Halfway through their eight “seeding” games during the NBA restart, the Nets (32-36) are 2-2, seventh in the Eastern Conference, a half-game ahead of the Magic and need just one win or a loss by the woeful ninth-place Wizards to clinch a playoff berth. Their next opportunity comes Friday against the Kings (29-39), who blew out the Pelicans, 140-125, on Thursday afternoon but will be playing the second game of a back-to-back set.
So, the Nets are almost a lock to make the playoffs for the second straight season, especially since the Wizards are 0-4 during the restart and would have to sweep their final four games for a chance to force a play-in series. The real challenge for the Nets is to try and gain a level of consistency before the playoffs, and that has been a challenge with a roster missing six players who were with them before the season was halted on March 11 because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Nets’ 149-115 blowout loss to the Celtics on Wednesday night exposed their makeshift roster and the problems they are having on defense while playing an undersized lineup. “It’s for sure tough, but these are circumstances that are different,” Caris LeVert said of all the adjustments. “We knew that coming down here, but this is what we signed up for. There are no excuses, but obviously it’s going to be tough playing around with different lineups. We’re here for that. We’ll watch the film, and we’ll be better the next game.”
Nets coach Jacque Vaughn is leaning on LeVert, Joe Harris and Jarrett Allen as his core players and then mixing and matching other players at point guard, power forward and a variety of bench roles. But after two encouraging wins over the Wizards and NBA-leading Bucks, the magnitude of the loss to the Celtics came as a huge letdown.
“We know how we need to play,” Harris said. “When we’re moving the ball, we’re aggressive on both ends, then, you can kind of live with whatever the result is. But games like tonight, it had nothing to do with them having more talent. It was just strictly the fact that they played harder than us, and we can’t have that while we’re down here.
“We have to be able to compete night in and night out, not beat ourselves. We know that’s a tough road ahead of us, but we don’t have the luxury of being able to take a game and not compete or have a half where we don’t compete…We can’t let this loss break us up as a group or deter our spirit. We have to bounce back and get ready for Sacramento.”
Notes & quotes: The NBA on Thursday fined the Nets $25,000 for “failing to comply with league policies governing injury reporting.”… Vaughn said veteran guard Jamal Crawford (left hamstring), who played just six minutes against the Bucks Tuesday night before getting hurt and is out against the Kings, “will miss a few games, but we do look forward to him joining us going forward.” … Harris (left groin contusion) and Allen (left ankle sprain) are questionable.