Nets face playoff contenders on tough straight

With just over three weeks remaining in the NBA regular season, the Nets are sixth in the Eastern Conference, with a realistic chance of finishing as high as fourth or as low as seventh, which would put them in the qualifying round. .

So it makes sense that the new-look team will now go into playoff mode.

They will face a tough test in a four-game homestand, which opens on Thursday night when they host one of the West’s top sides, the surprising Kings, at Barclays Center.

Head coach Jacque Vaughn acknowledged he needed to prepare his team for the next stage, which is why he leaned heavily on his starters in their loss to Oklahoma City on Tuesday, even after their hard-fought victory Sunday in the unforgiving environment of mile-high Denver.

“I kind of backed off and played the first five minutes tough,” Vaughn said after Tuesday’s loss that ended a 3-2 road trip. “There is something psychological and mental in it. Can you be at the end of a road trip and somehow manage to earn a win? Can you play heavy minutes and worry about tomorrow tomorrow? So it was a bit of a challenge for this group (Tuesday) to see how they would react.

Cam Johnson, one of five Knicks starters, recorded long minutes in the loss to the Thunder alongside his fellow starters in preparation for the playoffs.
Noah K. Murray – NY Post

For much of the first half against the Thunder, the Nets did. But they were on the wrong end of an 18-3 third-quarter run and never recovered.

Their schedule for the next four games at Barclays Center won’t make it any easier.

The Kings will be followed by the Nuggets, who haven’t been playing well lately but remain the top seed in the West.

Two straight games against a Cavaliers team that currently sits fourth in the Eastern Conference will end the homestand.

The Nets are looking to close the gap on the Cavaliers and the fifth-seeded Knicks to ensure they avoid the play-off round.

The five starters of Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Spencer Dinwiddie, Nic Claxton and Dorian Finney-Smith each recorded at least 34 minutes on Tuesday.

Bridges, who continues to play at an elite level, averaging 26.3 points per game since joining Brooklyn, has played 38 minutes in each of the previous two games after recording 47 in an overtime loss at Minnesota last Friday. .

Mikal Bridges looks to head for the basket as Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray defends.
Mikal Bridges looks to head for the basket as Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray defends.

“That’s what playoff basketball is,” Vaughn said of his starters’ heavy workload. “You’re going to have to play every other day and you’re going to be playing long minutes. Can you get a win? Can you reply the next day? So, prepping that a bit was kind of my psychological way of looking at it. We just didn’t (Tuesday). So we should have juice to play.

It’s a lesson Johnson said he took to heart.

“The most important thing is that we know how to play to win: scrappy, brave and dirty,” Johnson said. “We are not playing well there. That’s how the game starts to favor us, so I think we need to get back to that and compete at a high level.

Bridges lamented what he thought was a lack of energy on the part of the Nets and added that they needed to keep the underdog mentality they had since he, Johnson and Dinwiddie were acquired in the trades of the Nets. stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

“When we’re going into halftime, we have to play like we’re down,” Bridges said of the Nets’ ideal mindset. “I think we are good when we are behind at half time and play with a spark. If we’re up at halftime, we have to play like we’re down and play with that energy.

Bridges has done his part, leading the Nets to score in six of their last seven games.

Durant and Irving were still on the Nets the last time they faced the Kings, even though Irving was serving a suspension.

The Kings won in a 32-point rout at Sacramento.

The Kings are well on their way to proving they’re real, thanks to De’Aaron Fox and Domantis Sabonis.

Additional reporting by Brian Lewis

New York Post

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