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Kenny Atkinson talking playoffs now for Nets as a reminder to not leave any game on the table

Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson against the Milwaukee

Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson against the Milwaukee Bucks at Barclays Center on Feb. 4, 2019. Credit: Jim McIsaac

TORONTO — The wake-up call for coach Kenny Atkinson came last Friday at Barclays Center when the Nets suffered a 19-point loss to a 12-win Bulls team. Until then, he studiously had avoided all playoff talk, but with the Nets clinging to the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference despite losing five of their past six games, Atkinson has changed course to focus on the Nets’ playoff push.

After a tough last-second loss Monday in Toronto, where the Nets practiced on Tuesday, they traveled to Cleveland to face the 12-45 Cavaliers on Wednesday night at Quicken Loans Arena for their last game before the All-Star break.

“We owe them one,” D’Angelo Russell said, referring to a 99-97 home loss to the Cavs on Dec. 3. “They won the last time at home. So, we definitely owe them one. I think our mentality is going to be to go in and take care of business and go into the break with a win.”

That’s exactly the mentality Atkinson is preaching to the 29-29 Nets. Reminded of how he steered clear of playoff talk in the past, Atkinson said, “The Chicago game was one that kind of woke me up. We have to be aware there are games we don’t want to leave on the table.

“I think Ed [Davis] said it the other day. We don’t want to look back and regret a certain loss that might impede our chance to be in the playoffs. There are [23] games after the break. We’re there, but I think it’s going to be a dogfight to the end.”

The Nets recently got Allen Crabbe and Caris LeVert back from the injury list, and there were positive signs of the impact those two might make in the Toronto loss. Crabbe hit six of 10 three-pointers in a 22-point performance, and even though LeVert struggled with 3-for-11 shooting and five turnovers, he was getting to the rim with ease. Also, DeMarre Carroll (left knee soreness) practiced Tuesday and said he expects to play.

Speaking of Crabbe’s quick return to form, Atkinson said, “It gives us another elite shooter besides Joe [Harris]. That’s hard to guard.”

As for LeVert, who is coming off a dislocated ankle, Atkinson added, “I love that he’s attacking. On his forays to the basket, he’s going up hard. The touch isn’t there. I told him, ‘It’s just rust. That’ll come off.’”

From a psychological standpoint, it’s hard to understate the importance to the Nets of a win in Cleveland that would allow them to reach the 30-win plateau versus a loss that would leave them mired in a slump.

“This is a big game for us,” Harris said. “We want to go into the break on a positive. We’ve had some difficult matchups the last few games. We want that momentum going into the break.”


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