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Nets streaking toward playoff spot

Brooklyn aims for fourth straight win Tuesday at Barclays

April 4, 2023 John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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The Brooklyn Nets can finally taste a first-round playoff berth.

And Tuesday might be the night they grab it.

“We know where we are. We know every game is extremely important,” center Nic Claxton said Sunday after Brooklyn held on for a 111-110 triumph over Utah at Downtown’s Barclays Center.

The Nets (43-35) have shaken off a five-game losing streak with victories in four of their last five games, including the first three on this four-game homestand.

Brooklyn will welcome Minnesota (39-40) to the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush on Tuesday, hoping to offset the 0-4 stand it had here from March 16-23.

The Nets looked perilously close to falling out of the coveted sixth spot when they went to Miami (41-37) on March 25, but Brooklyn blew past the Heat that night and has built its advantage to two games going into Tuesday’s action.

If the Nets can get past the Timberwolves and Miami loses in Detroit, Brooklyn will seal the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference, something it fell shy of last year, when Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving led the Nets past Cleveland in the play-in just to secure the seventh seed in the East.

Durant and Irving are gone now, but the Nets, despite suffering through an identity crisis since the All-Star break with a bevy of new players, are in position to take on the No. 3 seed in a first-round, best-of-7 series.

If the results go the right way Tuesday, the Nets will earn the spot based on their season-series sweep of the Heat. Both teams have four regular-season games remaining.

Newly minted Eastern Conference Player of the Week Mikal Bridges poured in 30 points in the narrow win over the Jazz as Brooklyn nearly squandered a 20-point fourth-quarter cushion.

Dorian Finney-Smith and the Nets barely held off Utah in Downtown Brooklyn Sunday, now they’ll try to grab the No. 6 seed in the East. AP Photo by John Munson

Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn, who has had to reshuffle his roster, deal with injuries and the loss of two of the game’s top superstars since the trade deadline, isn’t interested in style points at this point in the campaign.

Especially not with a coveted bye to a first-round series potentially on the line here Tuesday. The No. 7-10 seeds in the East will be forced into the play-in tournament.

“There’s only one winner and one loser in every single game; we won, Vaughn insisted. “So we’re going to take the win and we’re going to keep this thing moving.”

The T-Wolves will enter Barclays trying to hold off Oklahoma City for the No. 9 seed in the West. But Minnesota is only two games behind Golden State for the sixth spot in the conference despite losing three games in a row.

“We have too many guys not playing really well right now,” Minnesota head coach Chris Finch said after his team dropped a 107-105 decision to Portland on Sunday.

“This was kind of who we’ve been all season in these types of games and we do it again. You know, obviously, timing of it is extra painful, but we got to get guys playing better.”

The Nets are doubtlessly hoping the T-Wolves’ slide continues and the Heat drop another game in the Motor City so they can get a little extra rest before gearing up for their first-round opponent, which will be former Net James Harden and the Philadelphia 76ers (51-27) if the standings remain the same.

Last year, the Nets beat the Cavaliers to earn their spot, but didn’t win a single game against Boston in the opening round.

This team has a very good chance to top that finish, but first it must finish off this stand in style and make the most of its final three contests, including Wednesday night’s visit to Detroit.

“This week becomes very interesting just because Minnesota is coming in to play for a lot,” Vaughn said after Sunday’s narrow win here.

“We’re going to take that game very seriously, line up just like we did tonight — our starters almost played 20 minutes in the first half — so we’ll take that same approach. We’ll try to win a basketball game, we’ll deal with the repercussions after that. But we’re going to try to win a basketball game.”

Eastern Conference Player of the Week Mikal Bridges soars for two of his 30 points in Sunday’s win over Utah at Barclays Center. AP Photo by John Munson

NOTHING BUT NET: Bridges earned his first-ever Player of the Week honor after averaging 33.0 points, 5.7 boards, 3.7 assists and 1.3 steals while logging just over 38 minutes per game during the first three games of this homestand. In 23 games since arriving here in the deal that sent Durant to Phoenix on Feb. 9, Bridges is averaging a team-high 27.6 points per game. … After visiting Motown on Wednesday, the Nets will close out the regular season here on Friday night vs. Orlando and Sunday vs. Philly.

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