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Nets confident despite their odds against beating the Hawks

Brook Lopez, Thaddeus Young and Deron Williams of

Brook Lopez, Thaddeus Young and Deron Williams of the Brooklyn Nets react after a basket late in a game against the Toronto Raptors at Barclays Center on Friday, April 3, 2015. Credit: Jim McIsaac

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - It's not as if they've printed up T-shirts emblazoned with the words "I believe," which served as a rallying cry at a few of their playoff games a year ago.

But the eighth-seeded Nets still believe. They don't appear as if they will concede anything to the top-seeded Hawks, even if Atlanta dismantled them with relative ease in three of their four victories over the Nets in four tries. In their lone close affair -- a three-point Nets loss April 8 -- the Hawks were missing Paul Millsap, their leading scorer and one of Atlanta's most versatile cogs.

So what? No matter to these Nets, who will meet the Hawks in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round series in Atlanta Sunday.

"We are confident from within," Brook Lopez said Friday. "In this gym, we believe in ourselves."

Joe Johnson, whose teams have made the playoffs in 10 of his 14 seasons, pointed out some of the differences that step to the forefront in the postseason, such as the pace of the game. That's something that could benefit the Nets, given that they are at their best when playing inside-out through Lopez.

"It's not as free-flowing as a regular-season game would be," Johnson said. "It's going to be a bit tense. I think we have a good chance."

Oddsmakers say differently, and few prognosticators are giving the Nets much of a shot against the Hawks. Perhaps that will allow them to play loose, lessening any pressure they might feel as a heavy underdog. Then again, maybe all the pressure is on the top-seeded Hawks.

"It's pretty much expected of a 1-8 seed," Deron Williams said. "I don't know what the records are of 1-8 seeds, but I'm pretty sure it's not too favorable for the eighth seed. So we expected that. At the same time, anything can happen in the playoffs. There have been eighth seeds that have upset ones. We've got four games, for sure, to figure it out."

At least they have someone around who's actually done it: Lionel Hollins guided the Grizzlies past the Spurs in 2011. He chuckled when asked if that experience can be beneficial.

"It helps me but it doesn't help them," the Nets' coach said. "I know it can be done. But I just remember that series as being, 'We tanked a couple of games so that we could get San Antonio.' That's what I heard. And I was like, why would we want to tank to get the No. 1 seed?

"We were just happy to be in the playoffs and we were fortunate to get that win in that series. And it was the foundation for us being a solid team and that's what we are trying to do here as a group, as far as players and coaches, is trying to lay a foundation to be a perennial playoff team."

Notes & quotes: Mirza Teletovic has been cleared for basketball-related activities and practiced with the team for the first time since being diagnosed with multiple blood clots in his lungs in late January. Teletovic remains listed as out, but that could change. "The doctors are there," he said. "They know what is best for me and the coaches are there, they knew what's best for them and for the team right now. So they are going to decide. It's not up to me." . . . Alan Anderson practiced and reiterated that he will play Sunday.

New York Sports