The Nets straightened their price in the final stretch. But now comes the play-in tournamentmore pressure-filled than the playoffs.
“It’s great. The best time of the year,” Steve Nash said. “The best time of the year for sure.”
Brooklyn’s Tuesday play-in against the visiting Cavaliers (7 p.m. TNT) is essentially like Game 6 of a seven-game series when you have a 3-2 lead. And that’s exactly how Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the rest of the Nets are treating him. There is a margin for error, but the Nets certainly don’t want to use it.
“We’re going to do it,” Irving said, channeling Marvin Gaye. “This is a special time of the year against a team like the Cavaliers. … They are going to make adjustments, we are going to make adjustments and it will be an all-out battle.”
After beating Cleveland 118-107 on Friday, the Nets have to face the same Cavs team again with a win that secures the seventh seed and a first-round playoff date against Boston. A loss sets up the overwhelming prospect of meeting the winner of the Hawks-Hornets for the No. 8 seed and a date with No. 1 Miami.
In essence, great drama.
“Number one, I think someone is in the back room yelling hip-hip-hooray whoever created the tournament, because last year you have Steph [Curry] and lebron [James]. This year KD and I are going against the Cavs in the opening game,” Irving said. “It feels like one of those Game 6s, Game 7s where you have to win, and … it’s not going to depend on anything other than will, skill, how well you’re prepared.”
Brooklyn’s preparation has been an arduous and wildly inconsistent season that has seen COVID, trades, injuries and Irving ineligible much of the season. They sat 10th in the Eastern Conference just a week ago, but closed with four in a row to move up to seventh. But the job is far from over.
Yes, Brooklyn (44-38) took three of four from Cleveland, including the last game. But even if shot-blocking center Jarrett Allen (finger) can’t play against his old team, combo shooting guard Darius Garland is an electric talent.
“He’s cold,” Nic Claxton said of Garland, adding, “We’ve definitely been battle tested throughout this year. We have a lot of new guys here, but we’re ready. The guys we have are mostly healthy and we’re ready to play anyone. Does not matter.
The Nets want to avoid facing elimination on Friday against either the Hawks or the Hornets, having lost to both in the past two weeks.
“Absolutely. We’re just focusing on [Tuesday]Nash said. “If we lose and we have to play a later game, we will focus on that game. But now we’ll play this like it’s our chance to come in and give the necessary focus and energy.
“We are all excited. We are still getting to know this group. There is confidence there, but there is enthusiasm to keep growing, building and competing. … We should be excited about what we can build, what we can accomplish in a short amount of time here and how difficult it would be to beat us in a playoff situation.”
Or a play-in.
While Joe Harris and Ben Simmons will not play, Goran Dragic has gone through health and safety protocols and Seth Curry (likely) insists he will play despite his sore left ankle. Such is the importance of a play-in that has a March Madness feel.
“Yes, it is a game. You have to put everything into it. It’s not like getting a “feel” game like you would in a seven-game series. It’s more just leaving him on the floor for that game and then moving on to the next one,” said Curry, who spreads the floor and raises the Nets’ offensive rating from 113.8 to 119.9 when he plays.
“It’s always fun; playoffs is the best time of the year. The games intensify, greater intensity. It’s a higher level of play. You see teams at their best if they are healthy; so it’s a very exciting time of year. You get to see the best of the players and teams.”