Tinsley-to-Harrington outlet, and gets it to Moore, who dunks all over Foster and then makes a big deal out of it, yelling at no one in particular. JO comes back with another bucket, but then Carter hits a three, and a Nets steal leads to an RJ layup, and the Nets lead 13-12, and the Pacers call for time.

Mikki Moore throws down a vicious dunk and opens his mouth real wide in celebration, but we’re 8 feet away and I can’t tell if he actually screamed because I didn’t hear anything. Either way, the facial expression was scarier than the dunk.

Moore gets another dunk when Jack swipes at the ball down low and misses, leaving everything up top open. Jack comes back and scores himself, but then Moore gets yet another dunk on a dish from Carter. Harrington hits a J, and Carter busts a 3. Trading twos for threes doesn’t work too good. 20-16, Nets.

Another Mikki Moore dunk. Dunking appears to be contagious to Mikki. I’m starting to feel that I may have underestimated him when I called him a “rich man’s Keith Closs.”

Mikki Moore, who must have dug into Mark Sweeney’s stash tonight, blocks O’Neal from behind and gets called for a foul.

GET YOUR NETS BOXER SHORTS! $15 at the arena. They’re the featured item! This most likely means that they’re not selling well. Somehow it’s not surprising that women aren’t turned on by men in New Jersey Nets boxer shorts.

The Nets get second-chance opportunities every way they can. Kidd misses a three, and Harrington gets the rebound. Simple. But then he tries a cross-court outlet that Kidd picks off and takes straight down the gut for a layup. Unconventional, but effective. The Pacers turn it over again, Kidd scores again, and it’s 26-17 Nets.

3 Dunks for Mikki. Moore continues his solid play. He taps an unreachable rebound to Jefferson and runs the floor hard, ending up in good box-out position underneath the hoop. He’s fouled. Vince, who has shed his somber early-game body language and started to assert his will on the game, wets a jumper, utilizing the extra possession.

Just a thought: Does TJ Kidd drive himself to games now?

No sign of TJ Kidd. I wish the best for TJ during this trying, developmentally-important time. Though I can’t stop thinking about what a potential therapy session would be like for him:
Therapist: TJ, tell me how you feel.
TJ throws a Nets t-shirt in his therapist’s face and plays a tape loop of Sussman exhorting the crowd: “WHO WANTS A SHIRT FROM, TJ?!!?!”

All joking aside, we hope everything turns out fine for the Kidd children.

Al Harrington and Jermaine O’Neal are both in the all black Air Force 25s. Maceo Baston, apparently not yet used to what the NBA has to offer, is in off-the-rack Air Jordan XXI SEs—in black, RED and grey. Not such a good look.

Carter tries another one of his patented fallaways, and gets partially blocked by Jack, who scores on the ensuing runout. Nets still up, 31-24, with 2:22 to go in the first.

Mikki Moore, another dunk? Sure.

Nets lead 35-24 after 1.

SECOND QUARTER

Sly, the Nets mascot, has OFFICIAL TRANSPORTATION? This on the heels of an e-mail received last week that declared PathMark the Nets official supermarket. When is too much too much? Now, that’s when.

It seems that Mini-Sly has replaced TJ as the 3 foot 4 inch t-shirt throwing mascot.

Marcus Williams? In the game? Three? Yep. 40-26, Nets.

Williams turns it over, chases down the (admittedly messy) Pacer break to get it back, and feeds Carter just outside the paint, who proceeds to crap all over Al Harrington. Yeesh. Dunk, and 1, all that stuff.

Jersey’s “Vince and subs” lineup is outplaying Indiana’s second unit. Vince throws down a wicked And-1 slam on Al Harrington’s head. The Nets open up a 16 point lead.

Kidd comes back in around the 7 minute mark after sitting since the end of the first. Williams celebrates by draining another three and stretching the Net lead to 19. This does not bode well for the Pacers. Or anyone who’d hoped for an interesting game, for that matter.

As the Boston Snackbar is about to shoot an open three, Al Harrington runs at him and screams something. It sounded like “thugs!” Needless to say, the result is a brick.

To add to it, Eddie House comes in for Williams after a tiny Pacer run, and scores five points pretty much instantly.

