NEWARK, N.J. | Devin Harris knew that facing the Washington Wizards, a team without a road victory this season, was the best opportunity for the New Jersey Nets to snap their eight-game losing streak — and he had to be the one to do something about it.
“This was one we had to have,” said Harris, who called a team meeting before the game, then went out and had 29 points and nine assists in the Nets’ 97-89 victory Thursday night. “If I’m going to be the guy here, then it’s all about being aggressive and making things happen.”
Harris connected on 14 of 17 from the free throw line, including six straight over the final 1:30 to help the Nets (7-19) win for the first time in December and send the Wizards (6-18) to their 13th straight road loss.
“It’s not the way we wanted to win,” Harris said. “We had to scratch and claw for everything. We have to be able to get it any way we can. This is the way we have to play.”
Nets coach Avery Johnson appreciated the way Harris took charge of the team, both before and during the game.
“He had a little team meeting with the guys and the guys responded,” Johnson said of Harris. “Devin took charge on both ends of the floor for us. We need Devin to play like this. We need Devin to take shots.”
Harris was only 7 of 25 from the field, but made the plays down the stretch.
“We needed a little bit of a change,” said Nets center Brook Lopez, who added 18 points. “We needed to hold ourselves accountable a little. We’re all sick of losing.”
The Wizards played without top overall draft pick John Wall and forward Andray Blatche, both of whom sat out the game with knee problems.
The Nets, who led by 23 points in the second quarter, got 12 points and 17 rebounds from Kris Humphries, the fourth straight game he collected 10 or more boards.
“We didn’t play perfect and choked up a big lead,” Humphries said. “But we all knew that we couldn’t be up 20 points and lose this one. We had to have a sense of urgency.”
Reserve Nick Young led the Wizards with 22 points, while Gilbert Arenas had 19 and Al Thornton added 18.
The Nets used a 19-2 run to take a 22-6 lead with four minutes left in the first quarter. Lopez had nine points during that stretch.
The Nets extended their lead to 48-25 on a driving reverse layup by Jordan Farmar with 4:46 left in the first half. Farmar and Harris started together in the backcourt for the first time this season, due to the hamstring injury of usual starting shooting guard Anthony Morrow.
The 23-point lead was the biggest New Jersey has enjoyed at any stage of a game this season.
The Nets led 55-38 at halftime, holding Washington to just 30 percent shooting over two periods.
The Wizards came alive in the third quarter and led by Kirk Hinrich, who had eight points and three assists in the period, cut the lead to 66-61 with 3:26 left in the third.
The Nets led 74-67 going into the final quarter, but the Wizards tied the game at 75 on a driving basket by Thornton with 8:52 remaining, drawing an echo of boos from the 10,764 in attendance.
The Nets scored the next six points and held the lead for the remainder of the game. They put the game away when Harris made six free throws over the last 90 seconds and Humphries made two blocks and secured a big rebound in the final 45 seconds.
“We made the plays defensively in the last minute or so and got some blocks and big rebounds,” Johnson said. “We came out strong and had a big first quarter, then let them get back into it. But we stayed positive throughout. We battled. I liked our effort. We need any good news we can get right now.”
Wizards head coach Flip Saunders was angry with his team’s effort.
“The disappointment comes from not competing and feeling sorry for ourselves because we were missing players,” Saunders said. “I told our guys that we can’t keep making the same mistakes. It’s not fair to the guys who really do care and aren’t making those mistakes. If you keep making the same mistakes in this league, you’re going to get beat.”
The teams combined to shoot an astounding 75 free throws, with the Nets attempting 47.
“I’ll take it,” Johnson said. “I think that comes from being aggressive and going to the basket.”
NOTES: Sasha Vujacic, who was acquired by the Nets in the three-team deal on Tuesday, was in attendance, but was unavailable to play since Terrence Williams had yet to pass his physical with Houston by the time rosters were submitted by tipoff. … The Wizards and the Los Angeles Clippers (0-11) remain the only teams without a road victory this season. … Not only did the Wizards play without Wall and Blatche, but they were also without former Net Yi Jianlian, who has a sprained ACL. Josh Howard has yet to play this season due to ACL surgery. … The win was the first for New Jersey in December. The Nets’ last win came Nov. 28 at home against Portland. … Troy Murphy scored his first points for the Nets since Dec. 5.
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