Nets center Nic Claxton shoots over Magic center Wendell Carter Jr. 

Nets center Nic Claxton shoots over Magic center Wendell Carter Jr.  Credit: AP/John Raoux

The Nets’ recent four-game road trip was a disaster, save for one win against the Grizzlies. The next two games can mitigate that bitter stretch.

With the Hawks coming to Barclays Center on Thursday and Saturday, the Nets have a two-game series that will affect whether the play-in tournament remains a reality.

They woke up Wednesday four games behind the Hawks for 10th place in the Eastern Conference, the final play-in spot. The Nets also are fully aware these games carry a bit more weight with 23 games remaining.

“If we sweep them — beat them twice — then I feel like that puts us in a really good position,” Nic Claxton said. “So we’ve got to have short-term memory and be ready for those two games back at home.”

The stakes are simple. Win both games and the Nets will be two games behind the Hawks. They’ll also win the season series, which gives them a tiebreaker advantage. Split the games and the Nets remain where they are. Lose both games and the play-in gets almost out of reach as the Hawks will have a six-game lead and the tiebreaker edge.

It helps that the Hawks won’t have All-Star guard Trae Young, who just had surgery on his pinkie finger. He had 43 and 30 points when the Nets and Hawks met earlier this season in Atlanta.

The Hawks won the first meeting, 147-145, in overtime Nov. 22. The Nets got revenge on Dec. 6, winning 114-113 on a jumper by Mikal Bridges with 5.1 seconds left.

But the Nets can’t focus on how close those games were. The games also occurred before their swoon started Dec. 27 with a loss to the Bucks. Since then, the Nets are 7-21 and only the Wizards have fewer wins (four) over that span.

Against the Magic, they tied a season low with 18 assists, three games after only 19 assists against the Raptors. They’ve lost eight of their last 10 games, their second-worst stretch since going 1-9 from Dec. 27 to Jan. 17.

Yet they can fix some of that pain against the Hawks. Bridges understood the pressure but tried to keep it in context when asked if these two games are similar to playoff games in importance.

“Sure, but I feel like every game is super important,” Bridges said. "So it’s not really looking at any other game, Our best game, toughest game is the next game, no matter what the issue is or who we play.”

At the same time, these games are as close to must-wins as any right now. Four of the Nets’ next five games are against sub-.500 teams and the fifth on Tuesday is hosting the 76ers, who are without All-Star Joel Embiid.

So make no mistake. The Nets’ season doesn’t come down to these next two games. But winning them — or at least a split — would salvage what’s left of it after an ugly road trip.

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