Problems don't only come with losing. Coach Larry Brown will make a triumphant return to the Meadowlands with his New Jersey Nets Wednesday night, yet will face one of his biggest decisions of the season.
When the Nets paid $1 million to sign Otis Birdsong last summer, the all-star guard from Kansas City was supposed to turn this perennial loser into a playoff contender.
It didn't exactly work that way. Birdsong was hindered by knee trouble from the beginning of training camp, and after playing in only 17 of the first 38 games, he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery Jan. 19. Three nights later, Foots Walker and Ray Williams teamed up in the back court, and since then the Nets have been the hottest team in the league.
Despite playing eight of their last nine on the road, the Nets have won seven times to move past the slumping Bullets into third place in the Atlantic Division.
Walker, also bothered by injuries in training camp, has led the team in assists in 10 of the 15 games he's started and has averaged 8.3 points. By assuming the ball-handling responsibility, he has made Williams much more effective. In the last five games, Williams has averaged 29.2 points and is shooting 54 percent.
The question now, of course, is what to do with Birdsong, who has recovered and is anxious to start playing? For awhile Brown can bring him off the bench, but dividing playing time between Williams and Birdsong could disrupt the chemistry the team finally has achieved.
With nine of their next 10 at home, the Nets have an opportunity to pull away from the road-bound Bullets and clinch a playoff position. If they beat Detroit, they will equal last season's total of 24 victories with 33 games remaining.