Brooklyn Boro

Nets open four-game stand vs. Houston

Slumping Brooklyn hopes to rebound from Orlando letdown

March 28, 2023 John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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The Nets can’t afford a homestand like their last one if they hope to continue clinging to the final automatic bid to an Eastern Conference playoff series.

Losers of six of its last seven games, including a fruitless four-game homestand earlier this month, Brooklyn will host the Houston Rockets at Downtown’s Barclays Center Wednesday night.

The Nets (40-35) are tied with Miami (40-35) for the sixth spot in the East postseason race, but hold the tiebreaker over the Heat by virtue of their three-game season-series sweep.

After a dismal 0-4 homestand from March 16 through last Thursday night, Brooklyn ran over Miami, 129-100, on Saturday to climb back into the coveted No. 6 position.

But a poor showing in Sunday’s 119-106 loss at Orlando left the Nets to ponder their playoff fate. Even after Mikal Bridges fell one point shy of his career best with 44 points in the defeat.

“I really don’t care (about the career-high),” said Bridges, who went to the bench with nearly four minutes remaining. “I was trying to win. I didn’t care at that point.”

Winning is something that has eluded the Nets more often than not since the All-Star break. Brooklyn has gone 6-11 following the NBA’s annual hiatus, sinking from the No. 5 seed into perilous territory.

Mikal Bridges’ 44 points weren’t enough to get the Nets past the Magic Sunday in Orlando. AP Photo by Phelan M. Ebenhack

Aside from Bridges’ spectacular showing Sunday — he went 13-of-22 from the field, including 6-of-9 from 3-point range — the rest of the Nets went 2-of-26 from long range one night after burying 45 percent of their 3s (18-of-40) in Miami.

Fatigue may have played a factor after Brooklyn blew past the Heat only to fade against the Magic, according to head coach Jacque Vaughn.

“First quarter, we were able to hang around a little bit. We were OK,” he noted. “But to sustain it over the course of the night, to play the way we wanted to play, to defend the way we wanted to play … we just didn’t have it tonight. It’s part of the NBA.

“We’ll have another back-to-back and we’ll have to deal with it better than we did this time, for sure.”

That won’t come up until the end of this homestand, which the Nets will close out against Minnesota on April 4 before playing in Detroit the next day.

Brooklyn will also host Atlanta on Friday and Utah on Sunday here on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush.

The Rockets (18-58) are coming off Monday night’s 137-115 loss to the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. New York (43-33) moved 2 1/2 lengths in front of Brooklyn for the No. 5 seed with the victory and owns the tiebreaker advantage over the Nets.

Rather than looking up at their East River rivals, however, the Nets will be keeping an eye on the Heat, who will be in Toronto on Tuesday night before visiting the Knicks on Wednesday.

Houston, which has lost six in a row, dropped a 118-96 decision to Brooklyn at the Toyota Center on March 7 in the first meeting between the teams this year.

Bridges scored 30 points in that contest and the Nets overcame an early 11-point deficit en route to their third consecutive win.

They’ve won consecutive games just once since, a trend that can’t continue if they hope to enter a first-round, best-of-7 playoff series while averting the conference’s play-in tournament.

“The message to the guys is we are going to have to earn every single game we get,” Vaughn revealed. “No one is going to give it to us. We have to go get it.”

Ben Simmons isn’t likely to play again this year for Brooklyn due to knee and back issues. AP Photo by Mary Altaffer

NOTHING BUT NET: Having missed the last 17 games since the All-Star break with knee and back issues, versatile Nets swingman Ben Simmons is not expected to rejoin his teammates on the hardwood this year, barring a very positive report from a back specialist this week. “For me as a coach, there’s some things that I can control, some things that I can’t control,” Vaughn said of Simmons, who has played only 32 of Brooklyn’s first 75 contests. “What I can’t control is the impingement. What I can control is getting this group ready to play. And then in all honesty, the realism that he’s probably not going to join us for the rest of the year … certainty will come once he continues to be looked at by specialists.” … Shooting guard Seth Curry has missed the past two games due to personal reasons.

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