EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - With a wink and a quick about-face that basically meant "Peace out," Paul Pierce kept true to his recent word, refusing to get caught on any bait pertaining to the Knicks or Phil Jackson.
Pierce apparently has other things on his mind, like steering the Nets (34-31) into the playoffs for a second straight season. As they march into their meeting with the Bobcats (33-35) at the Barclays Center Wednesday night, a place where they've won nine straight, they still have an outside shot at finishing in either third or fourth in the Eastern Conference.
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That would guarantee home court advantage in the postseason's first round, and that carrot is dangling out there for a team that is tied for the third-most home victories in the conference. But Pierce insisted the Nets haven't even broached that just yet. No teamwide surveying of the long-term landscape at the moment, even with the understanding there's 17 regular-season games left.
"We haven't really said where we want to be," Pierce said Tuesday. "We want to obviously win the division, but we know that even if we do start on the road, we are more than a capable team that can get the job done on the road. We've had some great wins in some of the toughest buildings in the league, when you talk about going into Oklahoma City, when you talk about going into Miami.
"So, I know what we are capable of even if we have to go on the road for the playoffs."
Perhaps, but there'd also be a pressing question of just how much they could consistently get out of Kevin Garnett and what kind of rhythm he'll be in, given he'll have gone through this stretch of missing at least 11 straight games with back spasms.
Garnett hasn't spoken publicly about his health since Feb. 26, the night the Nets were pasted by 44 points in Portland and the day before he apparently began experiencing back spasms in Denver.
"I think he wants to be out there," Pierce said. "But he understands the importance of getting 100 percent. I'm sure if it was a playoff game today, KG would be out there. But we want him to get as close to 100 percent as possible for the stretch run, because we are going to need him late in the season and in the playoffs."
Garnett's lengthy break has thrust Mason Plumlee into an integral role and the spry, lanky 6-10, 235-pounder is showing he's more than capable of holding his own, using his length and athleticism to play above the rim. Plumlee can also finish on fast breaks.
"It's just making the adjustment," Pierce said. "He's our defensive anchor for most of the time and now you are asking a rookie to come in and play the role that KG has played. So it's always a learning process, but it also gives other guys an opportunity to step up and prove they are trustworthy, because late in the season when rotations get shorter, Coach has to know who you can trust, and these are opportunities for a lot of guys for him to see that."
Notes & quotes: Andrei Kirilenko (bruised left toe) didn't practice because of the residual effects of someone stepping on his foot in Monday night's 108-95 win over the Suns and is listed as a game-time decision.