Jason Collins gets knocked on his ass, falling hard to ground. Damn, that was a thud.

And for a change and a mini-adventure, Jason Collins goes to the line. His first shot is an airball. Short. From behind us, Chris Ford laughs. “There must be a draft in here. Someone leave the door open?” His second shot, overcorrected, clangs off the backboard and rim and out. Ugh.

Eddie House has shot the ball literally every time he’s touched it.

On the break, Kidd fires the ball ahead to Carter, but Harrington gets back fast enough to knock the ball away. As the inbound play sets up, Kidd says something to Harrington with a smile. Acknowledgement of a great play, one would think.

Anyone else find it odd that a dude from the Marcy projects (Jay-Z) will be partially responsible for displacing Brooklynites when the Nets move?

With 52.7 seconds left in the half and an 18-point lead, the Nets call a 20-second timeout. Thanks! It works, though, as Kidd comes out and hits a three. 63-42 Nets at the half. Some game.

THIRD QUARTER

The game’s pretty much over, by the way. So I’m not worrying too much about play-by-play.

Jamaal Tinsley is only 28 (29 in February) but he looks 40. Something about the way he moves, and the way he wears his headband cocked WAY back on his head, kind of like Slick Watts used to. As I’m writing this crap down, he buries a three.

Kidd hits a wide-open corner three, and Moore emphatically blocks—well, someone—on the other end and comes up yelling his head off again. Dude. You’re Mikki Moore. Chill.

8:58 to go in the 3rd, Nets still up 20, 68-48.

Weird sequence. Richard Jefferson commits an offensive foul, his first. Then he gets called for another. And another All in less than 20 seconds. He gets a seat on the bench, and Marquis Daniels is immediately whistled for an offensive foul. Then there’s an official’s timeout so they can all get new whistles. Well, actually it’s to clean up a spill of some kind at midcourt. Whatever it is, it was probably Joumana Kidd’s fault. Sometime after this the Nets are up 24, and BOTH teams are over the limit with seven minutes to go in the third. Awesome.

Kidd fires a laser pass underneath to Carter, who can’t quite control it, and he hesitates a split-second putting it up, giving O’Neal enough time to swat the living hell out of it. That’s 24 seconds.

Mikki has ten but it feels like 40. And speaking of MM, he gives VC a playful shove after VC’s last-second shot is blocked, resulting in a shot clock violation. Carter looks like he wants to knock Mikki’s energetic ass out.

On the Nets very next possession, Carter drives all the way in, drawing contact from Foster and laying it in. He winds up all the way over at the sideline across from the Pacers bench, jabbering some sort of gibberish to no one at all. He’s amped.

A vintage Boston Snackbar moment: He drives the lane and puts up a shot that goes in. There’s contact and nobody knows who committed the foul. As the officials deliberate, the BS, who hasn’t scored all game, gets up right up in all of their faces. He gets dragged out of there by Cliff Robinson and Mikki Moore who shove him a little bit and scream at him. Anyway, the call goes his way.

Snackbar drives in and awkwardly lays it in over O’Neal, who sprawls backwards. The whistle blows, but no one seems to know what way to call it. The refs huddle up, and the decision is a blocking call on O’Neal. And 1. That’s four on JO (it’s not his day—and if he stays in the game much longer, he might do something very un-Dr. Kinglike), and the Nets are up 25.

Mikki Moore tries to dunk on Jermaine, and gets blocked. Bad. As the play goes the other way, O’Neal lets out a roar, and lopes back downcourt. There’s a foul, and O’Neal lines up next to Moore, still talking. There’s a timeout, and O’Neal is STILL talking—to Cliff Robinson (who was a mentor in their Portland days) and then to Moore again as he walks to the huddle. Moore yells something back at O’Neal over his shoulder, and Ken Mauer has had enough. T’s for both of ‘em.

Harrington 3, VC 3, VC 3. Vince has 28 with 3:28 to go in the third, the Nets are up 27, and I should have brought a pillow.

VC hits a long three, prompting Sussman to exclaim something along the lines of, “VC…From Secaucus!”

