Nets go out with a whimper in Windy City
Sit Lin, Lopez and Booker in Season-Ending Blowout Loss to Bulls
The league-worst Nets became relevant again in their season-ending loss to Chicago.
For all the wrong reasons.
With Miami’s playoff hopes resting on Brooklyn’s ability to beat the Bulls Wednesday night, first-year Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson opted to sit Brook Lopez, Jeremy Lin and Trevor Booker in the hopes of evaluating his younger, less-proven players.
The result: a brutal 112-73 loss to Chicago in front of a sellout crowd of 21,648 at the United Center, most of whom spent the evening celebrating their team’s postseason berth at the expense of Brooklyn’s short-handed unit.
So rather than finishing off what was a promising run to the end of the regular season, the Nets, who went 11-13 after March 1, were left to answer questions regarding whether or not they had let the Heat down in their quest to reach the playoffs.
“I’m going to be honest as a competitor, I understand it,” Atkinson ceded before the opening tip as he was bombarded with queries regarding his decision to sit three of his top players in the finale.
“I understand the point of view that some of you have, some of the press has and maybe other teams. I do understand it.”
Miami did beat Washington Wednesday, meaning the Heat would have qualified if Brooklyn had put forth a winning effort against the Bulls.
Instead, the Nets, who were also without Sean Kilpatrick, Quincy Acy and Joe Harris due to injury, played one of their worst games in six weeks.
“We have to look at it from the Brooklyn Nets franchise and what is best for us, and that’s how we’re looking into it in a vacuum,” Atkinson explained as he and general manager Sean Marks quickly turned their attention to what should be a fascinating offseason.
“That’s my responsibility as coach.”
Others will argue that Atkinson’s chief responsibility is to try to win a game that factored heavily in other teams’ postseason fate.
Brooklyn didn’t come close to being competitive, shooting a dismal 32 percent from the field, including a season-worst 3-for-33 from 3-point range, en route to finishing one game worse than last year’s 21-61 mark.
Lin, Lopez and Booker all played in last Saturday’s 107-106 victory over Chicago here at Downtown’s Barclays Center, but had to watch from the bench Wednesday as they were “rested” with the entire offseason just 48 minutes away.
“It’s frustrating for me. I wanted to be out there,” admitted Lopez, who had stated earlier in the week that he was looking forward to potentially knocking twin brother and Bulls center Robin Lopez’s team out of the playoffs.
“There’s a lot of different reasons. I love being on the court with my teammates, playing against Robin and then just the situation of the game is super-exciting. It’d definitely be fun to be on the court for that.”
But he wasn’t.
Lin took a more team-friendly approach toward the decision to not play Wednesday, and the Heat’s understandable disappointment with the move.
“I don’t know,” said the starting point guard, who missed 44 games this season due to a pair of hamstring injuries.
“It’s interesting. I think everyone plays 82 games and each one is just as valuable. Not to say they don’t have a right to be upset, but I can definitely understand that. But we just played Chicago and beat them last week. I think that had to help them.”
It did, but the Heat were hoping for another Net win, and a spot against top-seeded Boston in the opening round of the Eastern Conference playoffs later this week.
“It definitely sucks because they just beat [the Bulls Saturday], and we’re figuring maybe it’s a mental thing and they can go in there and get another one,” Miami guard Tyler Johnson said.
“We’re still rooting for the young guys from Brooklyn.”
The youth movement had its hands full against a playoff-hungry team that ran out to a 27-13 first-quarter lead and never looked back.
Jimmy Butler scored 25 points and Paul Zipser added a career-best 21 for Chicago, which knocked the Nets out of the playoffs in the opening round here in a memorable Game 7 at Barclays Center to conclude the inaugural 2012-13 campaign in our fair borough.
“We’re in there,” Butler said. “It’s all about us playing the best basketball at the right time.”
Archie Goodwin put up 20 points and K.J. McDaniels added 15 for Brooklyn, which committed 18 turnovers and was outscored 37-17 during the final 12 minutes.
“I just look at it as another opportunity for us to get better for next year,” said Goodwin, who inked a pair of 10-day contracts with Brooklyn before receiving a multi-year pact just last week.
“I think next year we’re going to make a lot of strides, especially going into the summer. We’re going to work really hard and get better.”
Rookie Caris LeVert was the only other Brooklyn player in double figures with 10 points.
“It surprised me how poorly we shot,” said Atkinson, who endured a season-high 16-game losing streak and a franchise-record 16-game home skid during his first year as a head coach.
“I thought we got a lot of open looks. We definitely need to shoot better. We have to improve as it was clear tonight. Our perimeter shooting is not where it needs to be.”
Neither were Lin, Lopez and Booker, if you ask the players and fans from Miami.
“I don’t know, I think you can look at it from so many different angles,” Lin said of resting players in a critical season-ending game.
“I can understand why the fans would be a little bit upset, but if you look across the league, every team that has an opportunity to do it is doing it.”
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