Deron Williams, Nets gladly accept top billing in New York as lone playoff team

Nets guard Deron Williams calls a play against

Nets guard Deron Williams calls a play against the Knicks in the first half of an NBA basketball game at Barclays Center on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. (Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke)

There they were together again at Barclays Center, forced to share the spotlight with their visitors from across the East River one final time in this wacky season.

But as the playoffs inch closer, the Nets will soon essentially have the city to themselves, thanks to making the playoffs for a second straight year -- something their crosstown rivals weren't able to do. So when the postseason curtain rises in New York, the stage will be set up in Brooklyn rather than a few blocks from Broadway.

"I think it will be good for us," Deron Williams said before the Nets' 109-98 loss to the Knicks Tuesday night. "I think it's good for our brand, good for Brooklyn basketball. You know, it's a part of the takeover."

Too bad the Knicks had them looking more like a bunch of pushovers on this night. The Nets played like a team that was simply out for a quick run at the local YMCA, playing uninspired and disoriented.

As Nets coach Jason Kidd summed it up: "No one got hurt."

A win over the Knicks would've cemented them into the fifth seed, but they could drop to sixth if they also lose tonight's season finale in Cleveland and the Wizards beat the Bobcats.

The Raptors and Bulls are tied in a battle for the third and fourth seeds and if Chicago doesn't leapfrog Toronto in the standings, the Nets, as the possible fifth seed, would face the Bulls to set up a rematch of last year's first-round playoff series won by Chicago.

But the Nets aren't exactly streaking at the moment anyway, given they lost three of their last four games, both to non-playoff teams.

"It's hard the last three, four games when you know the result doesn't really matter," Andrei Kirilenko said. "It kind of weakens you a little bit. You're playing without much concentration. I don't know why. . . . It doesn't give you much motivation."

Even so, just two weeks after their last meeting, a Knicks' win at the Garden, the Nets are in the playoffs. The Knicks are out, meaning coach Mike Woodson & Co. will be relegated to spectator status.

"I'm a basketball guy, I watch basketball," Woodson said. "That's what I do. This year is going to be tough sitting at home watching basketball. I didn't envision that happening with our team, and that's going to be the tough part behind it. Yes, I'll watch Jason and I wish all coaches nothing but the best. I've always said that."

Since Jan. 1., the Nets are a league-best 23-4, and their 34-16 overall record this calendar year is the second-best showing of any East team and sixth-best in the league. But their recent struggles are a bit alarming and Paul Pierce cautioned it's not easy just flicking on a switch come the postseason . . . it doesn't work like that.

"Going into the playoffs, you want to start building habits," Pierce said. "Tonight was an example of how not to take a step forward. We were off our game offensively, defensively, all phases of the game. And that's not how you want to go into the playoffs. No excuses about it, but we've got to be better."

At least they know there's only one more game to go, Wednesday night in Cleveland, then it's time for a run at a championship.

"You look forward to it now," Pierce said. "Definitely, it's that time of the year. You get the chills. It's sort of the time you look outside, the weather is getting warm. The playoffs are here. It's an exciting time of the year. Everybody loves being in the playoffs."

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