Brooklyn Boro

Nets look to toughen up vs. Pacers

Return to Brooklyn to complete back-to-back with Indy

April 3, 2024 John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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The Nets can’t make the playoffs for the sixth straight year without a miraculous series of fortunate events.

They also haven’t played well enough since the All-Star break to make sure Kevin Ollie loses his interim tag and remains their coach next season.

But one thing Brooklyn can control over these next two weeks, beginning Wednesday night at Downtown’s Barclays Center, is their own resolve to play tougher basketball against the visiting Indiana Pacers in the opener of a four-game homestand.

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“We need to understand that and can’t be surprised by the pace on Wednesday,” Ollie noted moments after the Nets suffered a 133-111 beatdown in Indiana Monday night.

“They are going to try to do the same thing and I know our guys are going to be ready and give a better mental and physical battle.”

The Nets (29-47) hardly looked up for the fight against an Indiana team vying for an automatic berth into the opening round of the NBA playoffs.

The Pacers (43-33) will enter Wednesday’s rematch one-half game ahead of Miami for the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference and a first-round showdown with league-leading Boston in a best-of-7 series.

Brooklyn has a magic number of one as it prepares for its final homestand of the campaign.

Any combination of a single Nets loss or a win by 10th-place Atlanta will eliminate our borough’s NBA franchise from play-in tournament contention.

Nets center Nic Claxton pulled down 10 rebounds Monday, but that didn’t prevent Indiana from dominating Brooklyn along the interior. AP Photo by Darron Cummings

Regardless of their playoff fate, the Nets have to reclaim their team toughness after Indiana dominated them along the interior with 70 points in the paint in the series opener.

The Pacers scored 43 first-quarter points and led by as many as 36 before Brooklyn put forth a better effort during fourth-quarter garbage time.

“(We have to) just go out there and play hard and give it all you’ve got. Keep competing,” insisted Nets forward Mikal Bridges.

Cam Thomas put up 22 points, fast-emerging reserve Trendon Watford added a season-high 21 and Bridges finished with 19 for Brooklyn, which trailed 75-47 at the half and never seriously challenged the Pacers thereafter.

The Nets also missed nine of their 28 free-throw attempts and committed 15 turnovers while forcing only nine.

“Give credit to them, they played their style of play,” Ollie said of the Pacers, who have won three of their last four games. “They are relentless at it.”

Brooklyn has dropped consecutive contests since displaying a brief flash of hope with a season high-tying three-game winning streak from March 25-29.

Under Ollie, who took over for Jacque Vaughn following a St. Valentine’s Day massacre loss at Boston by 50 points, the Nets have gone 8-14.

That’s hardly the stuff that might inspire general manager Sean Marks to not go on a coaching search this summer.

“We have to fight back. Put on our gloves and keep swinging,” Ollie told the New York Post. “We didn’t do that for a consistent stretch of this game, and you can’t do that against a great team like them.”

Tyrese Haliburton scored 27 points and dished out 13 assists for the Pacers, who also got 17 points and 10 rebounds from Jalen Smith before he was ejected in the third quarter following a skirmish with Nets point guard Dennis Schroder.

“We did a lot of good things offensively,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said after passing Celtics legend Red Auberbach for 12th place with his 939th career victory.

“When we’re playing like that, fast and random, we’re tough to play against.”

Indiana shot a blistering 58% in the first half and wound up at 52%, though Brooklyn was hardly in position to contest most of their in-close attempts in the opening half.

“We just have to have more guys getting to the rim and finishing down there,” urged his unit. “We’ve got to get back in transition. We have to have more sense of urgency of getting back on defense and then getting them to play in the half court.”

The Pacers will be shooting for a three-game season-series sweep of Brooklyn.

They also beat the Nets 121-100 on March 16 in Indiana behind 28 points and 11 rebounds from Paul Siakam.

Brooklyn was without reserve guard Dennis Smith Jr. (hip) and starting forward Cam Johnson (toe) in Indiana on Monday. Both are listed as day-to-day ahead of Wednesday’s series finale.

Indiana center Myles Turner left Monday’s contest with a dislocated right index finger and is also listed as day-to-day for the rematch in Brooklyn.

Dennis Schroder soars to the basket against Myles Turner during the Nets’ latest loss in Indiana on Monday night. AP Photo by Darron Cummings

NOTHING BUT NET: After hosting the Pacers, the Nets will finish off their final homestand with visits by Detroit on Saturday, Sacramento on Sunday and Toronto next Wednesday. Brooklyn completes its campaign at Madison Square Garden against the Knicks on April 12 before going to Philadelphia to take on the 76ers April 14. … Thomas has led the Nets in scoring in each of their last four games and 11 of 13 since returning from ankle injury on March 9 at Charlotte.

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