Things are falling into place for the Nets, and their playoff push is starting to look really good.
Facing the undermanned Trail Blazers, who were without leading scorer and rebounder LaMarcus Aldridge -- and who had to fly across the country to play in a game rescheduled because of a late January snowstorm -- the Nets took full advantage Monday night and beat Portland, 106-96.
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They also strengthened their grip on a playoff spot with five games remaining. "We're trying to close the door on those other teams, and the only way you can do that is by winning,'' coach Lionel Hollins said.
The Nets certainly are doing that. The win was their fifth straight at home, their seventh in the last eight games and their 11th in the last 14. With the rest of the NBA idle, the seventh-place Nets (36-41) extended their lead to a game over Boston -- which holds the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot -- two games over Indiana and Miami, and 21/2 games over Charlotte.
Brook Lopez, who earlier in the day was named the NBA's Eastern Conference player of the week for the second consecutive week, continued his torrid play. He had 32 points and nine rebounds in winning his personal duel with his twin, Robin, also a 7-footer, who started opposite him for the Trail Blazers and had eight points and seven rebounds.
Before the game, Robin Lopez -- who is more defensive-minded than Brook -- dismissed the player of the week award and jokingly said, "It's amazing how far you can go with a crappy center."
Brook Lopez's deadpan response in evaluating his performance: "You know, it might have been a fluke."
Probably not. In the last 11 games, he is averaging 26.2 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game and is shooting 60.7 percent from the field.
As has often been the case of late, Lopez's big game was nicely supplemented by stellar play by Deron Williams and Thaddeus Young. Williams had 24 points and 10 assists and Young added 20 points and five rebounds. Damian Lillard had 36 points for the Trail Blazers (50-27).
Because the Trail Blazers played at home Saturday and return home Wednesday, they decided to leave Aldridge, starting forward Nicolas Batum and backup center Chris Kaman home.
Before the game, however, Hollins wasn't about to apologize for playing a Trail Blazers lineup that was missing a combined 42.2 points and 22.9 rebounds.
"They still have Damian Lillard. They still have [Arron] Afflalo. They still have [Robin] Lopez," Hollins said. "They still have players. I mean, they're a good team, and they're not just a good team because of those three guys that they left at home. Although you would say that LaMarcus Aldridge is arguably their best player and one of the best players in the league."
The Nets typically struggle in the second period, but this time their bench, led by Bojan Bogdanovic (11 of his 15 points in the first half), picked it up. The Nets outscored the Trail Blazers 32-13 in the quarter to take a 54-38 halftime lead.
Notes & quotes: The Nets signed forward Earl Clark for the rest of the season and the next. Clark, 27, signed a 10-day contract March 27 after Young injured his knee March 25 . . . Portland's Meyers Leonard had a basket taken away at 4:18 of the second quarter after video replay determined his shot did not beat the shot-clock buzzer.