Slumping Nets still up in the air

Brooklyn's playoff fate yet to be determined entering finale

April 16, 2014 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Jason Kidd sounded as if he could care less where the Nets will be this weekend when the NBA playoffs begin.

All he knows is his team, which began the season with a miserable 10-21 stretch before emerging as one of the league’s hottest clubs in 2014, will be playing Game 1 of its opening-round series on the road in either Chicago or Toronto.

“We’re either going to be the five [seed] or the six,” Kidd stated matter-of-factly in the moments following Tuesday night’s ho-hum 109-98 loss to the East River rival Knicks before a sellout crowd of 17,332 at Downtown’s Barclays Center.

“Fifth, sixth, same thing,” he added. “You know, we’re going to play Toronto or Chicago. You play 82 games to get a seed, and we’ll be fifth or sixth.”

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While the first-year head coach was accurate in his assessment of the situation, the Nets (44-37) hardly displayed the sheen of a championship contender in the finale of their season series with New York.

Whether they wind up leaving the country to take on the Atlantic Division champion Raptors or fly to O’Hare Airport for a rematch of last year’s crushing first-round playoff series loss to the Bulls, Brooklyn had better get its game in gear.

“Tonight was an example of how not to take a step forward,” insisted Nets forward and former NBA Finals MVP Paul Pierce after Brooklyn committed 19 turnovers in dropping the season series to the Knicks, 3-1, and falling to 1-3 since completing an impressive four-game sweep of the two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat.

Marcus Thornton scored a game-high 24 points for the Nets, who appeared less than fully invested in what NBA schedule-makers hoped would be a bitter all-out battle for Atlantic Division supremacy when they slated this matchup prior to the campaign.

Instead, the Knicks are going home for the summer, having missed the playoffs all together after capturing the division crown with a 54-win season in 2012-13.

As for the playoff-bound Nets, they’ll be in Cleveland Wednesday night playing the Cavaliers while the Raptors and Bulls duke it out for the right to nab the No. 3 seed during their respective contests at Madison Square Garden and in Charlotte.

However, if the Nets lose to the Cavs and Washington tops Boston Wednesday, Brooklyn would fall to the No. 6 seed after spending most of the season trying in vain to chase down Toronto and Chicago for third or fourth place in the East.

According to Pierce, who helped lead Boston to the 2008 NBA title and came within a game of winning another championship with the Celtics in 2010, the Nets should be worrying about their play on the court rather than the outcomes of games they can’t control.

“We were off our game offensively, defensively, [in] all phases of the game and that’s not how you want to go into the playoffs,” he warned.

If you listen to Kidd, the Nets don’t seem overly concerned with how they’re finishing up the 82-game run-up to the NBA’s second season.

“It happens,” he said. “Sometimes you play well, sometimes you don’t. We got another one to get better tomorrow.”

Teams that have strong playoff resumes, like Miami and San Antonio, can usually shake off a poor performance or two coming down the stretch due to their inherent ability to turn up their game once the postseason begins.

But the Nets don’t enjoy that luxury, having gone without a playoff series win since defeating Toronto in the opening round in 2007.

Brooklyn had a Game 7 in its building last year against the Bulls with a shot at the Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals on the line and put on an absolute dud of a performance against a more game and hungry Chicago squad.

With an NBA-record-setting $180 million payroll, this year’s team can ill-afford another first-round flop in Round One.

That’s why Pierce’s words ringer truer than Kidd’s heading into Wednesday night’s regular-season finale.

“Going into the playoffs, you want to start building good habits,” Pierce noted.

Winning, of course, is the best habit to form for any professional franchise.

Especially one that hasn’t done a lot of it this time of year since Kidd himself led the Nets to back-to-back NBA Finals appearances more than a decade ago.

See you in Chicago. Unless it’s Toronto.

Nothing But Net: F Mirza Teletovic missed Tuesday’s game and will not travel with the Nets to Cleveland Wednesday as his wife gave birth to twins earlier Tuesday. … G Deron Williams, G Joe Johnson and Pierce were all listed as game-time decisions prior to Tuesday night’s game against the Knicks, but all three played. Kidd did not indicate how much he would rest his starters against the Cavs on Wednesday. … F Kevin Garnett, getting back into shape after missing a month due to back spasms, played nearly 15 minutes against the Knicks but did not score, missing all four of his field-goal attempts. … Reserve swingman Alan Anderson sat out Tuesday with a sore abdominal muscle. 

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