Tinsley finds a streaking O’Neal for an emphatic two-handed dunk that ends with him hanging from the rim. There aren’t really any Nets players in the vicinity, but the refs do not add insult to insult by giving him a second T. Although, at this point, sending him to the locker room wouldn’t make much of a difference and would probably actually be a favor.

End of three, Nets lead 88-63. Kill me.

Through 3 quarters RJ is only 2-4.

FOURTH QUARTER

JO starts the fourth on the bench with a lot of towels on. Hopefully he stays there. Because…yeah, it’s over.

Orien Greene has a nice little sequence: a traveling violation followed by a blown coast to coast layup.

House hits another jumpshot. Coming up on an all new House, House must learn how to pass the ball to gain more minutes from his coach.

Maceo Baston oop, and all of a sudden the lead is cut to 20! Nets timeout! OK, I’m not really that excited.

It’s 15 after a Harrington three, but Marcus Williams comes back with a three of his own that bounces in off the front rim. What is this, the new ball?

MM takes an errant Maceo Baston pass to the face. None of the Pacers are remotely bothered by this. [None of the Nets seem to be, either, to be perfectly honest]

Back to 15 after Harrington stuffs a Moore two-handed dunk attempt from behind, and Sarunas Jasikevicius hits a three. 95-80 with 5:55 to go. Carter checks back in, joining Kidd and Jefferson. O’Neal stays on the bench. But it’s Mikki Moore who scored the next five points, pushing the Nets lead back to 20, 100-80. With five minutes still to go. SHEESH. Baston dunks on Moore, which is nice.

Kidd’s real close to another triple-double. Maybe that’s why he’s still out there? Shawne Williams checks in for the Pacers, but there’s still no sign of Hassan Adams for the Nets. Which is just plain wrong.

In a “what else could go wrong” moment, Granger and Baston fight for an offensive rebound, and one of them gets called for a travel. Good going, fellas. And the Net lead was only 11. With 1:40 to go.

On the last Indy possession of the game, with Kidd needing only a rebound for yet another triple-double, he lurks in the paint as the shot goes up—nothing but net. Kidd retrieves the ball, a big smile on his face, inbounds it, and runs off the court with 10 seconds still remaining. Carter dribbles it across halfcourt and runs out the clock. Final score, 105-95, Nets.

The Nets romp. This game was never close. In fact, it was crap. Good for the Nets, though. They’re beginning to play more up to their potential. They won’t lose many games to average teams when J-Kidd and VC combine to shoot over 50 percent and MM finishes 9-13. Life with Mikki is good. Now, if they could only find a power forward…

POSTGAME

This win and the road win against the Bulls got me thinking. Maybe this is a team that can thrive amidst the adversity (Kidd’s divorce, the RJ rumors, VC’s divorce, the swamp osmosis from all of Michael Strahan’s problems…). Better yet, maybe this is a team that needs to be shaken into focusing harder and digging deeper. Whatever the case may be, it’s good to see something that looks like a team out there.

As for the Pacers, it’s probably hard to win when you’re getting next to nothing from Jamal Tinsley, Danny Granger and Jermaine O’Neal. After watching this one, I had a hard time believing that Indiana was the team with the better record.

Carlisle half-heartedly big-ups the fact that the Pacers “won” the fourth quarter by 15. Which is great, except for the fact that they went into it down 25 and had no chance in hell of actually winning the game.

Kerry Kittles, sporting a suit and carrying an NBA notebook, toothpicks by us during Rick Carlisle’s postgame chat. COMEBACK!?!?! That’s probably wishful thinking.

When asked whether or not he was surprised that Pacers never made a real run, Carlisle admits he was. Us too, Rick. Us too.

Jeff Foster digs into a box of postgame food, coming out with three plastic dishes—one of pasta, another with a chicken sandwich, and a third of curly fries. He saves the fries for last, and as he finally digs into them, Orien Greene looks on with envy. “You got curly fries?” he says. Foster just looks over and shakes his head. “They suck.”

Mikki Moore calls himself “the cleanup man.”

There’s a free gospel concert immediately following the game, which means anyone trying to get to the visitor’s locker room has to dodge amplifiers and drumsets. And it also means that the last bus back to New York (the one that we catch, of course) doesn’t leave until the show is over. Of course. And a late night just gets later.