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Carlesimo has Prokhorov's trust and a win in debut

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NEW YORK (AP) - Skiing in Canada is postponed. Mikhail Prokhorov's new agenda calls for lunch with his basketball coach.

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Prokhorov can always reschedule his vacation. Fixing his team couldn't wait.

So the Brooklyn Nets owner fired Avery Johnson, made P.J. Carlesimo the team's interim coach, and put aside pleasure for business.

Prokhorov flew to New York and watched the Nets hand the Charlotte Bobcats their 17th straight loss, 97-81 on Friday. He and Carlesimo will meet Saturday for lunch, where the Russian billionaire will likely remind Carlesimo of his high - perhaps unrealistic - goals for the Nets.

Carlesimo, uncomfortable with how he got the job, isn't worried about what it will take to keep it.

``Honestly, am I anxious to hear what he's got to say? Of course I do. But we've just got to go out and do the best job we can and see whatever happens,'' Carlesimo said. ``I certainly don't want to lobby for it or anything like that.''

He won't need to if the Nets keep performing like they did Friday.

The Nets played as they did last month, when they were 11-4 and Johnson was Eastern Conference coach of the month. They are just 4-10 in December, a slump that cost Johnson his job, but got back over .500 against the hapless Bobcats.

Brook Lopez had 26 points and 11 rebounds, Deron Williams added 17 of his 19 points in the first half, and Joe Johnson had 16 for the Nets, who led by 29 points and won for just the second time in seven games.

``I felt we're a good team all year and we just hit a rough patch,'' said Williams, who struggled under Johnson. ``We've got to fight our way out of it, so we made a step in the right direction tonight and we just keep going.''

Prokhorov cut short heli-skiing in British Columbia to travel to New York. He said he decided to fire Johnson last week but will be patient with Carlesimo. Even with big names such as Phil Jackson potentially available and Prokhorov vowing to spend whatever it takes to build a championship team, he said repeatedly that Carlesimo was the head coach.

Prokhorov did say that if the Nets do look for a new coach, he would be personally involved. He wouldn't discuss anyone by name, even joking he had never heard of Jackson, the 11-time champion coach whom ESPN.com reported was the Nets' top target.

``Now P.J. is the head coach and if it becomes necessary, you know who the usual suspects are,'' Prokhorov told reporters at halftime.

The Nets had been blown out of their previous two games and Prokhorov said the Nets were lacking team spirit.

Still, deciding Johnson would be fired last week means Prokhorov had made up his mind even before the lackluster Christmas performance at home against Boston that preceded a rout Wednesday in Milwaukee.

``I think we have very talented players, but they are capable of much more than what we have seen in the recent weeks,'' Prokhorov said. ``I respect Avery and really I wish him well, but sometimes chemistry just isn't right. It happens.

``I think the main question is why we were unable to bounce back and to play like champions,'' he added.

Prokhorov added around $300 million in payroll this summer and has set the expectations high, saying he believes the Nets can reach the Eastern Conference finals. Though it's believed he wouldn't back away from paying top dollar for a coach, he left open the possibility that he may already have the guy he wants.

``P.J. is the head coach and just I think we have a lot of trust in him and really I want him to lead the team,'' Prokhorov said.

The Nets played with energy under Carlesimo after forward Gerald Wallace had criticized the team following Wednesday's 108-93 loss in Milwaukee in Johnson's last game.

``To me, it's kind of frustrating and sad because that's the first time in my career that a coach's been let go in the middle of the season like that,'' Wallace said. ``But I understand the business part of it. We move on and obviously regardless of who's sitting at the head of the chair, we know what we got to do as players.''

Carlesimo, who had stints coaching Portland and Golden State, is perhaps best known for his infamous run-in with Latrell Sprewell when he was leading the Warriors. A terse exchange at a December 1997 practice resulted in Sprewell choking Carlesimo. It took several players and team officials to break up the attack, which an angry Sprewell renewed 15 minutes later.

Carlesimo last coached his own team when he was fired by the Oklahoma City Thunder after a 1-12 start to the 2008-09 season and said before the game he was a little more apprehensive than normal for his return to running his own club.

``Your head's spinning a little bit, you're trying to think of all the things that were second nature,'' Carlesimo said. ``Hopefully, I haven't forgotten. I'm old, but hopefully I haven't forgotten.''

It was quickly obvious he had nothing to worry about.

The Bobcats missed 13 of their first 16 shots, making it easy for the Nets. Brooklyn scored nine straight in the middle of the first quarter to open a 12-point lead, extended it to 18 later in the period, and were ahead 33-15 headed to the second.

``It's tough. We can't put ourselves in that kind of position,'' Bobcats guard Kemba Walker said. ``We don't have a lot of depth on our team to come back against great teams, but we do every once in a while, but we can't do that all the time. We dig ourselves in holes we can't get out of.''

Williams, who missed Wednesday's game with a bruised right wrist and came into the game shooting under 40 percent for the season, was 7 of 14 from the field. Williams, who said recently that he preferred his old offense in Utah to Johnson's, acknowledged his confidence was down as he struggled to play the style that best suited the Nets.

``We came out with a lot more energy,'' Williams said. ``I think we had to. I think our backs are against the wall right now.''

Lopez, the starting center whose seven-game absence with a foot injury started the Nets' downward spiral, was 9 of 12 and made all eight free throws. He said it's easy for the Nets to offer Carlesimo the support Prokhorov wants.

``He helped us focus tonight,'' Lopez said. ``He was there for us and you know we support him and he supports us.''

---

AP freelance writer Adriano Torres in East Rutherford, N.J., contributed to this report.

AP NEWS
The Associated Press News Service

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The Associated Press
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