Paul Pierce has been to the playoffs in 10 of the last 12 seasons, so he knows a little something about what it takes to get a team into the postseason.
On Sunday night, he put on a display for his less experienced teammates, scoring 22 points and playing killer defense on the much bigger Kevin Love to lead the Nets to a 114-99 win over the Timberwolves at Barclays Center.
After the game, the Nets (39-33) knew they were on the threshold of a playoff spot. The Knicks' victory over Golden State Sunday night kept that accomplishment on hold, but either a Knicks loss at Utah Monday night or one more Nets win will clinch a playoff berth for a team that opened the season 10-21.
"I think a lot of teams would have laid down a long time ago, and probably by Christmas would have been making summer plans," said Pierce, who shot 8-for-11 from the field. "Not this group. We have a mentally strong group of veterans who were always staying positive and being patient with one another . . . We saw things turn around."
How much have things turned around? Sunday night's win was a franchise record-tying 13th straight home victory. That equals the longest home winning streak in the NBA this season. Beyond that, the Nets have won 20 of their last 22 home games.
The win allowed the Nets to keep pace with the Raptors and Bulls in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference playoff standings. With the way they are playing in Brooklyn, the Nets would love to secure home-court advantage in the first round. Right now, they are 11/2 games behind the fourth-place Bulls, whom they need to pass to get home-court advantage, and 21/2 games behind the Atlantic Division-leading Raptors.
Pierce, who had 17 points in the first quarter of Friday's win over Cleveland, had 16 points and shot 6-for-6 in the first 10 minutes Sunday night. He also was a major factor on defense. He took turns with Mirza Teletovic on Love, limiting him to 14 points and 5-for-14 shooting.
"Paul understands what these games mean and he's getting us off to a good start," Nets coach Jason Kidd said.
The Timberwolves (36-36) were led by Corey Brewer and Ricky Rubio, who scored 21 points each.
The Nets had six players in double figures. Joe Johnson scored 19 points and shot 8-for-13, Andray Blatche added 14 off the bench and Mason Plumlee, Shaun Livingston and Alan Anderson each scored 13.
Deron Williams was the only starter to struggle, shooting 1-for-9 and scoring six points. Williams did have two steals, extending his streak to 22 straight games with a steal. Kidd and Mookie Blaylock own the franchise record of 26 straight games with a steal.
Williams said after the game that it feels good to be on the brink of a playoff spot and looking at possibly clinching home-court advantage.
"The first part of the season was rough on us," he said. "We never gave up hope. Now we are in a position to maybe get home-court advantage. We stayed together in this locker room and we kept playing together . . . We feel we can compete with a lot of these teams. In a seven-game series, we like our chances.''