Nets’ slide continues in opener vs. Cavs
Brooklyn drops fourth in a row, coveted sixth spot in peril
In the midst of the stretch run toward a coveted Eastern Conference playoff spot, the Brooklyn Nets can ill afford a winless homestand.
But that’s exactly what they’ll face Thursday night at Downtown’s Barclays Center against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Donovan Mitchell poured in 31 points and the visiting Cavaliers used a big second quarter to run past the nose-diving Nets, 115-109, in front of a sellout crowd of 17,732 disappointed fans on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush.
Leading by seven after 12 minutes, Brooklyn (39-33) was outscored 38-25 in the fateful period and never seriously challenged thereafter during the opener of a two-game set vs. the Cavaliers.
Cleveland (46-28) made 6-of-12 3-pointers during the game-changing run to take a 61-55 lead at intermission.
The Cavaliers blew it open in the third quarter, leading by as many as 24 points on a 3-pointer by Mitchell before the Nets’ bid for a late comeback fell short in the fourth.
“We got a little sloppy with the basketball (in the second quarter),” Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn said after his team committed 16 turnovers en route to dropping to 0-3 on this four-game homestand.
“Again, it’s along those lines of putting four quarters together, it always seems like there’s one quarter that really punches us in the gut a little bit,” he added. “So we’ve got to be able to sustain throughout all those runs.”
The Nets also took another body shot in the standings as their lead for the coveted sixth spot in the East was shaved to half a game over Miami (39-34), which was idle Tuesday.
The Heat will host the fifth-place New York Knicks, who are 2 1/2 lengths in front of the Nets, on Wednesday night.
Only the top six teams in each conference will receive an automatic bid to a first-round, best-of-7 playoff series while the No. 7-10 seeds will compete in the play-in tournament.
Brooklyn has lost four in a row overall, dropping its record to 5-9 since the All-Star break, hardly the mark of a team heading into the postseason with a head of steam.
“We’re just in a stretch right now that we just need to pull things together, stay together and remind them of the good things that they’ve done,” insisted Vaughn, who will lead the Nets back into battle with the Cavs here on Thursday.
Day’Ron Sharpe had 20 points and 11 rebounds off the bench, Spencer Dinwiddie added 19 points and Mikal Bridges finished with 18 points for the Nets, who went a dismal 9-of-33 from long range while allowing Cleveland to make 14-of-29 3-pointers.
“We came out slow in the second quarter and they put us in a big hole,” noted Sharpe.
Brooklyn has watched its last two opponents shoot a combined 50 percent (26-for-52) from beyond the arc.
Former Net Caris LeVert had 18 points in a reserve role and Darius Garland and Evan Mobley added 17 apiece for the Cavs, who have won seven of their last nine contests to rise to fourth place in the East.
Cam Johnson scored 16 points and Nic Claxton added 13 for the Nets, who have lost five of their last six at Barclays.
If Brooklyn hopes to rise back up in the standings, it’ll need to avoid empty quarters like the ones it experienced Tuesday night and during this perilous slide.
“I think just lapses in quarters like the second and third, just getting down. That was tough,” Bridges explained.
“I think we need to come out no matter what quarter it is and keep the same intensity the whole game.”
NOTHING BUT NET: After hosting the Cavs Thursday, the Nets will spend the weekend in Florida, visiting the Heat in a critical showdown Saturday before going to Orlando Sunday. … Former Nets executive and New York Knicks Hall of Famer Willis Reed died Tuesday. There was a moment of silence before tip-off for the local legend, who was 80 years old. … The Nets and Cavs have split the first two of their threee meetings this season.
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