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Hawks nip Nets in potential playoff preview

Prokhorov on Hand as Brooklyn Falls to Powerhouse Atlanta

April 9, 2015 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov insisted that he had no intention to sell the team before watching Brooklyn suffer a tough home loss to Atlanta on Wednesday night at Downtown’s Barclays Center. AP photo
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Mikhail Prokhorov isn’t selling, and the Brooklyn Nets aren’t afraid of the big bad Atlanta Hawks.

That was the final summation of the events that unfolded in front of a boisterous and fully engaged sellout crowd of 17,732 Wednesday night at the Barclays Center as Brooklyn’s billionaire owner watched his team suffer a tough, but ultimately inspiring 114-111 loss to the Eastern Conference-leading Hawks.

Prokhorov, who hadn’t seen the Nets in person since way back in November, played off previous reports that he had spent a good portion of this campaign looking to sell off the NBA franchise he purchased from Bruce Ratner five years ago during a pre-game press conference.

“I was never intending to sell the team,” Prokhorov intimated despite reports that he had enlisted the aid of Evercore Partners to unload the team to the highest bidder.

“We have looked at selling only the minority stake,” he clarified. “And for the time being, there is nothing on the table. That is the situation for the time being.”

Also for the time being, the Nets (36-42) may have finally proven that they are at least capable of competing against the mighty Hawks should the teams square off in a first-round playoff series later this month.

Brooklyn, which had lost its previous three meetings with Atlanta by an average of more than 20 points per contest, suffered a humbling 32-point defeat to the Hawks just last Saturday.

But buoyed by their red-hot play of late, and arguably the most passionate crowd at the Barclays this year, the Nets challenged the Hawks throughout this fourth and final regular-season meeting.

They even used a late 16-3 spurt to take a 109-108 lead with 3:30 to play on Joe Johnson’s lay-up.

But Al Horford’s uncontested dunk off a brilliant feed from Kyle Korver with 19 seconds left proved to be the difference as Johnson’s desperation bid at a game-tying 3-pointer beat the buzzer, but wouldn’t go down.

“I think we needed to be competitive against them,” noted Deron Williams, who finished with 10 points and 13 assists as Brooklyn fell into the eighth and final playoff spot in the ongoing Eastern Conference playoff chase.

“It’s not really a moral victory,” he added. “I guess it is good because we pretty much got blown out by them every game before this one.”

Brook Lopez had 26 points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots and Johnson added 21 points for Brooklyn, which maintained a slim one-game lead over both Indiana and Miami for the No. 8 seed in the East with only four games to play.

“We showed tonight that we can play against them,” said rookie Bojan Bogdanovic, who had perhaps Brooklyn’s best chance to win it, but misfired on a 3-pointer with 3.9 seconds remaining, setting up Atlanta for a pair of free throws on the other end before Johnson’s last-second turnaround heave.

“I hope that we meet them again,” Bogdanovic added.

That’s a good thing to hope for despite the ramifications of facing the best team in the conference in the opening round.

Brooklyn, armed with the league’s highest payroll and a demanding, albeit less-than-ever-present owner, is desperate to reach the postseason for a third consecutive season since arriving in our fair borough.

The Nets will host Paul Pierce and the Washington Wizards here on Friday before heading to Milwaukee on Sunday for their final road game of the season against the Jason Kidd-led Bucks.

Brooklyn will finish up at home against Chicago and Orlando next Monday and Wednesday, respectively, before learning its ultimate playoff fate, be it the seventh seed, the eighth or, in a worst-case scenario, no playoff berth at all.

“Tonight they came out, hit us in the mouth early, but we just stayed with it,” said Jarrett Jack, who led Brooklyn reserves with 14 points off the bench. “We fought, we clawed and that’s just the resilience that we have if we want to make it to that goal that we set for ourselves at the beginning of the season.”

Those goals, though tempered from the ones Prokhorov set forth with his well-publicized championship-in-five-years mandate back in 2010, are still well within reach for the Nets as they finish up this tumultuous campaign.

“I saw the potential of our team and the capability of playing at a [first-rate] level,” Prokhorov said. “I think for the last months we have seen how the team could play if everyone pulls together.”

Everyone, including the owner, who by his own admission is now in it for the long haul.

Nothing But Net: Lopez, the reigning two-time Eastern Conference Player of the Week, has scored at least 25 points in eight of 12 games after managing to do so only five times in the first 56 games of the season. Lopez also went a perfect 10-of-10 at the free-throw line Wednesday, spearheading the Nets to a 22-of-25 collective effort. … F Thaddeus Young continues to be a force along the interior for Brooklyn. He posted his first double-double as a Net on Wednesday, scoring 15 points and grabbing 11 boards. … Prokhorov had a valid excuse for why he didn’t attend more Nets games this season. “Maybe you heard, we have some volatile years in Russia economy and Russian business,” he said. “So we have sanctions imposed, and these sanctions they have created some fresh opportunities and some challenges for business in Russia. I needed to be there managing my business and my essence, so I was busy. Now everything is under control. That is why I hope to see more in the playoffs.”

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