End of the road in sight for nomadic Nets
Brooklyn to close out epic seven-game trip in Philadelphia Thursday
Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson ceded that he would be happy with a split of his team’s final two games on this epic seven-game road trip through three time zones over the span of the last 2 1/2 weeks.
The playoff-hopeful Brooklyn squad will need a win in Philadelphia Thursday night to fulfill that wish.
After a marathon, double-overtime loss in Portland on Monday night, the Nets (38-37) fell to 2-4 on this ongoing elongated journey, leaving them with just one more stop in the “City of Brotherly Love”.
All-Star point guard D’Angelo Russell scored a game-high 39 points, grabbed nine rebounds and handed out eight assists, but Brooklyn dropped a heartbreaking 148-144 decision to the Trail Blazers in front of a sellout crowd of 20,188 at the Moda Center.
Russell’s driving layup with 3.8 seconds remaining in the first overtime forced a second extra session, but the Nets faltered down the stretch in double-OT, allowing the Blazers to open what proved to be the game’s final period with a 7-0 run to take a 139-132 lead with just under a minute left on Rodney Hood’s 3-pointer.
After posting back-to-back wins over Sacramento and the Los Angeles Lakers, the only two Nets’ opponents not currently in playoff position on this extended trek. Brooklyn appeared poised to even its record on the trip when it opened a 10-point lead midway through the fourth quarter.
But the Blazers, who nailed down a playoff spot of their own Monday night despite losing star center Jusuf Nurkic to a gruesome leg injury in the second OT, rallied to knot the contest at 120-120 on Seth Curry’s free throws with 3.5 ticks left in regulation.
After the loss, Atkinson and his team were focused on Nurkic rather than their tenuous position in the postseason race.
“That’s what our guys are talking about in the locker room,” Atkinson revealed.
“Not the game or the loss. They’re talking about a player who was having a great game and a heck of a player so you just pray it’s not a long-term thing and he can bounce back. It just takes the wind out of your sails.”
The loss dropped Brooklyn into a virtual tie with Detroit (37-36) for the sixth seed in the ongoing Eastern Conference race.
Eighth-place Miami (36-37) remained one game behind the Nets and Pistons while Orlando, the first team on the outside looking in at the playoff picture, is only 1 1/2 games back of Atkinson’s road-weary crew.
The tightly packed race puts a premium on Brooklyn finding a way to pick up a win in Philly on Thursday night, especially with an even more formidable list of tough Eastern Conference foes awaiting it when it returns to our fair borough Saturday night to host Boston.
“I think we kind of all knew that,” Atkinson said of his team’s desperation to eke out another victory with Toronto (51-23), Indiana (45-29), Miami and a pair of games against conference-leading Milwaukee (55-19) remaining on the regular-season schedule.
“We didn’t talk about it,” Atkinson added. “It was important getting these two [wins against the Kings and Lakers], especially the way we started the trip [by losing three in a row].”
With only seven games remaining, four of which will be played on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, the Nets are aware that there is little margin for error down the stretch, especially if it can’t finish off its most challenging trip of the campaign with a 3-4 record.
“I will say this: It would be great to get a bonus [win],” Atkinson noted. “ We’re looking ahead already. I just told the guys in the locker room, we’ve got two left on this trip, I’d love to, if we could split them that would be a huge bonus.
“(It) would give us a lot of momentum going into the rest of our schedule.”
And would likely help the Nets reach the postseason for the first time in the last four years.
Nothing But Net: Spencer Dinwiddie scored 22 points off the bench and Caris LeVert added 16 in a reserve role for Brooklyn during Monday night’s loss, which snapped the Nets’ modest two-game winning streak. … When they host the Celtics here on Saturday, the Nets will participate in their first home game since March 11, when they beat the Pistons to clinch the tiebreaker over Detroit if the teams finish deadlocked at the end of the regular season. … Russell, who earned his first All-Star nod earlier this year, appears to be saving his best for last. Monday night’s effort in Portland marked the first time in four games that he failed to record a double-double, but it also saw the former No. 2 overall pick nearly complete a triple-double. Atkinson gushed about Russell’s growth as a player before the Nets hit the floor against the Blazers. “He’s Joe Cool,” Atkinson said of his team’s undisputed team leader. “He’s just got a cool demeanor about him. Like I said before the game, confidence, cool, I don’t know what that is. I know I don’t have it. I’m a nervous guy. He’s just cool, doesn’t get fazed. He’s one of those guys, special guys, they really enjoy the moment. They don’t get flustered. I never see him get frustrated. And keeps his cool, keeps his composure and keeps his IQ. Some guys, things go wrong and they go haywire. He kind of keeps locked in. That’s a special thing he has.”
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