Nets desperate to end slide at Barclays
In virtual deadlock with Miami entering finale with Cavs
The Nets have 10 games to hold on to an automatic bid to an Eastern Conference playoff series.
Perhaps none more important than Thursday night’s matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers at Downtown’s Barclays Center.
After suffering its fourth consecutive loss and third in a row on this thus-far fruitless homestand here vs. Cleveland Tuesday night, Brooklyn (39-33) finds itself in a virtual tie with Miami (40-34) for the sixth spot in the postseason race.
The Heat beat the fifth-place New York Knicks (42-32), 127-120, Wednesday to pull within a single percentage point of the coveted position.
Only the top six teams in the East will begin the playoffs in a best-of-7 series, while the No. 7-10 seeds will be forced to compete in the NBA’s play-in tournament.
Though the Nets will visit the Heat on Saturday in Miami, they’d love to do so after ending their current slide, which began at the end of a successful 3-2 road trip.
Brooklyn hasn’t won a game since, dropping home contests to Sacramento, Denver and the Cavaliers in the opener of this two-game series.
The Nets came out strong Tuesday, taking a 30-23 lead after 12 minutes. But Cleveland won the next two quarters handily, opening a 94-78 lead entering the final period.
Though Brooklyn closed within five down the stretch, the Cavaliers held on for a 115-109 triumph and their eight victory in 11 games.
The Nets have lost nine of 14 since the All-Star break, suffering through a pair of four-game slides.
If they hope to get back on track, they’ll have to begin burying the long-range shots that have them ranked third in the league in 3-point shooting.
“We’re a team that has to shoot 3s,” insisted Brooklyn head coach Jacque Vaughn after the Nets went 9-of-33 from beyond the arc in the series opener. “That’s how we’re comprised. We have to make them.”
Make them or not, the Nets also have to get better at defending the 3-point line.
Their last two opponents have combined to shoot 50 percent (26-of-52) from long range. Cleveland knocked down 14-of-29 3s Tuesday, turning the contest into a rout just as it appeared Brooklyn would snap out of its ongoing malaise.
Mikal Bridges, the Nets’ top scorer since arriving here last month in the deal that sent Kevin Durant to Phoenix, finished 0-of-8 from deep while connecting on 9-of-13 from inside the arc.
“We’re in a stretch right now that we just need to pull things together, stay together,” Vaughn insisted.
Brooklyn had a rare night where it won the rebounding battle with Cleveland, 49-34, in the opener. It also grabbed 19 offensive rebounds while surrendering only eight off its own glass.
But most of that success was due to the Nets’ own repetitive misfiring and the Cavaliers’ 51 percent shooting from the field overall.
Donovan Mitchell lit up Barclays with 31 points, draining a 3-pointer to open a 24-point cushion in the third quarter and throwing down a thunderous dunk on Yuta Watanabe in the fourth.
Day’Ron Sharpe led Brooklyn with 20 points and 11 rebounds off the bench, perhaps paving the way for him to log more minutes in Thursday’s rematch.
The Nets will continue to be without versatile swingman Ben Simmons, who has been out with knee and back issues since the All-Star break.
Brooklyn will spend the weekend in Florida, visiting the Heat Saturday and the Orlando Magic on Sunday before returning to Barclays Wednesday to kick off another four-game homestand vs. Houston.
Before the Nets can look ahead, however, they have to find a way to leave Brooklyn on a winning note, or at least a performance that speaks to more consistent basketball over 48 minutes.
“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,” Vaughn said after Tuesday’s loss.
NOTHING BUT NET: The Nets and New York Liberty revealed Wednesday that they are expanding their community-based youth basketball clinics through a new partnership with New York City Public Schools. The co-tenants of Barclays Center will teach basketball fundamentals, along with critical off-the-court life and leadership skills. The teams were previously operating after-school clinics at schools in Brooklyn on an individual basis. “We have a unique opportunity to make a positive impact on young individuals as our clinic programs not only teach basketball fundamentals but are also designed to provide critical life and leadership skills off the court and in the classroom,” said Sam Zussman, CEO of BSE Global, parent company of the Nets and Liberty. “The Nets and Liberty are excited to deepen our relationship with New York City Public Schools and play a more meaningful role in the community and the lives of its residents.” The initial clinic was Wednesday at P.S. 001 in Sunset Park, near the Nets’ HSS Training Facility.
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