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Nets believe playoffs lie at end of tough road trip

Nets guard D'Angelo Russell controls the ball against

Nets guard D'Angelo Russell controls the ball against Pistons guard Langston Galloway at Barclays Center on Monday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Bring 'em on.

Buoyed by a decisive win over a surging Detroit Pistons team, the Nets are heading into a brutal seven-game road trip with a confidence and, dare we say, a budding swagger not seen from any area NBA team in quite some time.

When the schedule was released last summer, there was a collective cringe from Nets fan after they saw the end of March. The trip begins in Oklahoma City Wednesday night and then winds through Utah, two stops in Los Angeles, Sacramento, Portland and Philadelphia before the Nets finally return to Barclays Center on March 30.

That’s five teams currently in position to make the playoffs and another, the Sacramento Kings, which is playing .500 ball.

When they come home for three games, they'll take on the Celtics, Bucks and Raptors.

The Nets, who moved into sixth place in the Eastern Conference with their win over Detroit on Monday night, can’t think of any better way to prepare for the playoffs than a tough stretch like this.

“We have tough teams coming up. I think this road trip is going to force us to get ready to play and have everybody step up and do their jobs,” D’Angelo Russell said. “I think it’s a great test for us to be on the road with one of the toughest schedules. It’s a great way to get ready for the playoffs.”

The Nets (36-33) will take a four-game winning streak into Oklahoma City Wednesday.

Coach Kenny Atkinson was clearly pleased by the way his team held the Pistons, who entered Monday’s game with the top-ranked offense in the league since Feb. 1, to just 75 points and 27.8 percent shooting from the field. But he also seemed searching after the game for a way to keep his team from getting to high coming off the win.

“They all count as one win, right? I don’t want to get carried away here,” Atkinson said. “We are still a little over .500. You look and the games we have [coming up]. I’m not sure we’re favored in many of them, quite honestly. We know we have a difficult task . . . We’re not celebrating despite having a good win tonight.” 

A good win in what was probably the franchise’s biggest win since Atkinson took over the team two and a half seasons ago.

Rookie Jarrett Allen, who was instrumental in containing the Piston’s bigs, said the team was pumped up to see how they measured up against a team like Detroit.

“All the vets on the team were like, this is a playoff type game,” he said, “so we have to bring the right mentality and be ready for it.”

Spencer Dinwiddie, who is averaging 23.3 points off the bench in the team’s last three games, thinks the win sent a message.

“I think it says that we were locked in,” he said. “We’re continuing to improve. And we’re trending in the right direction right now.”

There’s nothing that the Nets would like to do more than continue in that direction over the next two weeks, giving them a major momentum push heading into the playoffs. Still, there is some caution about pinning too much on the outcome of this trip.

“It could be kind of like throwing the baby out with the bathwater if we have a bad trip,” Dinwiddie said with a laugh when asked if the next two weeks could define the season. “I won’t say it defines the season. At the same time, if we have a great trip, maybe I will say it.”

Whether or not he can say it now, we will know a lot more about the Nets when they return to Barclays on March 30.

New York Sports